An Unfinished Symphony

Institute History

  • 2001 Sundance Film Festival


An Unfinished Symphony is an emotional, poetic, and lyrical journey back in time to reflect on the highly contested Vietnam War. The film is divided into three sections which mirror the movements of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, to which the film is set. Taking place in Massachusetts over Memorial Day weekend in 1971, the film focuses on a three-day protest in the form of a march, staged by newly returned veterans. Traversing the same path as Paul Revere's famous ride of 1775, the mounted protest sought to bring renewed awareness to a long-fought, losing battle.

Beautiful black-and-white filmed footage from the original march is interspersed with shots of the war and recent conversations with political historian Howard Zinn. At the protest, veterans voice their feelings about the horrors they witnessed overseas just months before. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?" asks a young, distraught veteran, John Kerry (now a United States senator), speaking at a hearing to stop the war. Additional testimonials in the form of text are scrolled on the screen, describing some of the brutal actions sanctioned in the war.

Because the film uses actual archival footage, rather than simply describing the march 30 years later, the emotions are intense and raw and bubble to the surface. But because time has passed, the material is put into a meaningful historical context. The juxtaposition results in a seamless, organic, provocative, and powerful tapestry of history on film.

— Lisa Viola

Screening Details

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