In bomb disposal you only make one mistake
The Movie Show, SBS TV
David Stratton, At The Movies,
Multi-layered…gripping…it bites deep into the wounds of the Vietnam war and America's secretive bombing campaign… the story is personal as well as global…The touches of down to earth Aussie humour seem entirely appropriate amidst the danger and the destruction that was caused… Bomb Harvest is a significant work that touches on all the ugly politics of war.
Andrew L Urban, Urban Cinefile
Incredibly powerfulMagdalena Wozniak ,
Thoroughly entertaining despite its grisly subject matter…conveys its messages subtly and skillfully…Moving…and quite often laugh-out-loud funny. Stevens is a wonderful character: nerveless, affable, empathetic …and a larrikin to boot….There are some 'you must be kidding' moments as the trainees attempt to dismantle 500 pound bombs, any of which could turn them into 'pink mist' with one false move…One of the best movies I've seen this year.
Bruce Clarke, thescene.com.au
Click here to read the full review
Brian Duff, FilmInk
Wildly entertaining…breathlessly tense…Kim Mordaunt has taken on the most delicate of subjects…with warmth, humour and richness…Stevens is a lovable larrikin…full of hokum and charm, and the camera loves him…a lovely film.
Bomb Harvest vividly depicts the consequences of war and the unimaginable braveryJenny Neighbour, Sydney Film Festival
of those trying to clear up the mess…Powerful and compelling…a truly inspiring film.
a real eye-opener…Wendy Rawady,
an excellent doco...
CompellingGarry Maddox ,
Stevens brings the documentary to life with his larrikin humour. He’s a wonderful character…he’s filmed on a series of expeditions which provide some jaw-dropping moments. This is a captivating film that will leave you amazedKris Walsh , www.ninemsn.com
Stevens is a gift…a laconic bushman type who’s immensely good at his job but modest, likeable and funny in two languages…the film will enlighten you. It might also enrage you.Paul Byrnes, Sydney Morning Herald
The delight of the film is in getting to know the members of the Laotian team that Laith is training, a couple of whom were former monks, and one is now relishing a life of wine, women and song...But it’s actually images of the children grubbing around in the dirt for scrap metal, which may or may
not be still live, that haunts.
Margaret Pomeranz, At The Movies
Fascinating…powerful…Laith has assembled a diverse bunch to work with him, including some former monks who are only just starting to experience the joys of alcohol and women - and their experiences with both make hilarious viewing.Tracey Prisk, The Daily Telegraph
Important and sobering…It’ll make your blood boil
Michael Adams, Empire
David Michael Brown, cinephilia.net.au
Enthralling…nerve-wracking…(Laith is) a charming Aussie larrikin with
a marvellously irreverent sense of humour.
Lou Beaumont, The Echo
Director Kim Mordaunt and producer Sylvia Wilczynski have seemingly achieved the impossible – a film that is both shocking and poignant yet laugh-out-loud funny….the humour is so powerful because it is so unexpected within this storyline…the comic relief kept me riveted….It is the ability to juxtapose all the opposites in the film that makes Bomb Harvest so compelling…a timely film.
Bomb Harvest skillfully weaves together the drama of the bomb disposal team's work, stunning archival footage and the locals' experiences to explore how the trauma of the bombing lives on 35 years later.Onscreen: RealTime magazine
A tense and exciting viewing experience…gripping and thought provoking.ATOM
Laith Stevens is inspiring and charismatic.
Filming in the Danger Zone: Making Bomb Harvest
Brothers in Arms with a mission to save lives
Review by Andrew L. Urban, Urban Cinefile, October 2007
Over 35 years ago during the Vietnam War, American bombs rained on Laos in the 'secret war', leaving it the most bombed country in history. A large, live bomb is found behind a village school and Australian bomb disposal specialist Laith Stevens, in the midst of training a new 'big bomb' team, reluctantly leaves the work until the team is up to the task. Reluctantly, because the local children are drawn to the illegal bomb scrap metal trade. Over 13,000 have been killed or injured by such bombs - over half of them children.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A surprisingly multi-layered film, Bomb Harvest combines facts with emotions in a gripping account of the contemporary bomb disposal work in Laos. But in doing so, it bites deep into the wounds of the Vietnam war and America's secretive bombing campaign on the neutral country, in its effort to stop the Vietcong using it as a supply route and hiding place. The carnage and destruction caused was immense.
Powerfully anti-war in the most humane sense, the film uses some archival footage in a well edited structure that includes close ups of faces that help make the story personal as well as global.
Yet, strangely enough, the touches of down to earth Aussie humour seems entirely appropriate amidst the danger and the destruction that was caused - and continues while the unexploded bombs (about 30% of the many hundreds of thousands that were dropped) continue to pose a real danger.
Children and the elderly are featured, as is Aussie expert Laith Stevens, who reveals that both his brothers are also disposal experts - and their father wasn't even in the army. He is training teams of locals in the dangerous task of disposing of bombs. We also see them relaxing at the end of the day.
