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The Independent Critic

Bill Meis and John Bissell
Joe Pacheco
65 Mins.

 "After the Fall" Review 
Two American journalists, Morgan Meis and Tom Bissell, travel to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

So far, everything's normal.

Of course, this is a documentary and the story goes much deeper.

Morgan Meis is the son of Bill, a draft resister who fled the U.S. to Canada to protest the war.

Tom Bissell, is the son of John, a U.S. Marine Captain who served in the Vietnam War.

Expertly directed by Joe Pacheco ("As Smart As They Are: The Author Project"), "After the Fall" follows these two journalists on their journeys and explores the ways in which the Vietnam War impacted their father's and their own lives.

The winner of the Best Documentary Feature Prize at the 2009 Lake County Film Festival, "After the Fall" is an intelligent, insightful and involving documentary in which the two reporters themselves experience a glimpse of their own father's experiences when it is discovered that the two are being monitored closely by the Vietnamese Secret Police and their visit with a "subversive" contemporary artist in Hanoi gets the two more attention that they'd have imagined and leads to a minor international incident.

I'd originally screened "After the Fall" during the 2008 Indianapolis International Film Festival, a screening for which the filmmaker openly admitted he'd been working on the film quite literally up until shortly before screening time.

In all honesty, I considered "After the Fall" to be a promising work in process.

Several months removed from that festival appearance, Pacheco has turned "After the Fall" into an immensely satisfying and compelling human drama immersed in the global politics of two generations of two families.

In certain ways, I suppose, "After the Fall" could appear to be simply your typical documentary. Pacheco includes interviews with both fathers and sons in exploring the impact of the Vietnam War on the four men.

Yet, "After the Fall" looks and feels different.

Firstly, Pacheco's beautiful photography succeeds in humanizing the Vietnamese landscape. This humanizing, at times a stark contrast to the American image of Vietnam and the experiences of these men, serves to remind us quite powerfully that war exists outside the normal human experience regardless of whether one is pro-military or a war resister.

Secondly, Pacheco has so intelligently framed the evolving storyline in "After the Fall" that it becomes impossible to not be woven into the fabric of these two families' lives.

The closing moments of "After the Fall" feel incomplete, indeed, something IS missing. As Pacheco has intertwined us into the lives of these men, the resolution feels unexpected and, yet, feels perhaps a validation of the experiences of these four men and their experiences in Vietnam.

Intelligent, beautiful, insightful and a touch unsettling, "After the Fall" reminds us of the human dramas that continue to play out during and long after the wars of generations past, present and future.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic