[photos alternating above: 1. Jim Laurie at Washington Newsdesk with CCTV America Managing Editor Mei Yan, April 2012 2. The CCTV America Team Washington DC February 2012. 3. Cambodia: scattering Sinan's remains along the Mekong River January 31, 2011 4. The University of Hong Kong ABC News student TV production team, 2010.
Update January 7, 2017
A new year and new projects.
For the last several months we have been pre-occupied with the development of a new Documentary Film strand for China Global Television.
I was pleased to choose the first two films for the series which has been named BIG STORY.
The first two films in the series are television exclusives and will be given several runs between now and June 15th.
Once the doc unit is properly staffed, I will end my stint as a show runner and put back on my hat as a media consultants!
If you would like to see what I have been up to look see my Vimeo page
BIG STORY Ep 1: TELL SPRING NOT TO COME THIS YEAR
BIG STORY Ep 2: PLEASE REMEMBER ME
contact me for more info...
1. TELL SPRING NOT TO COME THIS YEAR.
The documentary "Tell Spring Not to Come This Year" is a gripping, observational film following one unit of the Afghan National Army over the course of its first year of fighting in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The Afghan soldiers face their first military operations without direct American or NATO assistance. They prepare to battle the Taliban which normally launch deadly combat offensives every Spring.
This is the first feature documentary ever filmed entirely embedded with the Afghan Army. An intimate and humanist story, it is told from a largely unheard and misrepresented perspective – the Afghan soldiers themselves.
Big Story provides "Tell Spring Not to Come This Year" its World Television premier after a successful theatrical run.
Directed and shot by Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy, the film won the 2015 Audience Choice Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The Guardian newspaper calls it "tough, perceptive, and beautifully photographed." The Hollywood Reporter describes the film as a "harrowing you-are-there combat" story.
Since September 2001, the war in Afghanistan has dragged on for 15 years. This a remarkable look at that war through the eyes of the Afghans who live it.
2. PLEASE REMEMBER ME
Around the globe, nearly 45 million people are affected by Alzheimer's Disease or related senile dementia.
Among China's increasingly ageing population, there are more than nine million Alzheimer's patients; the largest number in any country.
The new China Global Television Network strand - Big Story this week presents a remarkable film from Shanghai.
"Please Remember Me" is a powerful love story of a man struggling to care for his ailing wife of 43 years.
Shu Feng agonizes over how to help Lou as she slowly loses the memories of a life time.
"A solution, there is no solution," says Feng as he struggles to decide whether to institutionalize Lou.
Lou was a school administrator before her retirement. Now at 85, medical examiners report she has a mental age of four.
Her step son notes "she has no memory left. She doesn't even recognize me."
The film is directed by Shanghai Director Zhao Qing, Produced by Du Feng. This is its television debut.
Update January 1, 2017
CCTV and CCTV America have rebranded. Given new names as part of a 2017 reorganization of Chinese television efforts for non Chinese audiences. New names CGTN, China Global Television Network and CGTN America
Update November 6, 2016
Tomorrow addressing a Washington DC meeting of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy on Chinese media and coverage of the American elections. Full house turnout.
Update November 1-5, 2016
Time out from Asian Affairs to spend time in Florida, the state of my birth. Actually volunteered in the Clinton get-out-the-early vote campaign... a new and satisfying experience.
Update October 29, 2016
Thanks to the Overseas Press Club for their October profile https://opcofamerica.org/meet-the-opc-members-qa-with-jim-laurie/
Update October 21, 2016
Back to Washington DC from Houston Texas where we spoke on China developments to the continuing educational program of the Women's Institute of Houston at the River Oaks Country Club. Lots of interesting questions from an enthusiastic audience of 200.
Update September 5, 2016
Back in the US after 10 days in Hong Kong. Good to be back at the University of Hong Kong, to see old friends, and observe the current politics of the city - as it grappled with LEGCO elections, political pressure from Beijing, and rising 'local' voices among the city's High School/ University Students and youth.
Update August 18, 2016
Preparing to head to Hong Kong next week. An excellent event is planned August 31st to mark the accomplishments of the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong. Its director and founder Professor Ying Chan is stepping down. Being replaced by our old friend Keith Richburg, former international editor of the Washington Post.
Update May 22, 2016
Read our latest blog item on the Huffington Post. Advance observations on Vietnam. China-Vietnam relations over the years and President Obama visits Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City: HUFFPOST
Update February 23, 2016
Read our latest item on the Huffington Post - reflections on Taiwan and the evolution of Democracy over 40 years
Update February 12, 2016
Read our latest item on the Huffington Post - the remarkable story of Kim Nguyen in and out of Vietnam.