A well made, well photographed and tirelessly sensitive doco, Bomb Harvest is a significant work that touches on all the ugly politics of war and its miserable aftermath. And unsaid but screaming out loud is the obvious question: why aren't the Americans taking away their unexploded bombs?
The makers of Bomb Harvest risked life and limb in their bid to tell the story of the removal of the unexploded bombs that litter Laos. Peter Galvin reports.
Publication: Encore Magazine
Publication Date: 07/01/2007
ACCORDING TO THE EXPERTS LAOS IS THE MOST bombed place on the planet. While the US and its allies waged war in Vietnam, they were fighting a secret war by remote control on its neighbour, dropping two million tonnes of high explosive on the Laos people, rendering around a third of the population dead, injured or homeless. 35 years later an estimated 30 percent of those bombs remain un-exploded and so are still deadly; they can be triggered by a knock or a mobile phone signal. Thousands of Laotians die every year (many of them children) from ordnance that litters the country in villages and jungle and farmland.
The Lao, an essentially agrarian culture, are so poor and their land is so badly contaminated from either bomb damage or is unsafe, they cannot farm so they 'harvest' bomb fragments and sell it to the scrap merchants from Vietnam. Meanwhile the government in partnership with groups like the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) sends out experts to 'clear' the unexploded bombs.
A new local documentary Bomb Harvest tells this story, but from the 'inside,' as it follows Australian bomb disposal expert Laith Stephens of MAG as he trains a group of Lao technicians to deal with the large aircraft bombs of 250 to 1000 pounds. The film, which has a pre-sale to the ABC was developed by the Australian Film Commission, mixes archival footage with contemporary observational footage of the disposal teams at work. "Like so many films the idea for Bomb Harvest was born in a bar after a long night of drinking," explains producer, Sylvia Wilczynski, who also wrote and researched the film. Nearly four years ago Wilczynski and her partner, director and cinematographer Kim Mordaunt were in Laos, travelling. One night, while they were there they encountered a pair of Australian bomb experts, who had just finished another nerve-shredding day on the job. "They opened up to us," continues Mordaunt, "not only about the job but about themselves."
The filmmakers decided then and there to make the movie but Mordaunt and Wilczynski immediately encountered a wary scepticism about their premise from potential investors. Laos remains a communist country and its bureaucracy is tangled and complicated; they are understandably suspicious of the media. Said Mordaunt: "Laos is a developing country and as such it is somewhat dysfunctional and consequently it's easy for outsiders to throw dirt on it," Wilczynski added: "They have a history of western journalists pretending to do human interest stories but are there in fact to do some kind of expose."
This meant the filmmakers engaged in a lengthy round of correspondence and meetings with government and diplomats (the delicate process lasted for much of the two years it took to make the film). When the time came to finally shoot the film, a government minder was with them at all times; still, the filmmakers did not in the end encounter any censorship. "Trust takes time," Wilczynski said ruefully. MAG was crucial in facilitating access for the filmmakers. A further complication was that the Laos population is made up of Lao Loum [Laos speakers] and various indigenous tribes; the latter do not speak Lao and have no written language. This meant that the Bomb Harvest crew had to have two translators: "And it made subtitling the film very difficult!" Wilczynski said.
But the truly white knuckle production issue was Mordaunt and Wilczynski's desire to shoot the bomb disposal team’s work up close.
This meant shooting footage right next to an explosive that could detonate at any moment. "We couldn't make this film at arm's length," Mordaunt said.
"A lot of what transfixed us in the research trip we did [before shooting] was the camaraderie in the teams, the fact that it's not just a technical job," Wilczynski explained. Still, shooting the film in this was way made insurance almost impossible; Wilczynski finally found a UK firm which specialised in bomb disposal to sign on for the most dangerous aspects of the shoot; local insurers covered the rest.
Mordaunt shot the film on the Sony HVR-Z1P for the main part of the shoot. Unusually for an observational documentary, the film makes much use of tracking shots: "We had this little pipe dolly I carried around," Wilczynski explained. "It was very light and using it was important to us because we wanted the film to have a lyrical, dreamy quality," Mordaunt added.
Bomb Harvest shows the disposal crews detonating ordnance and these explosions were shot on a smaller HDV cam, which was operated inside a housing that Mordant and Wilczynski had specially designed for that purpose. "The casing for the explosion sequences was not only bullet proof but also pressurised," Mordaunt explained. He said this was necessary because bombs actually work on 'waves.'
"A detonation sends out a wave, which is followed by another wave that sucks the energy back in--and that's what does the damage."
Mordant added grimly: "A detonation will suck the guts out of a camera, the way it sucks the guts out of its victims; and if that doesn't get you the shrapnel will."
However, Bomb Harvest is not a down beat experience; it is oddly optimistic.
"We wanted it to be a celebration of the Laotian people and their resilience," Wilczynski said. For the bomb experts the job is a daunting one: According to MAG it will likely take 100 years to dispose of the millions of bombs that litter Laos.
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