| Chicago Reader

Fund Raising: the real Ron Kovic movie 

In Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July, the paraplegic Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, played by Tom Cruise, agonizingly comes to terms with the physical and psychic wounds inflicted by the war. His transformation from all-American boy to political activist is depicted as a personal triumph over a serious physical disability, a sentimental journey to self-fulfillment. "It's a one-dimensional portrayal," says Loretta Smith matter-of-factly. "A lot of crucial details of Ron's life are missing. There's no sense of the context of his redefined patriotism. And his sense of humor, his idiosyncrasies are lacking. For dramatic and commercial reasons, Stone focused on Ron's disability and trauma, not on his politics. The truth is, Ron was and still is a much more complicated man than that."

Smith, an earnest, soft-spoken filmmaker, has been fashioning her own version of the Kovic story as both an odyssey of political awakening and a social history of the Vietnam generation. After seven years of work, her film, "A Good American": The Ron Kovic Story, is almost ready for release.

Smith's friendship with Kovic extends all the way back to the early 70s when both were active in the antiwar movement; they traveled together to Cambodia to witness war atrocities there. In 1983, after seeing her first documentary (about a homeless woman), Kovic asked her to tell his story. When Smith embarked on her project two years later, with the help of a modest grant, she was given unlimited access to Kovic's family and friends. But once Universal Studios approved of Stone's project, both he and Kovic backed away from Smith. Universal did make her an unexpected offer of a small advance and a distribution deal, mainly to avoid competition. "They basically bought me off," she says.

Though Smith is still having a tough time scrounging up enough money to finish the film, she's still trying: a firm believer in film as a cultural weapon for political change, she vows that her "more truthful" telling of the Ron Kovic story, when finished, will be "my way of reclaiming history. We have forgotten that Vietnam was an endless parade of tragic errors, that any war is a terrible waste of life. Now, after the Persian Gulf, we're saying to our young people that it's heroic to come home from a war."

This Sunday at 3 there's a fund-raiser for the film at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont (281-4444). Clips will be shown at 3:30 and 5:30, introduced by longtime supporters Studs Terkel, Aaron Freeman, and Larry Heinemann. Music will be provided by Fred Holstein and the bluegrass band Brushfire. Admission is $15 (suggested); discounts are available to "casualties of the New World Order." Anyone wishing to make a tax-deductible donation can send a check to Film Arts Foundation/Kovic, The Community Film Workshop, 1130 S. Wabash suite 400, Chicago, IL 60605. For any other info call Smith at 327-8592.

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