HUFFPOST - Vietnam 'Miss Saigon" and Amerasians 30 years on
Update January 9, 2016
Back in US from China. Great travels October-December in Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Guiyang. Now based Washington D.C. New Year's Resolution = Keep writing HUFFINGTON POST BLOG:
HUFFPOST - Travels to Guizhou
HUFFPOST -Looking back at Chinese leader HU Yaobang
HUFFPOST - Reflections on religion in China
HUFFPOST - My Job Fair visit in Beijing
Update October 20, 2015
Off from Washington to Hong Kong on October 16th then to Beijing October October 18th.
Look for updates of Twitter and Facebook from China until December 5th.
Read the latest HUFFPOST item on China: China, the Pope, Religion, Tibet =
Update August 29, 2015
READ us in the HUFFINGTON POST = HUFFPOST on the Philippines
Update August 15, 2015
READ us in the HUFFINGTON POST = HUFFPOST CUBA
Update August 9, 2015
Follow us on twitter = https://twitter.com/FocusAsia
Update August 9, 2015
Tonight CCTV America releases a new documentary film on Cuba: "Reinventing Cuba" Watch on TV or online Live Stream 7pm Sunday
My insiders review:
A couple of admissions. First I was wrong. After my first visit to Cuba in April 1989, I made a prediction.
On April 2nd, I watched Mikhail Gorbachev and Fidel Castro embrace. I reported the end of cheap Russian oil and massive Soviet economic support for Cuba was near. The American trade embargo was biting. I thought Fidel’s Cuba would have to change. Crippled by a Russian cutoff, Castro would move quickly to reform. Rapprochement with the United States might follow.
It didn’t work out that way. Rejecting Gorbachev’s fledgling economic reforms, Fidel stubbornly proclaimed “Perestroika is another man’s wife. I don’t want to get involved.”
I had no doubt been too much influenced by China where from 1978 to 1988, I had covered Deng Xiaoping’s startling economic reforms.
Spin ahead 26 years. Change or at the very least the hope of real change is finally coming to Cuba.
On August 14th, John Kerry becomes the first American Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Havana. Normalized relations are finally proceeding step by step. And the Russians: Vladimir Putin forgave at least 90 percent of Cuba’s $35 billion Soviet era debt when he visited Cuba last summer.
The Cuban people are embracing change - as former NPR Latin America correspondent Gerry Hadden reveals in a remarkable new documentary film: “Reinventing Cuba.”
[My second admission: I worked as advisor on the film and serve as consultant to its producers.]
The film is produced by the American arm of China Central Television based in Washington. The Chinese connection helped Hadden gain access sometimes denied by the Cuban government to American film teams.
It was not an easy film to produce. Having shot films in Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and North Korea, I know from long experience, they never are. In this case the film is ably executed by the loving cinematography of Cuban born producer/cameraman Armando Guerra.
What emerges from Hadden’s “Reinventing Cuba” is a story of an extraordinarily inventive, independent, creative and vibrant people who have learned to overcome any obstacle.
No matter whether those obstacles have been imposed by the Americans and their now 53 year old embargo or by the policies of the Cuban government itself, Cubans have not only survived but thrived.
Hadden examines a Cuba as he puts it “beyond cigars and salsa, mojitos and Malecón” and discovers some remarkable characters. There is 8 year old Jan Carl and his dream of baseball growing from the ‘Lions’ of central Havana to the big leagues. There is Robin, a hip, ambitious entrepreneur who has started a digital magazine, perhaps a Cuban ‘Rolling Stone,’ in a country where internet access is a challenge at best. And Idania, one of several beautiful and creative designers and artists, Hadden portrays. Wonderfully talented, Idania creates commercial design work out of hand-me-downs. She struggles however with simple things – obtaining a permit for a store sign or finding wall screws to hang up her art on an island where so much is scarce.
What is most striking is how out of such adversity have come real accomplishments; none more so than in the fields of biotechnology and medicine.
What becomes clear is that better US-Cuba relations will of course be good for Cubans, but good also for Americans in ways not widely known. We learn from Yuri Valdez of Cuba’s Finlay Center for Vaccines Research that Cubans are pioneers in vaccinations, most notably for Meningitis B. Meningitis causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It can mean death particularly among children. Cuba has had a vaccine for the B strain of the disease since the 1990’s; a vaccine not available in the United States and banned for sale here by the trade embargo. Cuban research and treatment has advanced across a wide array of medicine: leukemia, diabetes, bone marrow transplants and even a rare degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Dr Valdez, noting Cuba remains a very poor country, says “only by exporting our medical products can we get enough money to support research and a high healthcare standard.”
The medical work is clearly not only good for Cuba but for the world.
This is a film about the aesthetics of scarcity.
We cannot help but watch with admiration as Cubans, many of whom are part of an emerging, entrepreneurial and professional middle class, work their way forward, escaping want and scarcity, reinventing themselves, and building a new Cuba.
