FTA is the title of a documentary, lost for almost 50 years, directed by Francine Parker and produced by 15-time Golden Globe nominee and 7 times winner Jane Fonda with eight-time Golden Globe nominee and two-time winner Donald Sutherland. The film is about the tour that the two famous actors did of military bases across the United States, the Philippines, and Japan in 1971, bringing political satire, songs, poetry, conversations and questions about the role of the United States in the Vietnam war to the soldiers, many of whom were actively opposed to the conflict at the time.
FTA has now found a new life thanks to the restoration efforts of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the grant made to IndieCollect to restore the negatives and fix the color, sound and the credits of the film, which will hopefully soon find a distributor and be brought back to theaters, schools, and festivals around the world. That interest was immediately clear after the sold-out premiere of the film at the Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater, where the great, indomitable Jane Fonda was welcomed by a long-standing ovation, introduced the film
The idea of restoring FTA emerged during the first HFPA restoration summit in 2019, when Fonda, sitting alongside Alexander Payne and Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, mentioned the value of saving films, and expressed her regrets in being unable to trace and show again that legendary documentary, “FTA”. The HFPA jumped at the opportunity to do something in regard, and it quickly did, thanks to its relationship with IndieCollect.
“I am a newbie to the whole issue of film restoration and it kind of happened by accident,” said Jane Fonda introducing the film at the Egyptian, where she was joined by some of the artists featured in the show including Holly Near and Rita Martinson. “Alexander Payne was there and my friend Thierry Frémaux, who runs the Cannes Film Festival, and I thought maybe Payne will cast me in a movie if I come down! I thought, ‘I better study a little bit about film restoration’. And I suddenly realized how important it is and then I realized that I also made a few documentaries, especially the one shown here tonight, that kind of disappeared.”
“This film documents a part of the anti-Vietnam war movement that very few people know about,” continues Fonda. “And we believe that it was made to disappear deliberately by President Nixon because if you read any of the Watergate, the White House Tapes, it was the movement within the American military that concerned him the most and got him the most riled up. So, to have it restored and preserved is, I think, a very important thing.”
As brilliant and engaging as ever, Jane Fonda explained to the audience what had brought her to the show – and the documentary – in the first place. “I knew that there was this extreme anti-war sentiment with a lot of soldiers in the military,” said Fonda, “and I really resented Bob Hope, who was still traveling to Vietnam and saying things like ‘the best way to clean up would be to drop a bomb on Vietnam’ and everyone would laugh, and it just seemed wrong. And so when a major hero within the GI movement, Dr. Howard Levy, came to me, I was filming Klute and Donald Sutherland and I were sitting in a room and Howard Levy came and he said how about doing an anti-Bob Hope anti-war tour for soldiers, and call it FTA, Fuck the Army? (laughter) Even though we called it Fun, Travel, and Adventure. (laughter) or Free the Army. But there was a GI newspaper called FTA, Fuck the Army. And so we really responded to Howard’s suggestion and a year later off we went.”
“Dissent within the American military,” Fonda continues, “started in the mid-1960s, mainly as random individual acts. And it wasn’t until after the Tet Offensive that things began to change. Dissent was no longer a matter of individual acts. GIs – where GI stands for Government Issue, GIs were considered things – began to organize, not just around the brewing anti-war sentiment in the military, but in response to the undemocratic nature of the military system itself.”
A favorite saying of the GI movement back in the 1970s was “Military justice is to justice as military music is to music”, as Fonda reminds us. “Soldiers questioned once they were conscripted why they were deprived of the very rights they had been asked to defend, the right to speak freely, to petition, assemble, publish. And when they claimed those rights, unjust punishments were meted out, with no legal recourse. As I became involved in the GI movement, I started to understand the class significance of this movement. The mass majority of the civilian anti-war movement were white and middle class. But the GI movement was made up of working-class kids, they were sons and daughters of farmers and hard hats and kids who couldn’t afford college deferments and a preponderance of the more rural and urban poor, particularly black and Hispanic. Now they represented a definite minority, but there were enough of anti-war active duty servicemen and women that by 1971 the Army reported almost a 400 percent increase in AWOLs, Away Without Leave, illegal departures. A 400 percent increase in five years.”
“It was very hard for soldiers to believe in a war that by 1970 even moderate American papers and magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and the Wall Street Journal deemed a folly,” says Fonda. “Some of you may be old enough to remember that when Walter Cronkite began urging withdrawal from Vietnam, President Johnson said to his Press Secretary: 'If I’ve lost Walter, I’ve lost Middle America.' Well, the GIs and their families were Middle America.”