Half a century ago, the United States carried out history’s largest per capita bombing campaign—in Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, US forces flew approximately 600,000 armed missions over the small landlocked country neighboring Vietnam. Up to 30 percent of those bombs did not detonate at the time, and an estimated 80 million remained in the soil. Old US ordnance has killed and injured more than 20,000 Laotians since the end of war. In a country that relies heavily on subsistence farming, it’s dangerous to dig. Through the intersecting stories of Laotian families, clearance workers, and government authorities, Eternal Harvest traces the failures of US foreign policy to clean up America’s postwar mess in Laos, and it underscores the urgent need for more funding. Only one American—a retired school principal from Wisconsin named Jim Harris—works on the ground in Laos to remove old bombs. The film moves between Laos and Wisconsin to tell this largely unknown piece of American history. Co-producers Jerry Redfern and Karen Coates spent roughly five years reporting, filming, and editing the documentary, making extensive trips across Laos to interview villagers and clearance workers in some of the most remote parts of the country. The film is based on their FIJ-supported book, Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. Although US funding for clearance in Laos has increased since the book’s publication (to $40 million in 2021), that funding is just a small fraction of what is needed. Redfern and Coates produced the film to reach new audiences through a new (to them) platform. This is their first film. Eternal Harvest debuted at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival in October and is screening at festivals in the US and Asia. It won the Outstanding Documentary Feature award from the Tallgrass Film Festival in Kansas.
Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos – The Fund for Investigative Journalism