Update May 30, 2015
40 years ago the Far Eastern Economic Review (once one of Asia's great weekly journals) published some of my reporting from Vietnam in May 1975. Here are a few from the archives http://goo.gl/8t8V8a
Update May 10, 2015
Be sure and see the new reflections article on - Vietnam 40 years on - in the Vietnam archives section of this website. There were very few American journalists in Vietnam on May 10 1975. Read more ... http://goo.gl/vS0jXO
Update April 24, 2015
"Last Days in Vietnam: An incomplete PBS "American Experience"
Background: Broadcast on PBS April 28, 2015 and available on DVD and on line through various vendors, the documentary "Last Days in Vietnam," is enjoying both wide distribution and wide acclaim (Academy Award nominee) as a film portraying the final days of what Americans call the Vietnam War. The film, directed by Rory Kennedy, includes a highly debatable historical section which distorts the period 1973-1975. As a participant in the film, I wrote the following corrective:
See also http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/blog/2015/04/29/vietnam-40-years/
40 years after the end of what the Vietnamese call "The American War," discussion of the conflict remains as divisive and emotionally charged as it was all those years ago.
The Vietnamese victors celebrate each April 30th what they call their day of "Giải Phóng" - liberation. Many of the Vietnamese who supported the American side and fled their homeland describe that day as "Ngày Quốc Nhục" - a National Day of Shame.
While Rory Kennedy's film "Last Days in Vietnam" portrays powerfully the human drama played out in the final 48 hours of the war, a number of critics have raised serious questions about the brief treatment of the history leading up to those compelling hours.
The issues prompting the greatest debate involve the controversial January 1973 Paris Peace Accords and their impact on developments in South Vietnam in the two years to follow.
Very few observers at the time saw the agreement as anything but a fig leaf behind which to bring home American prisoners of war in North Vietnam and to extricate remaining US troops in South Vietnam.
"Last Days..." leaves unchallenged the view of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"We thought it would be the beginning not of peace in the American sense but the beginning of a period of co-existence," Kissinger recalls, "It might evolve as it did in Korea into two states."
For starters, the United States has stationed more than 30,000 troops in Korea for more than sixty years to guarantee a two state situation on the peninsula. In Vietnam no such role for the U-S was ever envisioned; was ever possible.
Arnold Isaacs, journalist and author of "Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia," argues the historical section of the film risks allowing "a false narrative take root in the public mind." He points out that the film makes it appear that North Vietnam suddenly and unilaterally broke the Paris treaty and conquered the south in 1975.
For journalists there at the time, it was not that simple. Both sides, not just one were responsible for the agreement's failure.
The Peace Accord called for a "ceasefire" in place with each side holding positions as they were at 8 am on January 28, 1973.
"From its first hours, Kissinger's peace was never anything but an illusion," writes Isaacs. Except in a handful of places, for a few weeks in early February, neither side "observed any restriction on military operations." Neither side ever took any steps to carry out the agreement's political provisions, which were supposed to lead to free elections and peaceful reunification.
In 1973 and 1974, South Vietnam, squandering large stockpiles of weaponry, engaged in a land grab. In the two years after the Peace agreement, South Vietnamese battle deaths soared to more than 56,000; a higher casualty rate than at any time except in the years of the major offensives of 1968 and 1972.
By the end of 1974, the military strategy of Nguyen Van Thieu had left his forces exhausted. President from 1967-1975, Thieu is mentioned only in passing in the film. In addition, Thieu depended on an American style "rich man's war," heavily dependent on air power. The combined forces of North Vietnam and the southern National Liberation Front never had that luxury.
When American supplies of munitions for 1974-1975 failed to match those of earlier years, Thieu's commanders had to "ration" air support, fuel, artillery and all other ordinance.
Also missing from the film's narrative is any reference to the incompetence and corruption of some of the South Vietnam command.
Newsweek Correspondent Loren Jenkins accompanying South Vietnam's Economics Minister in 1974 recalls his shock at witnessing the minister handing out fresh $100 bills to military commanders in Da Nang and Hue. "They lined up like school boys at a candy store for their handouts" said Jenkins.
In February 1975, New York Times Correspondent Fox Butterfield reported on a captured North Vietnamese document which spelled out accurately the weaknesses of the South Vietnamese military.
"Corruption and poor leadership particularly in the Central Highlands," was specifically mentioned. Butterfield recalls visiting the city of Pleiku early in the year to discover a demoralized army, rationing armaments, and plagued by alarming drug addiction. "Up to 30% of combat soldiers and airmen were addicted to heroin," he reported.
To be sure, some South Vietnamese units fought valiantly to defend a way of life much different from that enjoyed in Communist Party dominated North Vietnam. Equally certain, the "revolutionary nationalists" who had coalesced around Ho Chi Minh in the early 1940's had never given up their determination to achieve a single unified Vietnam.
As it turned out, the rapid unravelling of South Vietnamese troops in the Central Highlands and the loss of the city of Ban Mê Thuột in March 1975 emboldened the combined "revolutionary forces" and sealed the fate of the South.
Not even the confident commander of the "Great Spring Victory," General Văn Tiến Dũng, who I interviewed in Hanoi in March 2000, thought he could take the Central Highlands so easily and go on to win a total victory in 55 days. The high command's timetable in December 1974 called for the main offensive in the Central Highlands which would "create conditions for total victory" sometime in 1976.
Around noon on April 30, 1975, "a great cheer went up in the command bunker (19 miles north of Saigon) and we began to hug each other," General Dũng told me, "we had captured Saigon well ahead of our plan."
Nearly three weeks later, my longtime colleague and cameraman, Neil Davis and I met a junior North Vietnamese military commander who marveled at how wealthy Saigon was compared to Hanoi. "What I don't understand is why the South didn't fight harder for all these riches," he said, "Didn't they realize we were destitute in the North."
Because of the wide distribution and impact of "Last Days...," the American Experience project will no doubt become a key resource explaining the Vietnam War to millions of people too young to recall the war or lacking much understanding of its complex history. Accuracy and context in treating these events, becomes therefore even more essential.
THE DEBATE CONTINUES SEE
Update April 3, 2015
This month we are marking 40 years since events in Indochina changed drastically the lives of tens of millions of people. The end of the American War in Vietnam on April 30th. The American pull out of Cambodia on April 12th and the Khmer Rouge take over on April 17th. The beginning of a massive flood of refugees from Vietnam. April 1975 was among the most gut wrenching of this correspondent's life. Cataclismic events, the loss of friends, and the start of new friendships.
On April 3 1975, we were in Phnom Pemh. By April 26th, we were in Saigon. There will be many recollections in the days ahead.
Update February 20, 2015
Will be watching with interest the Oscars on Sunday for the awards in the documentary categories. Among the Academy's documentary feature nominees are Rory Kennedy's LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM. We are betting it WILL NOT win. Likely winner - Laura Poitras film about Edward Snowden "Citizen Four" We had a bit part in the Kennedy film.
Update December 15, 2014
Asia travels ended for now. New York and Washington until the end of the year.
Update December 7 2014
Asia travels continue. Hong Kong Nov 13-20. Asia premiere LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM November 17th. Saigon Nov 20-29. Da Nang November 30. Hanoi December 1-2. Beijing December 3-6. Shanghai December 6-9. Hong Kong December 10-11.... and more follow the travels on https://www.facebook.com/focus.asia
Update November 1 2014
Preparing to leave Washington for Asia. From November 10th will be travelling from New York to Hong Kong, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing, Shanghai - returning to the US in mid-December. Follow the travels on our FACEBOOK page
Update September 17
A further note on the Rory Kennedy film in which we have a BIT part.
LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM is finishing up a screening this week in Washington DC and in New York but it opening across the US over the next several weeks. it is a flawed film in its telling of history but a well told human story of events of 40 years ago ... April 29-30, 1975. Very much part of this reporters life.
Update June 16
This week in Washington DC - the new Rory Kennedy documentary film 'LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM' is showing. Saturday June 21 1045a at the Naval Heritage Center in DC. Sunday June 22nd at AFI Silver in Maryland. Will be attending.
Update June 6
Looking back again to events 25 years ago in Beijing. What strikes the reporter is that some of the most shocking, angry and emotional events occurred in the two weeks after the Tian An Men crackdown. Here is a selection of reports aired June 5 1989 to June 15 1989.
Update June 3
25 Years ago - June 4th. We witnessed the uprising and the repression of the Tian An Men movement. Two videos that might be worth watching.
Check out Anthony Thomas' film THE TANK MAN - film available from PBS.
Update May 23
I rarely put very personal items unrelated to work on jimlaurie.com, but today is an exception. This weekend is a very special graduation at Brown University. Son Chris, age 21, graduates with a degree in Biology on Sunday. Chris seeks a career in the sciences or medicine and this Dad is very proud.
Update April 30
End of April always an emotional time for this reporter. I left Cambodia in advance of the Khmer Rouge take over on April 12, 1975 and on April 30th 1975 watched North Vietnamese troops take the city of Saigon. I have assembled on youtube two play lists to mark these events.
Update April 12
The weekly talk/culture/cause focused show shot in Burbank California that we have been helping to launch, debuts tonight. FULL FRAME profiles Bill Gates Saturday April 12th and Yo Yo Ma on April 19th. It airs at 8pm US eastern time on the CCTV News channel. Produced by CCTV America and anchored by Mike Walter... see below for on line preview.
Bill Gates and some of the Foundation causes: malaria, polio eradication, and vaccination controversy.
Yo Yo Ma and 'passion driven' education.
let me know what you think. write
Update April 6
Our client CCTV America launches new programs tomorrow.
