Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, Biography, Drama  |  2 October 1998 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 4,135 users  
Reviews: 29 user | 43 critic

German-American Dieter Dengler discusses his service as an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War. Dengler also revisits the sites of his capture and eventual escape from the hands of the Vietcong, recreating many events for the camera.



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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 5 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Dieter Dengler ...
Himself / Narrator (voice)
Eugene Deatrick ...


In 1966, Dieter Dengler was shot down over Laos, captured, and, down to 85 pounds, escaped. Barefoot, surviving monsoons, leeches, and machete-wielding villagers, he was rescued. Now, near 60, living on Mt. Tamalpais, Dengler tells his story: a German lad surviving Allied bombings in World War II, postwar poverty, apprenticed to a smith, beaten regularly. At 18, he emigrates and peels potatoes in the U.S. Air Force. He leaves for California and college, then enlistment in the Navy to learn to fly. A quiet man of sorrows tells his story: war, capture, harrowing conditions, escape, and miraculous rescue. Where did he find the strength; how does he now live with his memories? Written by <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

2 October 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Flucht aus Laos  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The exotic-sounding music heard during the "native" sequences is Mongolian overtone music, sometimes called "throat music." It enables the singer to sound as if he had two or more voices. See more »


Narrator: But from the air, Vietnam didn't seem real at all. For Dengler it was like a grid on a map. He had suddenly found himself not only a pilot, but a soldier caught up in a real war. But even though it was all very real, everything down there seemed to be so alien and so abstract. It all looked strange, like a distant barbaric dream.
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Spin-off Rescue Dawn (2006) See more »

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User Reviews

a surreal documentary about a German American who needs food and flight
6 August 2002 | by (Iowa City, IA, U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

Werner Herzog again explores the psyche of a man. In "Little Dieter...", we meet an effervescent, brilliant man who survived the war in Bavaria seeing starvation and strange sights, moved to the U.S. and fulfilled his dream of being a flier. War, food, death, survival, hoarding, planes, heads coming off... how one American is born. Herzog again sees madness as plane of existence and the surreal blends with the poignant as Herzog himself narratives this psychic travelogue of a German becoming an American who flies prop planes in a late 20th century war where the culmination of technology, pilgrimage and eating out of garbage cans with spoons is melded with constant optimism into a man redefined into American. As always with Herzog we are faced with florid madness, brilliance and what is man in the face of his own excesses, societal and personal. We laugh and cringe and are amazed at this man. Where else for this man but America?

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