Sarasota Film Festival Opening Night Red Carpet event welcoming filmmakers and actors from from around the world; opening film “Last Days In Vietnam” by Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester, and after party with fireworks

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Sarasota Film Festival Opening Night Red Carpet event welcoming filmmakers and actors from from around the world; opening film “Last Days In Vietnam” by Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester, and after party with fireworks.

April 4, 2014

By: Sherry Janes

As a newcomer to the Sarasota Film Festival, this was not the glitzy, glamorous night I expected, but rather a most poignant and moving experience.  It far exceeded anything I had imagined.  The Opening Night film served as a reminder that powerful stories about life, both real and fictional, can be told through films.  Certainly good reason to celebrate the art of filmmaking through festivals.

Attending as media, I was there for the Red Carpet event which welcomed the VIP’S for the opening night film, as well as other films featured throughout the festival and also included many dignitaries.  Most impressive were the veterans who were an actual part of the valiant effort depicted in the Opening Night Film, ‘Last Days in Vietnam,’ some of whom were featured in the film.  Much excitement ensued with the arrival of Rory Kennedy, producer and director of this amazing documentary.  She was accompanied by her mother, Ethel Kennedy, her daughter Brigette, as well as the former governor, Charlie Crist, and captain of the U.S.S. Kirk, Paul Jacobs, featured in the film.

‘Last Days in Vietnam,’ proved to be an excellent choice for the opening night film, as it set the tone for the entire evening, highlighting Valor, Sacrifice, and Patriotism.  The film was preceded by a color guard presentation of flags and a dynamic a cappella rendition of the national anthem.  Rory Kennedy shared background as to how this particular part of the war in Vietnam became the impetus for her documentary.  Although a well documented war over-all, the “last days” story had largely been untold.

After almost 40 years, an incredibly compelling story brings to light a little known chapter of the war.  Taking us back, the film reminds us of the treaty between North and South Vietnam.  After withdrawal of troops, if the treaty were to be broken, the US promised to return and use whatever means necessary to enforce it.  Being such an unpopular war, when North Vietnam began the invasion of South Vietnam, breaking the treaty, President Ford’s request for the funds necessary to intercede were denied by Congress.  The United States broke its promise.

As the Communists further invaded the country, approaching Saigon, various plans were considered for the evacuation of Americans and endangered South Vietnamese.  Unfortunately, the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam maintained a position of optimism until the North Vietnamese tanks were close at hand.  The large scale options were now impossible, leaving only the final and least optimal means of evacuation.

The focus of this extraordinary documentary was the heroic effort made by the remaining troops who went against the U.S. mandate that only Americans were to be evacuated.  A massive effort by the Marines to evacuate endangered Vietnamese who had fled to the American Embassy was undertaken by helicopter.  Returning repeatedly, thousands were airlifted on that final day and transported to naval carriers standing by.

One of those carriers, the U.S.S. Kirk, commanded by Paul Jacobs, also allowed 13 non military helicopters overflowing with desperate Vietnamese to land on his ship that day.  Another helicopter, too large to land, hovered overhead while its passengers jumped out and into the arms of the crew members beneath, including a mother who trustingly dropped her baby.  The naval carriers then transported the evacuees to safety in the Philippines.

‘Last Days in Vietnam’ documents the extraordinary efforts of the Americans who risked their lives to evacuate many of these endangered Vietnamese before the arrival of the Communists in Saigon.  This rescue effort was the largest in naval history.  The film honors the significant contribution made by these incredible troops who went against U.S. policy in a humanitarian effort to save the Vietnamese.

A Question and Answer period followed this profound film led by Rory Kennedy and included Paul Jacobs, captain of the U.S.S. Kirk, the last two Marines to get out that infamous day and other surviving veterans who participated in this valiant effort.

During the Q. and A., a resident of Sarasota, Bich Mai Saunders, stood in the audience and tearfully thanked the veterans, as she was one of those fortunate Vietnamese to be saved through their efforts on that day.

An elegant Opening Night party concluded this highly charged and emotional evening.  Although a festive and upbeat occasion, the veterans and other people relevant to the film were on hand, to remain a vital part of the entire Sarasota Film Festival Opening Night.

Sarasota Film Festival

Sarasota Film Festival publicity provided by, Frank PR: Public Relations


Per Sarasota Film Festival website:

Last Days In Vietnam
Feature | 98 min

In the final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army began its march to Saigon. In the face of this impending invasion, many South Vietnamese sought refuge at the US embassy, hoping to escape. There, American soldiers and diplomats confronted a difficult dilemma; whether to obey White House orders to evacuate U.S. citizens only–or to risk treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they could. Director Rory Kennedy (ETHEL) returns to the Sarasota Film Festival with her stunning new documentary LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM, chronicling the desperate final days in Saigon from the point of view of the Americans who were on the ground and overseeing the evacuation. LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM is an unforgettable story of heroism and compromise in the face of impossible odds, a film that is at once profoundly moving and an indispensible chronicle of the end of the Vietnam War.

Film Info
Genre: Documentary
Veterans Interest
Current Events
English Title: Last Days In Vietnam
Original Title: Last Days In Vietnam
Category: Documentary Feature
Acts of Valor
Opening Night
Release Year: 2014
Runtime: 98 minutes
Type of Film: Opening Night
Production Country: USA
Original Language: English
Subtitles: English
Cast/Crew Info
Director: Rory Kennedy
Executive Producer: Mark Samels
Produced By: Rory Kennedy
Keven McAlester
Screenwriter: Mark Bailey
Keven McAlester
Cinematography: Joan Churchill
Editing By: Don Kleszy
Music By: Gary Lionelli


Friday, April 4th, Opening Night Film and Party, a red carpet event welcoming filmmakers and actors from around the world. Interviews and photographs fill the entrance with bright lights and Festival excitement. Following the film, join us in the grand foyer for live music, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres to kick off the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival.

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