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Field of Dreams: Michelle Mason's documentary reveals how former Vietnam War enemies reconciled to create the Friendship Village.

It Takes a 'Village'

Eye-opening documentary 'The Friendship Village' chronicles one U.S. soldier's quest for peace

By Rebecca Patt

Although first-time filmmaker Michelle Mason made it on a modest budget provided by Canadian broadcasting funds, The Friendship Village has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster that I'd really like to see.

The story is of epic scope and depth, reminding us not only of our capacity for horror and violence, but also of our capacity for transformation and peace. This stunning documentary concerns a warrior's metamorphosis into a peacemaker, his inspiring reconciliation with his former enemies, and their joint efforts to address the tragic long-term effect of warfare through the creation of a place called the Friendship Village.

The award-winning film, featured at several international film festivals over the last year, is especially remarkable in its relevance to the current antiwar movement, and because it captures the awesome power of the human spirit by displaying one man's ability to transcend war and make a difference.

Using classic footage from the war era and present-day interviews, the film tells the story of George Mizos, an All-American guy who grew up thinking that our country was the "good guy" and that if the U.S. involved itself in foreign affairs, it was only for the most decent of reasons. Believing he was fulfilling his patriotic duty, Mizos enlisted to go to Vietnam and served on the front lines of a combat unit.

He soon came to realize that the Vietnamese are an incredible people with an ancient culture, and that he didn't know why he was fighting them. In 1968, while caught in the middle of the Tet Offensive, he had a definitive revelation that the United States' reasons for being in Vietnam were less about democracy and more about political greed--or as he puts it so succinctly in the movie, "bullshit." He was the only member of his platoon to come home alive.

The war hero returned to find his family and country torn apart. He became increasingly outspoken in his opposition to the war and served three years in prison for speaking against the U.S. Army. He was released in 1971. During the 1980s, he was one of four men who participated in a 47-day fast on the steps of the Capitol to protest U.S. involvement in Nicaragua.

In the '90s, his quest for peace led him back to Vietnam. He forged a deep friendship with Sr. Lt. General Tran Van Quang, the very man who planned and led the battle that killed all of his platoon. In order to bring about peace, healing and reconciliation on an even greater scale, the two men rallied veterans from around the world to help create the Friendship Village, a treatment center for Vietnamese children suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide the U.S. Army sprayed during the war to destroy the lush foliage concealing the Viet Cong.

Santa Cruz resident Carl Stancil, who was recently profiled in these pages, is one of the most active vets in organizing fundraising and educational events for the Village. He is responsible for organizing this movie screening to raise awareness about the Village and Agent Orange.

The film shows us how important the reconciliation process is to finding nonviolent means to resolve conflict. "Until the U.S. is called upon to face its history of violence, not only in Vietnam, but the world over, then we are going to continue to see the kind of foreign policy that is shaping into this latest war with Iraq. I think audiences understand that, and so the film is becoming a rallying point for those seeking another path," says Mason.

The Friendship Village makes its Bay Area premiere Wednesday, April 16, at 7pm at the Vets Hall, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. Admission is free, donations gratefully accepted. Call 429.6302 for more info.

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From the April 16-23, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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