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A History of the Film

In 1968, on her 24th birthday, Barbara Sonneborn received word that her husband, Jeff, had been killed by a mortar in Vietnam. "We regret to inform," the telegram began. Twenty years later, Sonneborn, a photographer and visual artist, embarked on a journey in search of the truth about war and its legacy, eloquently chronicled in her debut documentary, Regret to Inform. Framed as an odyssey through Vietnam to Que Son, where Jeff was killed, Sonneborn weaves together the stories of widows from both sides of the American-Vietnam war. The result is a profoundly moving examination of the impact of war over time.

P.O.V., PBS's award-winning showcase of independent non-fiction films, presented the national broadcast premiere of Regret To Inform on Monday, January 24, 2000 at 10:00 PM ET (check local listings), co-presented by the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA). The film received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary Feature and won the Best Director and Best Cinematography awards at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival for documentary.

In 1988, at the time Sonneborn began this project, she had met only one other American war widow. Despite the growing number of support groups that existed for Vietnam veterans, she was unaware of any support network for the wives left behind. Propelled by her desire to find other women who had experienced the same loss on both sides of the war, and to understand what could be learned through their stories, Sonneborn put together a production team in 1990 and sent out several thousand letters searching for widows in the U.S. With the help of many Vietnam war veterans, the press, and other survivors as she found them, Sonneborn talked with more than 200 American widows during pre-production for the film.

In 1992, Sonneborn traveled to Vietnam, accompanied by Xuan Ngoc Nguyen, a South Vietnamese woman whose first husband was killed in the war fighting for South Vietnam. Xuan later married an American soldier and moved to the U.S. in the early 70's. She agreed to serve as Sonneborn's translator on the trip and to share her own story in the film. On their journey through Vietnam--where more than 3 million people were killed during the war--they found women everywhere they went who wanted to be interviewed. "They were quite surprised and very moved that an American widow wanted to hear their stories," Sonneborn recalls.

In Regret to Inform, women from all sides speak out, putting a human face on the all-too-often overlooked casualties of armed conflict: the survivors. Intercut with beautiful scenes of the serene Vietnamese countryside and shocking archival footage from the war years, the women's voices form an eloquent international chorus calling for peace. Regret to Inform is a powerful meditation on loss and the devastation of all war on a personal level. It is a love story, and a deeply moving exploration of the healing power of compassion.

Thanks to P.O.V.

In-depth stories about some of the women in Regret to Inform are located at the Widows of War Living Memorial.

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