I have personally found film to be an effective medium to portray truthfully the horrors of war, violence, intolerance, and raise the audience’s awareness of various social justice issues. Perhaps more than written news reports, film can be used to evoke a meaningful response on the part of its audience. Note that I am not thinking of those voyeuristic movies that portray violence and/or war in a gratuitous manner or only to arouse. There have been many films that have had a significant impact on the way I perceived the world. Off the top of my head I think of righteous indignation I felt while watching Daniel Day Lewis in In the Name of the Father (1993), or the anger I felt watching Mississippi Burning (1988) or the series of anti-apartheid films of the late 1980s and early 90s such as A Dry White Season (1989) and Cry Freedom (1987). These films caused me to become more aware of the social problems in our world and instilled in me a desire to stay informed and be involved. This has typically taken the form of supporting human rights organizations like Amnesty International and world relief organizations like World Vision, as well as trying to instill in my students an awareness of social justice issues.
More recently, I watched two disturbing films on the genocide that occurred in Rwanda over a period of one-hundred days in 1994: Hotel Rwanda (2004) and the documentary on the same subject Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of RomÃ©o Dallaire (2004). While I would highly recommend both of these films, I found them difficult to watch. The news footage of the genocide in Shake hands with the Devil is disturbing, as is their dramatic recreation in Hotel Rwanda. I have real difficultly comprehending how humans can treat each other with such brutality. Also disturbing (and is especially highlighted in Shake hands with the Devil) is how the actions and/or inaction of different nations — especially the old colonial powers — helped create the horrible situation in Rwanda. Rwanda is one occasion when I wished the international community would have intervened rather than sitting on their collective hands!
Hotel Rwanda: Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who would go on to save hundreds of lives during the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Nick Nolte plays Canadian Lieutenant-General RomÃ©o Dallaire.
Shake Hands with the Devil: Canadian Lieutenant-General RomÃ©o Dallaire at the Bisesero National Resistance Memorial, Rwanda
Just last Sunday I went to NFB Film Club screening of a new documentary called Scared Sacred. This documentary chronicled the director’s five-year pilgrimage (of sorts) to the world’s “ground zeros” to explore how people found hope admist the darkest moments of human history. Velcrow Ripper (yes, that’s his real name) travels to the toxic wasteland of Bhopal, India; the minefields of Cambodia; war-torn Afghanistan; post-9/11 New York; Bosnia; Hiroshima; Israel and Palestine, among other places. While the film itself has some wonderful cinematography and is quite moving, it has a decidedly Eastern religious bias and is superficial at times. I also objected to some of the ways people in the film tried to justify tragedy by appealing to some higher purpose. That being said, it is a film worth watching if it screens in your neighbourhood.