Film ‘Return’ returns to Montana for MINT film festival

Documentary follows Billings father-son duo on a return trip to Vietnam

By: - September 15, 2023 2:35 pm

Jim Markel Jr., and Jim Markel Sr., watching the sun set on the sand dunes of Phan Thiet Vietnam (Film still photograph from RETURN, produced by Stan Parker and directed by Peter Tolton).

As many states rush to ban teaching “divisive concepts” or, as in the case of Florida, contort history so as to make it appear that cruel institutions like slavery were beneficial, two Montana filmmakers and a father-and-son duo are rewriting history in a different sort of way.

The filmmakers, Billings-based Peter Tolton and Stan Parker, followed the journey of Jim Markel, Sr., and his adult son, Jim Markel, Jr., as they journeyed back to Vietnam, to face Markel Sr.’s time as a Green Beret soldier there during the Vietnam War. It’s not just a film about a soldier or the Vietnam War, it’s also about healing a relationship between a father and a son while giving viewers a deep insight into how the war shaped an entire generation that puzzled over what happened in southeastern Asia.

This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works. To learn more, visit

As in years past, the Daily Montanan has celebrated this day, along with other journalists.

Today, we highlight one aspect of our democracy which has to do with history, veterans, war and healing.

The documentary, “Return” will be shown two more times in the upcoming weeks in Montana and Wyoming, including at the MINT film festival, at 2:45 on Sept. 23, at the Babcock Theatre in Billings. It will be shown the next weekend at the Wyoming Film Festival, at 2:45 p.m., on Oct.1, at the Wyoming Performing Arts Center in Sheridan.

The film made its world-premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February where it earned a nomination for the Big Sky Award, which recognizes films that “artistically honor the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West.”

Tolton and Parker have noticed the way the film has impacted the audience.

“It’s not about what the soldiers did during the war, it’s about what the war did to the soldiers,” Parker said.

And so the viewers are taken back to a changed Vietnam, one that is less about jungles and war, and has since been rapidly developed and transformed. Yet, those same veterans who return must confront a past most of them left behind.

“Our audience has really become the adjacent to the veterans, it’s the next generation,” Tolton said.

He explained that watching Markel, Sr.’s return to Vietnam gives insight to post-traumatic stress and how the memories, experiences and even return to the United States impacted families and friends of these veterans, touching on topics of mental health, suicide and combat.

“It was a powerful reminder of how little our generation knows about the war,” Tolton said.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.