Production for this film began with a 2006 conversation between the filmmaker and his father, Peter Sorensen, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968, a year when American troop levels in Vietnam were growing at the same rate support for the War on the homefront was shrinking.
“For my generation, sons and daughters of the ‘baby boomers,’ enlisting in the military has always been a choice,” said Soren Sorensen. “So, 40 years later, the idea of enlisting during the Vietnam War, in a divisive political climate not unlike what we’re seeing now, seemed to me sort of inconsistent with common sense.”
He added, “I was a bit naïve.”
The film features the stories of two men Peter Sorensen served with who were killed in Vietnam in 1970. For first-time filmmaker Soren Sorensen, the production process—which included shoots in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC—was an educational experience and a chance to get to know his father better.
“I came to realize that guys like my father didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “The romantic hindsight fantasy of burning your draft card and going to Canada had consequences related to your family, community, and financial situation that made it all but impossible.”
Sorensen continued: “Add to that the World War II generation looming large in history and culture. I think people wanted to live up to their parents’ expectations.”
The filmmaker says the process gave him a deeper understanding of the military and strengthened his relationship with his father.
“How could it not?” he said. “When you fly across the country and interview a complete stranger in Arizona about his experiences in Vietnam and he says, as my father says, ‘I’ve never had a conversation like this before,’ you realize just how silently Vietnam Veterans have carried the physical and psychological burdens of that war.”
He added, “Not only do you learn a tremendous amount, but you also gain an overwhelming sense of respect and gratitude.”
Peter Sorensen, the filmmaker’s father and one of the film’s primary subjects, said, “The film is more than the story of a father and a son. It's emblematic of the deleterious and ripple effect armed conflicts such as the Vietnam War have on entire families and ultimately the nation.”
The production turned out to be a multi-year odyssey for Sorensen—who also produced, wrote, and edited the film—and Director of Photography Dan Akiba.
“Dan was the one who encouraged me to shoot the interview with my father in the first place,” said Soren Sorensen. “If it wasn’t for him, I might not have made the film at all.”
Featuring never-before-seen photographs and 8mm footage of the era, My Father’s Vietnam sheds new light on a disturbing chapter of American history that continues to deeply impact those who lived through it.