With a lot of hard work from more than 120 colleagues in Washington, the US production arm of China Central television expands its programming (Monday) from 6pm US eastern time. A new newshour at 7... business show at 8.... and Anand Naidoo hosts a new talk show after the news at 9pm. Later in the week Mike Walter launches a new culture and cause based show called 'Full Frame' and Elaine Reyes' South America show 'Americas Now' expands to a full one hour. http://www.cctv-america.tv/livenews/
Update March 30
Our client, CCTV America now in rehearsals for expanded programming to be rolled out from Washington in stages on April 7th, 12th, 13th and May 1st. They will add more than three hours a day of new original programming. Among the shows to be launched - a new one out of Los Angeles - a cultural and cause based talk and feature program called FULL FRAME. Debuting April 12th. See a short preview here: https://vimeo.com/90206629
Update February 26
CCTV America, the American production are of China's global English language channel, has announced it will expand US programming from Monday April 7th 2014. The Washington DC production center will be responsible for all channel programming from 6pm US eastern time (6 am Beijing) to 10pm. New news and talk programming will be rolled out. See the Focus Asia page for more.
Update February 17
Note: We have posted to the Focus Asia Productions page new job openings available at CCTV America in Washington DC>
Update January 18
Park City Utah. Documentary: "Last Days in Vietnam" at the Sundance Film Festival
The premiere of the latest Vietnam historical film was a highly emotional occasion.
There were few dry eyes in the house as Director Rory Kennedy unveiled her finely crafted story of
Americans and their struggle to help evacuate tens of thousands of Vietnamese in the last days
of April 1975.
Former US Army Captain Stuart Herrington provides the essential narrative from beginning to end.
Attached to the US Embassy's defense attache' office and a Vietnamese speaker, Herrington
promises to evacuate thousands of Vietnamese huddled around the swimming pool at the Saigon Embassy.
It is a promise that haunts him to this day.
The film features a wide range of interviews and familiar accounts. Former CIA analyst Frank Sneppdescribes the inevitable and disastrous end. The harshness of his criticism of Ambassador Graham Martin seems
undiminished. Snepp repeats the story of his fellow South Carolinian's refusal to accept the reality of what
was happening on the ground and order what might have been a more disciplined end to America's
wartime involvement in Vietnam. Snepp's powerful account was first told in 1977 in 'Decent Interval:
An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End.'
(Snepp's account of his battle with the CIA over the book is told in his 1999 memoir 'Irreparable Harm.')
The film's most dramatic moments come in the retelling of two lesser known dramas of April 29-30.
There could be no more powerful story told than that of the work of Vietnamese Navy Deputy Chief of
Staff for Operations, Đỗ Kiem and Richard Armitage, who had returned to Saigon only on April 24th attached
to the defense attaches office.
Armitage and Đỗ Kiem put together a river evacuation which took more than 30,000 Vietnamese on 32 vessels;
down the Saigon River; rendezvousing with the American destroyer USS Kirk off the island of Côn Sơn.
The Kirk then leads a flimsy flotilla nearly 1000 miles to Subic Bay the Philippines in an operation totally unauthorized by the US or Philippine governments.
As Armitage puts it in the film: 'It was easier to ask for forgiveness than it was to ask for permission.'
(A footnote to this story: 18 year old Xuan Xanh Vo was one of those who escaped Vietnam on the April 30th shiplift. 16 years later Ms. Vo became my wife.)
The story of helicopter pilot Nguyen Ba and the dramatic rescue of his family to the safety of the battleship Kirk
had the packed house at the old Racket Club theater in Park City Utah gasping in astonishment.
Ba, flying solo a CH 47 Chinook helicopter, airlifts his wife and three children along with a half dozen others from a
school yard in Saigon to the battleship Kirk. The helicopter clearly too large to land on the Kirk's tiny helipad,
Ba maneuvers the giant chopper, hovering above the ship's deck as one by one his passengers jump into the arms of US Navy personnel. He then ditches the aircraft, shrapnel flying everywhere, yet manages to swim to safety
Sitting next to me at the screening were Miki Nguyen and his wife Karen. Miki was six years old when he jumped from his father's helicopter to the deck of the Kirk. He watched minutes later as his mother veritably threw his 10 month old sister into the arms of Navy men. Sister Mina is today a neuropsychologist in Oregon. Miki and his wife live near Seattle.
The story of the Kirk and its compassionate crew is amplified by Captain Paul Jacobs, ship historian Hugh Doyle and other crew members who sat in the opening night audience.
The remarkable 'Super 8' film of Dan Lucero makes possible the visual telling of the dramatic story.
For those of us who were in Vietnam on those 'final days,' it was a unique opportunity to reconnect to events that defined our lives and meet some amazing individuals.
