Pierre Schoendoerffer: Oscar-winning director and screenwriter


Pierre Schoendoerffer, who died on 14 March at the age of 83, was an Oscar-winning filmmaker who was held prisoner in Indochina and chronicled the pain of war on screen and on the page.

"France will miss him," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement that praised the "legendary filmmaker and novelist" for risking his life for France and "helping us better understand our collective history."

Born in Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, in central France on 5 May 1928, Schoendoerffer served as a cameraman in the French army in the 1950s and volunteered to be parachuted into the besieged fortress of Dien Bien Phu, where the decisive battle of the French war in Indochina was fought. When the stronghold fell to the Vietnamese guerrilla army in May 1954, Schoendoerffer (above, AFP/Getty), was captured and spent four months in a POW camp before being repatriated.

After the war, Schoendoerffer became a war correspondent in Algeria, and also worked in Malaysia, Morocco, Yemen and Laos. He first gained fame as a film director for the gritty realism of his 1965 film The 317th Platoon, which told the story of a doomed group of French and Laotian soldiers retreating through the jungles ahead of the final rebel offensive in 1954. Critics have described the black-and-white film as a masterpiece among war movies in general, and among the best Vietnam War films ever made.

Schoendoerffer won an Academy Award in 1968 for his documentary The Anderson Platoon, filmed in Vietnam, which followed a platoon of American soldiers for six weeks at the height of fighting during 1966.

Schoendoerffer also made his mark as a screenwriter for his 1975 film Drummer Crab, based on his book of the same name, and the 1982 film A Captain's Honour. In 1991, he returned to Vietnam to film Dien Bien Phu, a big-budget docudrama about the 55-day battle that ended France's colonial rule in Indochina and marked the start of the US involvement there.His son Frédéric worked as cameraman, while the Vietnamese army was used to play the role of both the Viet Minh and the State of Vietnam national army fighting on the French side against the Communists.