Archives for posts with tag: Documentary

This film will haunt me forever.

Although I had a pretty clear idea what the content contained before the screening, I was totally unprepared for the reality of its images.

Night Will Fall is a documentary that traces the story of film footage that soldiers/cameramen of the Allied Forces created when they arrived to liberate German concentration camps – including Breslau, Dachau, Aushwitz – in April 1945. A full length film was planned, produced by Sydney Bernstein and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but for political reasons in the sensitive and charged political post war atmosphere, and with the Cold War already threatening, its release was vetoed. The Imperial War Museum has now completed and restored the original film, called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, which will be screened at The London Film Festival this October.

Night Will Fall contextualises the original footage and also includes interviews with those who were involved in its creation – soldiers who saw first hand the horror of the camps – as well as with those who survived the camps. The film also includes images from German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. I see them these images again now as I write, almost unbelievable in terms of the scale of the horror and human devastation that they reveal. But undeniably believable too, as authentic archives of the reality that they depict, speaking of a truth that remains so difficult to countenance.

The archival footage shows vast numbers – thousands upon thousands – of dead bodies, cast aside and decaying in mounds amongst the living when the Allies arrived. We see bodies thrown like slaughtered animal carcasses (by SS officers who were still in the camps at the time of liberation) into mass graves. The sheer quantity of human loss and suffering defies words.

Bernstein’s aim was to create something that made the fact of what happened in those camps undeniable. To this end, he also filmed local German dignitaries visiting the camps post liberation, forcing them to witness the mass burials, to see what had been happening short distances from where they themselves had lived throughout the war. For some it was all too much, and they had to be carried away as they fainted, faced with a horror they had either been totally unaware of, or had chosen to ignore.

If we learn nothing from such human devastation, the prophecy of the film’s title – night will fall – will be realised. And have we learned? I am not sure.

I wondered afterwards why I endured a screening of such relentless horror (I wanted to turn away from many of the images). I am glad that I experienced Night Will Fall. As I watched so many of the concentration camp dead being thrown without dignity or compassion into mass graves, creating layer upon layer of death and annihilation, it felt like it mattered, at the very least, to witness and to acknowledge the suffering of the unknown and the now long dead, but who remain today, fellow human beings.

 

CQ

…which is one of the opening questions of the must-see documentary In Real Life.

I saw the film yesterday, when it was screened simultaneously in many cinemas across the country. My 15 year old daughter accompanied me. The screening was followed by a live satellite discussion with a panel that included the director Beeban Kidron, as well as Tom, a 15 year old who featured in the film.

As Kidron shared during the discussion, the aim of the documentary was to start a conversation on the impact, both positive and negative, on today’s teenagers of living in an almost exclusively digital society. Our children have been born into a world where most of us look at our mobile phones between 150 and 200 times a day, and where, even more scarily, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. Data is collected from all of us all the time and every time we use the internet. The film emphasises the current ‘glorification of sharing’, as it is perceived, albeit subconsciously, by teenagers using social media. ‘I share therefore I am’ has become the new sensibility. The internet archives our history, and social media increasingly uses the data it collects to define who you are. As Julian Assange states. “Google knows you better than your mother does’.

In Real Life follows teenagers whose lives almost exclusively revolve around the internet and social media, including those addicted to online porn (the teenager interviewed candidly admitted to the attraction of constantly revisiting these sites, where he can briefly step outside of his own life and into one where ‘it’s you and all about you’) and those dependent on gaming.

There was also the heartening story of Tom, who came out on Twitter and subsequently met his boyfriend on social media. The boys have now met in ‘real life’ and seem to have truly connected. This was the one positive story within a very sobering and often shocking film.

Kidron states at the outset that the film began from her observation that all teenagers today seem to be constantly connected to the internet and to social media. This is the era our children have been born into, and one that we are all adapting to (children most rapidly) as the digital network expands exponentially and way beyond the imagination of its founders. But, as one expert interviewed commented, adaptation comes at a cost, and he questions what might have been lost alongside that adaptive process.

Of course, we can never quantify what might have been lost, or exactly what the internet might have replaced in our children’s lives. What we do know, is that teenagers spend 40% more time with friends online that with them ‘in real life’.

Our children have also been born into a society that has witnessed the collapse of where children can physically go and be safe. Today, being at home is usually assumed to be safer than being out on the streets. In Real Life highlights the myth that can underlie this assumption. Teenagers can be exposed to much more danger on their laptops behind the closed doors of their bedrooms than we might want to believe. We hear the tragic story of one teenager, a victim of internet bullying who committed suicide. Bullying has increased exponentially on the internet. It is easier to cyber bully than to do it ‘in real life’…

The issues around the ethics of digital networks and of internet safety and privacy are multiple and complex. This technological phenomenon is here to stay, and it will continue to increase and to expand in ways that we cannot even imagine right now, all of which is to be embraced. Inevitably, dangers lie within such a huge cultural revolution and these need to be addressed first and foremost for the young and for the vulnerable, who do need protection, but not control.

For me personally, I plan to stop my practice of ‘fractured presence’, when I am in the same space as my daughter but only semi-present, distracted by something vital on the internet, which of course is never that critical, or important, or even necessary, in the end…

CQ

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This documentary film by the legendary exiled Chilean director Patricio Guzmán follows on from earlier work on his homeland, most notably The Battle of Chile, which focuses on Salvador Allende’s short period in office before the US-backed coup that put Pinochet in power. Guzmán’s cinematic legacy and vitalness is about not forgetting Chile’s history, most specifically Pinochet’s legacy.

Nostalgia for the Light is perhaps less overtly political than some of the director’s earlier work, yet the persecution of Pinochet’s regime, and the importance of remembering not forgetting the victims, strongly reverberates.

This is a beautifully meditative and melancholic piece. Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest place on earth, is central, both physically and metaphorically. It is here that the world’s largest telescopes that study the cosmos are positioned. Perhaps surprisingly scientists remind us that when we look at the stars we are actually looking back in time, backwards, into the past.

Thus, astronomy has much in common with archaeology, both mining the past, looking for clues. We see the Chilean women of the desert, such as Victoria and Violetta, 30 years later, still digging and searching the dry dust for remains of their loved ones who disappeared under Pinochet’s regime. Isolated human remains, bones, have been recovered, mostly too fragmented to piece together as an identifiable whole… The victims of the regime can never be quantified, as so many have never been found. The word ‘disappeared’ echoes loudly in the vast arid infinite open space.

The film underpins the myth of the present. There is no such thing. Everything, including the letters I am currently typing, is instantly in the past. Looking upwards to the sky and the stars, and downwards to the earth, the dirt, the sand…all is from before, not now. The power of the past is that it can always be with us, it can mould today. What Guzmán has achieved for Pinochet’s victims is a collective memory, a remembered past that constitute a present.

The BFI is concurrently featuring Guzmán’s other work, including The Battle of Chile.

Tonight I saw The Pinochet Case (2001), the story of bringing the dictator to judgement. Again, I was struck by the tenderness and respect that Guzmán has for the sufferers of the regime. The camera lingers tenderly, often in silence, and the director is as always unobtrusive. I found the film almost unbearably tragic and moving, desperately hoping for a positive outcome. But there can never be a resolution for Pinochet’s victims. As one commented:

‘People tell us it’s better to forget, but you can only forgive someone who has asked you for forgiveness.’

Guzmán states that The Pinochet Case is all about suffering and pain. Clearly yes, but what he has achieved with this, and with Nostalgia for the Light and his other work, and which is in itself uplifting, are works of art that signify the collective witnessing of a past that can be remembered today, and tomorrow.

CQ