Pilots in Pajamas (1968)
Directed by Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann
UnionDocs will screen the first episode of this four-part series produced by two East German filmmakers that consists largely of interviews conducted with US soldiers during their time held in captivity in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This particular episode, entitled “Yes, Sir,” shows ten imprisoned fighter pilots being startled into consciousness as they realize over the course of the interviews that they had never thought about who they were bombing until they had been grounded, and that they hadn’t considered anyone’s survival in wartime except their own. “My knowledge of Heynowski and Scheumann goes back to my time being mentored by the filmmaker Santiago Álvarez,” says filmmaker Travis Wilkerson (Machine Gun or Typewriter?), who will introduce the screening. “He talked about them a lot. I’d never been able to see a single film in the two decades afterwards—the films are more or less forbidden here. A year or two back, though, I noticed the people at the Austrian Filmmuseum had shown some of their films. I have a good relationship with that museum, so I sent their programming team an email and they replied with a bunch of discs, though not Pilots. I was pretty stunned by what I discovered, which had every bit the vitality of the greatest works of Third Cinema, but with a distinctly analytical approach. Something at once lyrical, eviscerating, and scathing.
“This led me finally to track down Pilots. It would be difficult to explain how powerfully the film hits. How disquieting, how uncomfortable, yet how revelatory it somehow feels. The filmmakers are asking questions that no one else has the audacity to ask. The suppression of the film more or less reveals itself. How on Earth have Americans refused to confront this film? How? I suppose that the answer lies in a country that still refuses to apologize even for inventing nuclear bombs, then dropping them on cities full of civilians. This country refuses to confront its past (or present) with any honesty, directness, humility, or truth. Pilots, though, forces the issue.” September 9, 7:30pm at UnionDocs with Wilkerson in person)