What is the psychology of war? Do soldiers become murderers when they enjoy killing? Is war beautiful? Are all humans capable of monstrous acts? FIRST KILL examines these and other questions, as it explores what war does to the human mind and soul.
Interviews with several Vietnam veterans evoke the contradictory feelings that killing produces - fear, hate, seduction and pleasure. FIRST KILL also includes a discussion with Michael Herr, the former war correspondent who wrote the screenplays to Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, and wrote Dispatches, the best and most important book about the experiences of the combat soldier in the Vietnam War.
For the last ten years Herr has refused to give any interviews, but in FIRST KILL he descends into his own dark experiences one more time. "If war was hell and only hell and there were no other colors in the palate... I don't think people would continue to make war," he says.
For other people war is just work. Immediately after taking his well-known photograph of a Vietnamese general shooting a Vietcong soldier in the head, Eddie Adams went out to lunch. Other Vietnam veterans talk about similar numbing experiences, many of them continuing to suffer nightmares and are still struggling with their traumas. On the other hand, former "tunnelrat" Billy Heflin openly admits that, despite his aversion to war, he is addicted to killing, and longingly recalls his wartime experiences.
Director Coco Schrijber juxtaposes these confessional testimonies with images of Vietnamese, Americans and others who now visit the former killing fields as tourist sites, conveying people's fascination with war and its memory. Tourists' snapshots have replaced the wartime photojournalism, while Vietnamese artists reproduce the infamous photographs from the war in oil, turning them from a silent documentary testimony into works of art.
For FIRST KILL, Schrijber intends to confuse the viewer. She creates an atmosphere in which the audience loses its certainties, and is confronted with the ultimate question: Would we pull the trigger?
"A chilling (and timely) indictment of the human propensity for violence"—Leslie Camhi, Village Voice
2003 National Women's Studies Association Film Festival
2002 Rotterdam International Film Festival
2002 Cinema du Reel (Paris)
2002 Sheffield International Documentary Festival (UK)
2002 One World Human Rights Film Festival (Prague)
2002 Seoul Human Rights Film Festival
2002 Leipzig International Documentary Festival
2001 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival
"Highly Recommended! Profoundly moving. A compelling portrait of the effect of warfare on the combatant. A excellent teaching aid to explorations of human conduct and capabilities. As well, this film could really force serious introspection by those who may be sure they could never take a life."—Educational Media Reviews Online
"As spectacular as it is disturbing. When I first watched this film, I was mesmerized... it would be a great way to generate discussion in class. It worked out perfectly. I teach a section on drugs and addiction, followed by a section on anger and aggression. FIRST KILL provided on excellent bridge between these two topics... it produced one of the more interesting discussions we had all semester."—Professor Brent Dean Robbins, Allegheny College, for Janus Head Online
"Smartly and superbly conceived. FIRST KILL is really about American society at this very moment... The questions it raises pertain to events in Iraq and Afghanistan, to ultra-violent videogames, to explicit violence in films, and to shootings by high school students and factory workers. A cry of concern, it is a stunningly beautiful work about the most terrifying of subjects."—Ballast Quarterly Review
"One of the best and most unsettling films."—Mark Oliver, The Guardian