"Regret to Inform"
A film review by
Linda L˙pez McAlister
"The Women's Show" WMNF-FM 88.5
Tampa, Florida
Saturday, January 22, 2000

I'm writing today's review while sitting in a hotel room in Taos, New Mexico where I've spent the week helping the folks at the Taos Talking Picture Festival (ranked one of the ten best film festivals in the world) evaluate entries for this year's festival that will be held in April. It's very appropriate that I'm reviewing "Regret to Inform" this week because it was one of the films shown at last year's Taos Talking Picture Festival. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for documentaries.

Like most documentaries, you probably won't be able to see this film in a theater, but you will be able to see it on television Monday night, January 24, on WEDU in Tampa or whatever your PBS station is, on that wonderful program called P.O.V. that has been bringing us the best independent films available for many years now. I think it's usually only on in the summer, but be thankful that they're broadcasting a segment of P.O.V on Monday night because you won't want to miss "Regret to Inform."

This is among the most heartfelt and moving documentaries you'll ever see. It is the work of a filmmaker named Barbara Sonneborn who wrote, directed and produced it. She is one of the many thousands of women, both American and Vietnamese, whose husbands or loved ones were killed during what we call "the Vietnamese War" and the Vietnamese call "the American war." Although after receiving the "Regret to inform..." telegram, she eventually remarried, built a career, and got on with her life. Yet, more than twenty years later, she still felt that she had not really come to terms with her loss. She came to know that the only way for her to find closure about this death would be to make a pilgrimage to Vietnam and see for herself where her husband had died. It was this most remarkable trip that gives us this beautiful cinematic plea for the end of war.

Barbara Sonneborn first sought out other American women who had lost husbands either in Vietnam or later as a result of their injuries, emotional as well as physical. She also sought out Vietnamese women who shared the experience of losing loved ones in the war and so much more because the war was fought in their homeland and involved massive violence against the civilian population. The stories she captures in this film are gut wrenching and tragic. For me the most poignant was the story told by Xuan Noc Evans, a Vietnamese woman now living in the USA, who married an American soldier after her Vietnamese first husband was killed in the war. You'll definitely need a good supply of Kleenex while you watch this film.

"Regret to Inform" is a film of extreme visual beauty, photographed exquisitely by cinematographer Emiko Omori whose work you may have seen when her own film "Rabbit In the Moon" was broadcast on P.O.V. last summer.

When Sonneborn reaches her destination, her guide may well have been leader of the Viet Cong guerilla unit that killed her husband, but the two women are united by the horrors of the war that their husbands, for the most part, found it impossible to talk about. It makes you realize vividly that the names on the Viet Nam Memorial tell only a part of the story; these women and their children are also casualties of war. But they can and do give voice to their experiences and their belief that no doctrine or cause is so important that it is worth subjecting people to the carnage and inhumanity that is war.

For the WMNF Women's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.

Copyright 2000 by Linda Lopez McAlister