The film contains the familiar stories and images of a number of 'old Vietnam hacks' no longer with us.
CBS' Bruce Dunning voice once more can be heard from Da Nang. NBC'S Art Lord from Ton Son Nhut as it was being shelled on April 29th ending the 'fixed wing' evacuation. We hear once again the story behind Hugh Van Es' famous 'steps to the helicopter' photograph as told by Frank Snepp.
And in the short section which I narrate, we watch the extraordinary film of my mentor, the late, great Australian photo journalist Neil Davis. Ms Kennedy's video editor Don Kleszy reducing to slow motion the images of a US Embassy being looted floor by floor as Davis and I reported on the morning of April 30th.
The flaws in the film lie in its failure to protray fully the historical to the drama of the last 48 hours (April 29-30). For the old hands, the history section - roughly seven minutes - will be incomplete at best. That is worrying because a whole generation of people have little or no knowledge of the event of 1973-75 which are critical to understanding the "final days."
The premiere of a film about events nearly 40 years ago, however, brought out a remarkable audience at Sundance.
Much of the audience was young - seeing these events for the first time.
Among old timers at the screening were notables of the entertainment world. Actor, director, activist Rob Reiner watched in rapt attention.
And most curious to me – singer Wayne Newton.
"My fascination with Vietnam remains," said Newton. Still singing in Las Vegas these days, Newton did a half dozen U-S-O shows during the war, in places as he put it to me "where no one else wanted to go."
Among the film makers, special credit must go to Ms Kennedy's husband Mark Bailey and the ever patient and thorough Keven McAllister, film writers. Keven spent hours drawing out my recollections. My only regret is that my wife Xuan Xanh did not sit for an interview.
'Last Days in Vietnam' will be in theaters around the US for the next year. A longer version of the 98 minute film will air on PBS in April 2015, the 40th anniversary of the 'fall of Vietnam.'
More observations on Sundance and Vietnam coming soon.
Update January 12
Travelling to Utah this week for the start of the Sundance Film Festival. A film in which we have a very small part is premiering. 'Last Days in Vietnam' by Rory Kennedy January 17th. https://vimeo.com/83720339
Update January 1, 2014
35 years ago, we spent New Year’s Day in Beijing. There was a new years eve party at the Guójì jùlèbù and then a daytime reception at the US Liaison office. The US and China normalized that day diplomatic relations. On January 5th 1979…. We would interview Deng Xiaoping with a small group of American journalists.
We are developing on Youtube a play list of stories related to the occasion.
Update December 17th
Back from a week in Los Angeles. Developing a new weekly hour long talk show at KCET television in Burbank. 'Full Frame' is a studio based talk show focusing on film, culture, science, technology and global humanitarian efforts. In the episode we shot this past week, philanthropist Howard Buffett (son of Warren who some consider the most successful investor of the 20th Century) joined a discussion on solving world hunger and the power of philanthropy. On the technical side, it gave us our first experience at using virtual designers to build and dress a green screen, virtual set. Tricky to make a TV program have a 'real' look and feel using the computer tools of virtual design. Watch this space for video excerpts of the new show which debut (produced by CCTV America) in March.
Update November 16th
Returning to DC from Boston and the Marketplace conference of APT - American Public Television. Saddened by the seeming lack of interest among public media program directors in global current affairs and news content. A lot on offer among How-to shows, cooking shows, and some nature shows, but great current affairs documentaries and news packages noticeable by their absence.
Update October 16th
One of the hottest topics in the current media environment is the trend among international broadcasters to seek a place and influence in the American marketplace. The OPC has organized a panel of speakers representing networks that have moved aggressively in the past few years to find a place in the global and American TV news cable and satellite landscape.
The panel will include:
Marcy McGinnis, Senior Vice President for News Gathering for Al Jazeera America, the channel of the Qatari based network which went on the air in August.
Elaine Reyes, a news anchor for CCTV America, the American division of the English language news channel of CCTV, China's state broadcaster, which went on the air from Washington in February 2012.
Jay Campbell, President of CAV International, US representative for NHK World, the global English language channel of Japan's public broadcasting company.
Porter Bibb will fill the role of media commentator. A former White House correspondent for
Newsweek and former Corporate Development Director for The New York Times Company
is now Managing Partner of Mediatech Capital Partners
Jim Laurie, OPC member, will Moderate. After years as an American network correspondent, Laurie as a consultant, turned to the development of global news channels in 2001, and served as the director of the broadcast journalism department at the University of Hong Kong.
The panel discussion will take place on Wednesday, October 16 at the Ford Foundation East River Room, 320 East 43 Street. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m., Reception at 6 p.m. and the discussion at 6:45 p.m. RSVP is essential. Please call the OPC at 212-626-9220 or e-mail
. Photo ID is necessary to enter the Ford Foundation building.
