ARTS OF WAR
Documentary to Extremes:
Be Good, Smile Pretty
BY MARC LEEPSON
fortunate to meet and chat with Tracy Tragos at the National
Convention in St. Louis. She was on hand to host four showings of
her compelling documentary, Be Good, Smile Pretty, to
receive two awards for her film (from AVVA and from VVA), and to
sign posters of the film for those in attendance.
Tragos' extremely personal film is both uplifting and emotionally
draining. Tragos, a former writer/producer for a division of
DreamWorks SKG, the multimedia company, produced, wrote, and
directed the documentary, and went into debt to do so. The film,
which was named Best Documentary Feature at the IFP Los Angeles
Film Festival in June, will be shown on Veterans Day, November 11,
at 10:30 p.m. on the PBS television series "Independent Lens."
When we say "very personal," we are not exaggerating. This film is
as personal as it gets. That's because of the subject matter and
the approach Tracy Tragos takes. Her movie documents Tragos'
effort to find out about the life of her father, U.S. Navy Lt.
Donald Glenn Droz, an Annapolis graduate who went on to command a
swift boat and was killed in the Mekong Delta in 1968 when she was
three months old. Tragos trains her camera intently on herself,
her mother, her grandmother, and her uncle, among others, as they
undergo some extremely emotional moments.
The prime reason for the wellspring of raw emotions Tragos catches
on film is the fact that Tragos family barely spoke about her
father as she was growing up. It doesn't take a degree in
psychology to know that deep feelings bottled up over three
decades can cause great anguish when they are finally released.
Tragos' journey of discovery began in March 2001 when she stumbled
across an account on a web site of the incident in which her
father was killed. That led her to confront her mother and
grandmother and to make a journey to talk to her father's
Annapolis classmates and those he served with in Vietnam.
Remarkably, Tragos was able to find still photographs and film
footage of the aftermath of the event, along with radio
transmissions of the engagement. Her recreation of what happened
on the river is a chillingly remarkable achievement.
Another scene in this film filled with special moments takes place
in the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a fellow swift
boat skipper and friend of Don Droz. Ever since he made the
national limelight as a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the
War in the early 1970s, Kerry has presented a measured, polished
politician's demeanor to the world. But Tragos shows a side of
John Kerry that has rarely, if ever, been seen in public.
The scene in the Massachusetts Senator's office with Tragos and
her mother, Judith Droz Keyes, is the antithesis of a politician's
photo op. There is genuine heartache and anguish etched in Kerry's
face as he speaks of his friendship with Don Droz to his widow and
child. The tears that flow from all three are heartbreakingly
unrehearsed and vividly convey the anguish of war among its
That is but one of many moving and revealing scenes in Be Good,
Smile Pretty. It's a unique contribution to the legacy of the
For additional information on the film, go to
The documentary, Italian-American Recipients of the
Congressional Medal of Honor, is a 45-minute film that pays
tribute to American soldiers from World War I to the Vietnam War
who were awarded the Medal of Honor. The film was produced by the
New York State Commission for Social Justice, the anti-defamation
branch of the New York State Order of the Sons of Italy in
America, in its ongoing effort to fight bias against, and promote
a positive image of, Italians and Italian-Americans.
The documentary does just that by telling the stories of the MOH
recipients, using war-time footage and some interviews. The
Vietnam War Italian-American MOH awardees profiled in the
documentary are: Army PFC Lewis Albanese, Army SSG Jon Cavaiani,
Army CPL Frank Fratellenico, Marine PFC Gary Martini, Army SFC
Louis Rocco, and Navy LT and chaplain Vincent Capodanno, who
served with the 1st Marine Division.
The film also pays tribute to Army Capt. Humbert "Rocky" Versace,
who was awarded the Medal of Honor in July 2002. Versace, a Green
Beret intelligence officer, was captured by the Viet Cong after a
fierce firefight and held for two years during which he was
repeatedly tortured and then was executed.
For more information on the documentary, go to
or call 800-322-6742.
NOT A PRETTY PICTURE
The creators of the 2001 film, Aftermath: The Remnants of War
(Cinema Esperanca International), are making the award-winning
Canadian documentary available to non-profit groups. The film,
co-produced by Storyline Entertainment and the National Film Board
of Canada, is based on the 1997 book by Donovan Webster. It is an
up-close look at war's physical and emotional repercussions in
five countries, including Vietnam.
It begins with, of all places, France, where 16 government teams
of "de-miners" work clearing unexploded ordnance, including poison
gas canisters, from World War I. The film also goes on location to
Russia, where the unaccounted-for remains of millions of Russian
and German soldiers are buried, and to Bosnia, where it examines
the psychological problems of de-miners.
The Vietnam segment examines the continuing problem of
Agent-Orange health problems in that country. Director Daniel
Sekulich takes an in-your-face approach, complete with lingering
close ups of severely deformed children, in sketching what
narrator John Jarvis calls "an environmental horror."
The film describes America's war in Vietnam as one of "escalation,
desperation, and eventual defeat," and includes slow motion
war-time footage of Operation Ranch Hand Agent-Orange spraying
operations. We are then given on-screen interviews with anguished
parents of blind and deformed children and interviews with
Vietnamese doctors and other health officials who explain the
extent of the ongoing problem. More than a half million children
have been adversely affected by Agent Orange and other toxic
chemicals sprayed during the American war, the filmmakers say, and
Vietnam has become "the largest container of dioxin in the world."
To learn more, go to
www.onf.ca/aftermath or email associate producer Tricia Lee at
The Travel Channel in May featured an excellent documentary on
Arlington National Cemetery in its "American Icon" series. The
one-hour film was hosted by U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose father,
grandfather, and two great uncles are among the 175,000 Americans
interred at Arlington, one of the most-visited shrines in the
nation, with some five million visitors a year.
The film examines Arlington's history and traditions. The land
originally was the northern Virginia estate of Robert E. Lee, and
became a cemetery during the Civil War. The film pays a good deal
of attention to the guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And it
takes note of many of the famous people buried there, including
President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, the Challenger
astronauts, Medger Evers, Joe Louis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,
and Abner Doubleday. That's in addition to 66 of the people who
lost their lives in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Every documentary has a point of view and a point to make. The
point of the Erik Gandini's 1999 film Amerasians is that
someone is to blame for the plight of the tens of thousands of
mixed blood, American and Vietnamese children left behind in
Vietnam after the American war. Gandini's film lays the lion's
share of the blame upon the fathers of those children.
He does so by making the film's point of view that of several
Amerasians who are now young adults, and were able to immigrate to
this country. Those young people, who work in one high tech plant
in California - or at least did in 1997 and 1998 when the film was
made - tell of their difficult lives growing up as street orphans
in Vietnam and their not-smooth transitions to life in the United
The voices of the Amerasians make up the bulk of the film. There
is very little narration, and that is in Swedish, with English
subtitles. Only one American Vietnam veteran is interviewed, and
he comes across as unenlightened. The film is available for rent
or purchase from its distributor, The Cinema Guild. Go to