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Australia, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Documentaries)

Director: Cristina Pozzan, Di Bretherton

At a time when Australia has again followed the United States into a nilitary adventure in a part of the world of which neither Australia nor the US has much comprehension, As The Mirror Burns is particularly timely. A film about contemporary Vietnam which shows an aspect of that country which is still poorly understood in Australia, it avoids the common view of Vietnam as merely the place where we fought a war. This highly personal and involving documentary concentrates instead on the women of Vietnam; women who are not victims but who were actively involved in the defence of their country and who are now actively involved in the reconstruction.

As a record of a journey through Vietnam, As The Mirror Burns is about one woman's attempts to come to a better understanding of the land we once regarded as enemy. But unlike other voyages through Vietnam, the itinerary of this one is not determined by the locations of battles fought by the French, Americans or Australians. Narrated by peace activist Di Bretherton, the voice-over makes clear her awareness of the western perspective of the film. "Travelling in the land of the enemy is like looking in a mirror. The reflection I see of myself and my own culture is not always comfortable".

Coming from such a perspective the film sensibly makes no claims to be comprehensive, nor to offer a detailed analysis of the internal politics of Vietnam, nor to be an assessment of its place in the world community today. Instead As The Mirror Burns presents us with a series of illuminating fragments. Among these fragments are six interviews - including a woman who was a heroic fighter, a doctor, an ex minister of health, and the relatives of Kim Phuc who was the centre of one of the most famous images of the war.

As Senator Jo Valentine has said, the film is important for the opportunity it allows "for Vietnamese women to speak for themselves about their culture, the ghastly interruption to their lives that the war was, their continuing struggles to rebuild after that devastation their hopes for the future." (P.H.)

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