Update September 18
With the summer over - a visit to Florida and one last weekend on the farm in Oxford County Maine - then down to a very busy autumn.
Wearing my consultant's hat: CCTV America is beginning to ramp up again, trying to extend its presence in North America. The Chinese corporation plans to hire 60 more television producers, technicans, reporters/anchors and others between October 1 and December 15th.
Extraordinary that the media game in America at the moment is being dominated at least in hiring by the Qataris and the Chinese. Al Jazeera America continues to grow. A number of US network stalwarts have joined the ranks of AJAM including Sheila MacVicar, CBS veteran Randall Pinkston, and CNN's Jeanne Meserve. Stay tuned and watch this space for more global television news in the United States.
Update August 1
It has been a summer divided between Washington DC and Oxford County Maine and a summer of reading good books.
My two favorite books of the year:
Fredrik Logevall: "Embers of War : the fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam." Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer prize for history, 'Embers' is a brilliant recounting of French Indochina and the lost opportunities of the period 1944 to 1954. Absolutely riveting.
And an older Pulitzer Prize History winner
Doris Kearns Goodwin: "No Ordinary Time – Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the Home Front in WW 2" Again brilliant story telling of my favorite US President and his wife who in many ways was more remarkable than he.
plus other good reads
Elizabeth Becker: "Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism" Becker a colleague from Cambodia days writes particularly well about the horrors of the global cruise line industry and the degradation of some parts of the world including Cambodia - not by war or terrorism but by mass tourism.
Two China reads recently completed
Ezra Vogel: "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China"
David Shambaugh: "China Goes Global: The Partial Power"
And a old book of short story fiction being re-read
Robert Olen Butler: "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain"
Craig Brown: "Hello Goodbye Hello: A circle of 101 remarkable meetings"
Finally the most DISAPPOINTING RE-READ of the summer:
Ernest Hemingway: "A Moveable Feast" - (the restored edition) As a devoted Hemingway fan - this volume remains a huge disappointment. One reads in hopes of a book that captures Paris in the 1920's. And yes all the places and people are there. But Hemingways ramblings written years after his prime. (penned in spurts of energy between 1957 and 1960) fails to satisfy. Hemingway ended his own life in 1961.
Update June 2
For those who follow the global news wars... the autumn is shaping up to be quite a battle. Al Jazeera and its new channel launches the end of August. CCTV America by November will launch five more hours of daily programming out of Washington... and
the Russians - believe it or not hiring Larry King for an RT talk show.
On AJAM, see former AJE Director Tony Burman and his scathing critique of Al Jazeera's plans. Says they are squandering not only hundreds of millions of dollars in America but their unique global advantage as well =
Update May 18
Earlier in the week we were in Miami for the annual meeting of the US Public Broadcasting System.
What do general managers, programming people, marketing specialists, and other Public Broadcasting members talk about over three days? Well funding is always an issue. But this year ratings and the remarkable popularity of PBS programming. The 7 plus ratings shares on Sunday nights are NOT thanks to American TV producers but to friends across the Atlantic: the British. The Downton Abbey phenom dominated the talk of the Miami conclave. Not only Downton which enters its 4th season on PBS on January but other ITV and BBC staples. Curiously British viewers quickly tired of some of these stylish 'soaps' but American viewers remain loyal. What I fail to understand in this incredibly connected world is why ITV and PBS don't launch their programming simultaneously. Makes no sense to me to have Downton 4 start in September in the UK but five months later in the US of A.
The other talk of Miami was of documentaries. Frontline and Ken Burns still churning out quality products.
Incidentally, Frontline Dep ExecProd Raney Aronson notes that in the past FIVE years 12,000 American journalists have lost their jobs.
What she didn't say is that among the few hiring Americans these days are the global news channels: Al Jazeera English, China Central Television, RT, and France 24.
A most amusing tribute this week to film maker Ken Burns from his brother Ric. Ken turns age 60 this summer. Ken has produced 22 films for PBS since his first on the Brooklyn Bridge and of course the record breaking Civil War series. Of personal interest - his Vietnam film (interviewing soldiers both Vietnamese and American) will be released in January 2015. Before then films on FDR and other projects. Further note PBS' The American Experience will release a film on the Fall of Saigon due for release in 2014.
Update April 26
Just back to Washington from Los Angeles. Thanks to Al Jerome, Paul Mason, and others at KCET/Link TV for their warm reception. Look forward to co-production possibilities in September.
Update April 19
Thanks to DJ Clarke in Beijing. Presented to New York Times, BBC sponsored Social Media Summit a short 'LIGHTNING TALK' on Social Media platforms in China. Thanks also to travel companions Guo Chun and Du Yubin, CCTV America.
Talk: Three things to know about Social Media in China and a few footnotes.
