Someone looking for me would not start at movie theaters: movies are an infrequent destination.
Still, in the past seven days I viewed four films in four very different venues. Each of the films had (and have) diverse messages…beyond the films themselves.
Last Sunday, the destination was The Minneapolis Film Festival showing of a documentary, “The Unreturned” by a couple of young filmmakers. Nathan Fisher, one of the two who made the film, was in attendance. The film covers a topic essentially untalked about: the fact that 4.7 million Iraqis, largely of the middle class, and representing perhaps a sixth of Iraq’s population, were displaced by the Iraq War, mostly to neighboring Syria and Jordan. (Iraq, before the war, was roughly the population and geographical size of California.)
The Unreturned views the world through the lens of several of these refugees, who didn’t want to leave Iraq, and would have wanted to go home to Iraq, but cannot for circumstances beyond their control. At the end of the film, one person in the audience noted that 4.7 million refugees was essentially equal to the population of Minnesota (5 million). This is a huge number, with equivalent impact: like the entire population of Minnesota uprooted and ending up in Wisconsin….
I think the 200 or so of us in the theater last Sunday would agree with the later assessment of this film, ranked among the best in the entire festival.
Monday night, a friend and I hosted a meeting at a south Minneapolis church for 30 representatives from 22 twin cities groups which have an active interest/involvement in Haiti. We showed the film “Road to Fondwa,” which can be watched on-line for free. Road to Fondwa was filmed a couple of years ago by university students. Its theme is rural life in Haiti. Since it was filmed before the earthquake of January, 2010, it shows how life was before Fondwa was devastated (Fondwa is near the epicenter of the quake). I was particularly taken by the notion of “konbit,” a Kreyol word meaning gathering, cooperation, working together. We could use a lot more of that!
Friday afternoon I attended a showing of another Minneapolis Film Fest entry, Poto Mitan, yet another young filmmaker’s entry. The director of this film, a young professor at New York University, concentrates on five Haitian peasant women struggling to survive Haiti’s harsh economic realities. Each of the five women tell their own stories in their own language. Filming began in 2006, and the film was released in 2009. Like all of the other films, this one is subtitled. At this showing, the director, Dr. Mark Schuller, led a discussion afterwards. He’s a very impressive young man.
Then there is the fourth film, actually a 12-hour documentary over a period of weeks on the History Channel. It is called “America: The Story of Us,” and I was really looking forward to it when the first episode played a week ago Sunday night. My anticipation turned rapidly to disappointment (though I intend to watch the whole thing) because it became obvious that the intent of the film was to portray America’s history in the image of some old conservative politicians and big business and entertainers. The politicians have, so far, been regular on-screen “experts,” and the production apparently is underwritten by a major U.S. bank. It is too early to judge the entire production, but my guess is that this America will be portrayed as a heroic place with few warts, won by free enterprise, guns and military prowess. So be it. I’m waiting to see how the Iraq War will be spun, and the Obama era. Google America: The Story of Us and find lots of reviews of this epic….
The first three films do one thing that the fourth film does not: they allow the real people to do the speaking about the reality. In the last one, so far, it is only the experts that have the say.
If the youth of this country are represented by the first three filmmakers, we stand a chance.