The north coast’s award-winning filmmaker David Bradbury tackles the fraught story of two major Vietnam War battles involving Australian soldiers in his latest work, The Crater.
The story began when Private Brian Cleaver wandered off the street into a masterclass in Perth given by director David Bradbury.
Brian asked David if he would make a film about his search for 42 missing North Vietnamese ‘enemy’ bodies he helped kill 45 years ago.
Brian’s account of events at the 1968 battle of Coral and then 13 nights later at the battle for Balmoral provide the central narrative for the story.
The film uses a mixture of contemporary interviews with both Australian and Vietnamese war veterans, archival footage and dramatisation to connect modern viewers with the reality of battle and the historical narrative of the men behind it.
Five hundred young Australians died during the Vietnam war from 1965 to 1972. Within two years of being home, over 2,000 Australian Vietnam vets had committed suicide.
‘I could have picked a lighter and easier subject to dramatise in my first serious attempt at documentary drama,’ says Bradbury.
‘By May 1968, as the Australian body count mounted and the tide of public opinion turned against the Vietnam war back home, the Battle for Balmoral was never reported. Balmoral was destined to die in the forgotten dusty annals of Australian military history.
‘Then three years ago Brian Cleaver literally wandered in off the streets of Fremantle to proposition me to make a film about his time in Vietnam.
‘That was the starting point for my collaboration with Cleaver on a journey that would take me to Vietnam three times, exploring the crazy courage exhibited by both sides during two nights of battle and the psychological scars Brian and other vets carry to this day.
‘Through Brian I met and interviewed a number of other Australian vets who had fought at Balmoral. Each contributed his own story and I’ve included a few of them.
‘During my final trip to Vietnam I was able to capture interviews with three NVA veterans who recounted their experience of the battle from the all-important Communist perspective.
‘I hope the film does justice to the courage and fighting fervour of not just the Australians but the NVA as well. Ultimately though, I intend it to carry a strong message about the futility of not just the Vietnam war, but wars in general.’
The Crater has its local debut at the Bangalow A&I Hall on Saturday, April 18, at 7pm, hosted by Kerry O’Brien with a Q&A with Bradbury afterwards. You can find out more about the film at www.thecrater.com.au.