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Notre Dame to host Genocide Film Series

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, February 28, 2007

With militant combat stories emerging out of Darfur, UN rulings concerning the massacre at Srebrenica, Bosnia and other terrible events happening in various parts of the world, genocide has become a topic our generation must face – not only current atrocities but also those of the past.

As we struggle to grapple with the horrific capabilities of mankind’s violence against itself, filmmakers have offered their interpretations on the consequences of war. Their films offer peace in some cases, solace in others or sometimes merely graze the topic, offering more questions than solutions to the problem.

In an attempt to further explore the themes and ideas necessary to end genocide, the Genocide Film Series will be screened at the Browning Cinema of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) this weekend. This event – subtitled “On Our Watch?” – showcases some of the best explorations of genocide that (the) cinema has to offer. These include a wide range of entries, from Oscar winners to relative unknown films, all powerful and important in their own way.

“The Last King of Scotland” (2006)

Starring Forest Whitaker, who won the Best Actor award at the 79th Academy Awards last Sunday, this is the highest profile film in the series. Whitaker’s darkly mesmerizing performance as the complex Idi Amin, the de facto dictator of Uganda from 1971-79, led critics to hail the film as one of the year’s best.

But it’s Whitaker’s recent Oscar win – against the likes of Peter O’Toole, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith and Ryan Gosling – that has drawn even more attention to the headlining film in the Genocide Series. “The Last King of Scotland” will show March 3 at 7 p.m. and March 4 at 1 p.m.

“Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire” (2004)

This 2004 documentary is based on a book of the same name by now-retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations forces that served in Rwanda during the 1993-94 genocide. Dallaire implored the UN for more troops but was ultimately denied. However, his actions are credited for saving approximately 20,000 lives. The film was nominated for two documentary awards during the Sundance Film Festival. “Shake Hands With the Devil” will show March 4 at 4 p.m.

“Screamers” (2006)

A unique entry into the film series, “Screamers” was directed by Armenian-American Carla Garapedian with the help of the band System of a Down. This film does not focus on one particular incident of genocide but attempts to look at the deeper questions behind its causes. In one segment, it explores the Armenian Genocide – the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians from 1915 to 1917 in the Ottoman Empire – and why it is so actively denied in Turkey. “Screamers” also inspects the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda.

System of a Down has a personal connection to the Armenian genocide. The grandfather of System of a Down’s frontman, Serj Tankian, is a survivor of the conflict and plays an integral part in the film.

The film also employs Harvard University Professor Samantha Powers and other experts as part of an effort to point the finger of blame not just at the traditional culprits but also at the United States for its seeming neutrality in regards to genocide. “Screamers” will show March 2 at 7 p.m.

“Night and Fog” (1955)

This documentary was filmed in 1955 at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland after the conclusion of World War II. The film’s major theme is guilt and it explores this through a look at the calmness of the post-war camp compared to the horrifics that occurred there during wartime. The film deals little with the stories of individual prisoners but delves into wider themes of humanity, especially the hate that motivates horrific killings like that of the Jews at Auschwitz. The film takes its name from Adolf Hitler’s “Night and Fog” (Nacht und Nebel) directive, one that facilitated the brutal execution of political prisoners in Germany and the territories occupied by the Nazis during World War II. It contains graphic footage of the conditions at Auschwitz and is one of the most poignant examinations of 20th century genocide. “Night and Fog” will show alongside “Shake Hands With the Devil” on March 4.

“The Killing Fields” (1984)

This British film is about the actions directed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The story is told through the eyes of three journalists РDith Pran, a Cambodian, Sydney Schanberg, an American and John Swain, a Briton. This picture, directed by Roland Joff̩, won three Oscars and stars Sam Waterston and John Malkovich. The 100th greatest British film according to the British Film Institute, it is an excellent look at the war in Cambodia, which is often overshadowed by the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The genocide instituted by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge is thought to have contributed to the deaths of over 1.5 million Cambodians. This award winning film about an often-overshadowed tragedy will show March 2 at 10 p.m.

“No Man’s Land” (2001)

This Best Foreign Language Oscar-winner depicts two soldiers, one Bosniak and the other Serb, who find themselves alone in a trench during the Bosnian War. With no other avenues available, the two trade insults and also find common ground in an interesting mix of irony and futility. The United Nations, ordered to remain neutral in the conflict, must bring aid to these wounded soldiers after an American journalist brings media attention to their situation. To further complicate matters, another Bosniak soldier awakens near the first two only to discover himself on top of a landmine that will explode if he moves.

The worst of the killings in the Bosnian War took place in the region of Srebrenica, located within the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many sources say that over 8,000 men were killed in this region alone. Recently, the International Court of Justice ruled that Serbia is not to blame for the genocide that occurred during the war. Thanks to this ruling, this film has become especially important in the discussion of international jurisdiction and what the specific definition of genocide is. “No Man’s Land” will show March 3 at 10 p.m.

Each film in this series brings something different to the forefront of the discussion on genocide. Whether big, dramatic narratives or more realistic, probing documentaries, they all cause viewers to reflect on the nature of human life and the costs of taking it.

The Genocide Film Series is sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, the Notre Dame Holocaust Project, the Center for Social Concerns and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.