Length: 120 mins
Director: Jerry Blumenthal, Peter Gilbert, Gordon Quinn
Language: English, Vietnamese
Features: Deleted Scenes
In 1998, World T.E.A.M. (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports organized a 16-day, 1200 mile bicycle expedition through Northern and Southern Vietnam for able-bodied and disabled American and Vietnamese veterans of the infamous conflict. Able bodied riders used traditional cycles but many of the paraplegics used special hand-powered bikes, while blind riders pedalled from the back of tandem cycles.
Over the course of the journey former enemies ride side-by-side through territories that were abandoned by the last American officials in 1975, and then on into the former North Vietnam where the authorities attempt to use their presence for ‘political purposes’- though it’s hard not to be political about a war that the United States never officially declared. It’s also telling that noted veteran and at that time presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry also took part in the event, but then an event like this was always going to be laden with symbolic and not so symbolic gestures.
The journey is clearly far more cathartic for the American team than the Vietnamese, who at the very least seem more at ease with themselves and their disabilities than their American counterparts, though how they would cope with a similar journey through the American heart-land, is open to question. Many of the veterans weep openly as they pass a still cratered landscape and encounter live land mines near where children play.
It’s difficult to say who this DVD is targeted at, although the endurance of cyclists and their ability to triumph over adversity a la Lance Armstrong may have prompted the films release by Facets Media. The current presence of American forces [amongst others] around the world certainly makes the film an awkward watch as many of the veterans clearly make the point that they are unashamed of anything they did in Vietnam. The most awkward moment is at a monument to the infamous massacre Mai-Lai, where the majority of the American cyclists refuse to take part - citing it as one-off event… and that they’re being manipulated for political purposes.
In summary this is a fascinating film and one can only hope that 25 years after the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq draw to close that their ghosts can be laid to rest in such a mature fashion.