1. Don't believe the numbers. If you add up all the members of all the many social media platforms in China, you get 3.3 BILLION! That includes members of SINA WEIBO (500m), WECHAT (300M+), QZONE, QQWEIBO, DOUBAN, AND RENREN.
Break the numbers down and you find only 270 million actual social media users in China: those who have followers or make microblog posts. 60% of Sina Weibo (China's Twitter) are blank or ghost accounts.
Of the 270m only 10% are actively engaged posting at least once a week. Only 5% seem to lead the discussion on Weibo to any signifcant degree.
Still even with fewer than 20 million people mostly in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, microblogging remains a powerful force in China.
Weibo posts push traditional media, inform the government, prompt debate, and serve as an information source.
2. Social Media is the most trusted News Source in China.
Study from CASS, China Academy of Sciences, shows 44 % of Chinese internet users in urban areas trust Weibo for information. More than trust mainstream state media.
3. How to Chinese access social media. Most access through mobile phone. And 90 % of mobile phones sold in China are ANDROID. That may change but for now it is an ANDROID market.
A study by internet analysts Crandall and Wallach at Cornell in November 2012 reveals
about 12 % of 'tweets' or microblogs on SINA WEIBO are censored daily.
And 5% the most politically sensitive posts are pulled down within eight minutes. Nearly all within one hour.
Earlier #user analysis from the University of Hong Kong
Update April 17
http://tinyurl.com/c7j4vu8 In New York April 19-20. Sharing/learning tips on social media applications for television news -courtesy of the BBC and the New York Times an old dog learns new tricks
Update April 10
In Ohio on Thursday (a novelty for this Asia traveller) joining James Fallows, Jeff Bader and other luminaries for a day long China conference: http://lnkd.in/V_6QK2
Great Decisions Forum to Focus on China’s International Clout see wooster.edu
"WOOSTER, Ohio — An impressive array of international experts will examine China’s growing influence when The College of Wooster hosts the 2013 Great Decisions Forum April 11-12…."
Update April 1
Good lunch session today at the American Foreign Service Association sponsored by University of Southern California
International Broadcasting in the Social Media Era. On panel with Jill Dougherty of CNN, Phil Seib of USC and
Bruce Sherman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and special thanks to Adam Clayton Powell III of the USC Annenberg Center
Update March 30
Back from Saigon – writing a short recent history of Vietnam - believe it or not - seen from the
POV of one particular consumable – KEM or Vietnamese ice cream.
Update March 23
Asia travels - Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam coming to an end soon. Thanks to all who helped make it a successful journey: Phoenix TV, Ruan Zong Qin, KK Leung, friends at the FCC, Ying Chan, Dr Irene in Bangkok, Eric Olander in Saigon, Robin Austin, Tam, Bai, Nung and all the extended family. Now back in Washington. Back to Asia soon.
Update March 13
Inspiring dinner in Saigon with Robin King Austin and her husband Randall. Resident in Vietnam for nine years, Robin is the founder of the VinaCapital Foundation underwriting heart surgery for needy Vietnamese children. She is now turning some of her attention to Burma AKA Myanmar The Vietnam work continues http://www.vinacapitalfoundation.org/heartbeat-vietnam/?lang=en
Update March 9
Good several days of FAPltd meetings in Hong Kong - impressive Phoenix TV operation in Tai Po ...
Good to meet Ruan Zongqin (our paths had crossed in Beijing when he was with the Foreign Ministry 1980 to 1997)
Update February 28
We are off travelling for the next twenty days or so... first to Los Angeles where we will be exchanging views with an assembly at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy http://lnkd.in/Vg3HyZ
See more at
Update February 4
After weeks of work consulting on new programming in Washington for CCTV America, a new two hour show was launched today in the US and across the world. 7 to 9 pm eastern. See it in the US on MHZ Networks 3. Comcast 273 both in the Washington DC area. For excerpts check out the CCTV America channel on Youtube.
Update February 3
Interviewed today by Keven McCallister, a producer for an upcoming two hour 'American Experience' program on PBS. The film focuses on the last days of the Vietnam War (1973-1975). The filmwill premiere in Spring 2014.
Update February 2
Remarkable event in Cambodia for the next several days. Wish I were there. The funeral of former King Norodom Sihanouk. I interviewed him twice - once in 1979 and again in 1985. An amazing character. See the Cambodia archive section of this site. Will publish more from colleagues on 'Snooky' as we used to call him soon. A controversial leader - I shall not forget his eccentric personality and his ability to negotiate a difficult path for his new country from the 1950s (and independence from the French) to 1970 when he was deposed in a Coup d'etat. The trust people had in the off again, on again King, was misplaced. As his support of the Khmer Rouge encouraged many Cambodians to remain in Cambodia and many of those loyalists who did were murdered by the KR.
Update January 26, 2013
See a look back at the work of building the CCTV America Washington broadcast center on which we are Senior consultant. http://tinyurl.com/aca468p