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by Thomas M. Sipos, Managing Editor.  [February 7, 2004]





[]  Agent Orange has not only stricken returning American GIs with cancer, it's left Vietnam with a legacy of gruesome birth defects that spans generations -- affecting some million Vietnamese, including 150,000 children!

That's the shocking accusation of Battle's Poison Cloud, a documentary by Cecile Trijssenaar of Tambutifilms.

During the Vietnam War, the US military sprayed Vietnam's jungles with dioxin (aka Agent Orange), a defoliant meant to deprive the Viet Cong guerrillas of their leafy cover. US veterans returned to suffer the effects of spraying Agent Orange, for which the US govt is compensating them. But Agent Orange also seeped into Vietnam's land and water, spawning an abnormally high incidence of birth defects in Vietnam, according to Battle's Poison Cloud.

Amazingly, despite its sympathetic portrayal, Vietnam's Communist officials were not entirely cooperative in the making of the film. In an exclusive interview with the Hollywood Investigator, filmmaker Cecile Trijssenaar says: "Access to film was problematic. I applied for a work visa, but didn't get a response from the government before it was time to leave [for Vietnam]. Once in country, we went to the authorities to gain permission, but our timing was during Tet (the new year), and most officials were off on holiday.

While Trijssenaar did not get all the access she wanted, she interviewed the director of the Vietnamese Red Cross's Agent Orange Fund, Prof. Le Cao Dia, M.D., and, outside of Vietnam, she interviewed Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk of Canada's Hatfield & Associates, and Dr. Arnold Schecter, a professor at the University of Texas.

All these experts support the thesis behind Battle's Poison Cloud -- that Agent Orange caused the high proportion of Vietnamese birth defects that appears even in the grandchildren of VC veterans. The film is advocacy journalism; no opposing experts are interviewed, though the film admits that the U.S. government denies that it caused the birth defects.  Indeed, pressuring the U.S. govt to take financial responsibility for dioxin's medical and environmental damage is one of the film's goals.

Whatever caused the deformities afflicting so many Vietnamese, the film is filled with their horrific images, such as those in the "Friendship Village," an internationally-financed rehabilitation center. But Trijssenaar says the children in her film are not worst cases. "The children in the Friendship Village are helped because of their chances of making some success, and their deformities are relatively small. No way did I focus on the worst cases. There are some absolutely horrific deformities which I couldn't put in, as I knew that the film would not have a chance of broadcast.

"There are cases of families giving birth to four children without eyes, and other sibling groups with serious and gross deformities. Many of the children are in villages and supported by their families and only known to the local authorities. In the Tu Du hospital there are about 70 children who will spend the rest of their lives there because their problems need constant medical attention and the families could not face bringing them home."

Battle's Poison Cloud is also an example of the low-budget filmmaking made possible by digital video equipment. "The budget was very low," says Trijssenaar, "as I originally made it for a news program who only paid £1500 for a 10 minute version. Post-production on the documentary was the most expensive [element]. I have not tallied up all the amounts -- funded it myself and don't really want to know! -- but I would say that it's in the region of £15,000, roughly $20,000.  Shot on a PD 150, which is a DV cam, and finished on digi-beta.


Manhattan Sharks


"I spent a month in Vietnam, and traveled to Hanoi, Ho Chi Min, and the DMZ. I shot the film in February 2002, and spent most of the year making several versions of it. The present version was completed in Dec 2002."

Battle's Poison Cloud reveals the curious factoid that what Americans call the Vietnam War is known in Vietnam as the American War. The war has also been called a civil war by 1960s antiwar activists, because South Vietnamese fought North Vietnamese, but the civil war aspects seem to have been de-emphasized by the Communist Vietnamese government.

"The ex-Viet Cong refer to it as the American War," says Trijssenaar, "as the US was their enemy at that time, and as I understand it, that's the way it's referred to in their history. Always better to have an outside enemy than to know that the country was fighting itself.

"[Vietnam's] separation into North and South is artificial (introduced by the French, I think), and not recognized by the present day government. Vietnam prides itself on its integration, and they are an ethnically pure race. At the moment if there is any problem it is with the ethnic minority mountain people. If there is any separation it is economic and moral. It is because of the present day issues of Agent Orange that people are now looking back to the US/Vietnam war."



Asked about current attitudes toward Americans, the war, and the formerly South Vietnamese, Trijssenaar says: "The Vietnamese are a very practical people. They do not harbor back to the history of their country, they just deal with present day issues."

That claim is affirmed by Suel Jones, a U.S. veteran of the Vietnam War. "We came across Suel Jones by accident," says Trijssenaar, "which added another dimension to the story." In the film, Jones speaks warmly of the Vietnamese people, saying they harbor no ill will toward Americans over the past war. Jones breaks bread with his Vietnamese hosts in the Friendship Village.

Despite the boat people exodus following the war, Trijssenaar says: "I am not sure if there was much repression after the war in the South. It was long ago, and people are reluctant to speak about it. Youngsters today are unaware there was even a war!"


* Distribution


Battle's Poison Cloud has been picked up for international distribution by Higrade, a French company. It was broadcast over ABC Australia on Oct. 25, 2002. "It has been shown in three festivals, says Trijssenaar. "It won Best Investigative Journalism Award at the Moscow Law and Society Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival." It was also screened at a festival in Vegas, and at universities.

Trijssenaar concludes: "In the UK we're trying to get the government to support the Stockholm Agreement, which calls for governments that conduct wars on foreign soils to be responsible for their actions specifically to chemicals and armaments in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I am also trying to set up a petition to pressure on the U.S. to firstly acknowledge its responsibility, and secondly to offer some sort of compensation.

Related site: Agent Orange Website.

Of herself, Cecile Trijssenaar says: "I was born in Zimbabwe and completed Higher Diploma in Film & TV Studies in South Africa. I have a B.A in Religious Studies from The University of South Africa, and a Masters degree in Medical Anthropology from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

"I've been an editor for most of my film/video career, branching out into independent productions a couple of years ago. My first programme was My Father's Father's Land, a short docu on the eviction of Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. I am planning to make this into a full length documentary. Other films include Tears on the Jewel about AIDS and diamonds, and The Universal Religion about Caodaism, a Vietnamese religion. I also did a short on the repatriation of the Kurds at the end of the Gulf War.

"I'm presently working on a programme called Pursuit of Perfection that looks into medical science's desire to create the perfect human being. It runs parallel stories between the turn of the last two centuries, scientists' desire being the same; except in the first it was 'survival of the fittest' and the eugenics debate, and this century it's the manipulation of genes. My question: is it going the same way? Will we be re-experiencing the horrors of the past, namely the holocaust?"

Cecile Trijssenaar currently lives in the United Kingdom.

Copyright 2004 by



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