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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

Edited By John J. Michalczyk and SJ Raymond G. Helmick

While the ashes of the Holocaust were still fresh, Polish Jewish attorney Raphael Lemkin put a name to the tragedy that had decimated his family – genocide. The twentieth century was brutally scarred by the massive scale of genocide and its manifest forms of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and atrocities. We ask how these horrors can be visually translated to the screen while both maintaining their authenticity and serving as commercial «entertainment». Through an analysis of a series of poignant films on the plight of the Native Americans, the controversial Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and its legacy, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the Hutu-sponsored massacres in Rwanda, the reader can grasp the driving mechanisms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The oft-repeated, «Never again» rings hollow to our ears in the wake of these tragedies in a post-Holocaust era. The films discussed here, both features and documentaries, are set in an historical context that sheds light on the dark side of humanity and are then discussed with the hope of better understanding our frailty. In the end, however, we ask can the «unrepresentable» ever be represented?
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Who Are the “Enemies of the People”?: John J. Michalczyk

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John J. Michalczyk

Revenge did not drive Cambodian investigative journalist Thet Sambath to spend 10 years of his life tracking down Khmer Rouge leaders who had escaped the law in the wake of the genocide. His father, mother, and brother were victims of the ruthless regime, but he did not want their blood. Instead he wished to document the truth behind the killings fields of Cambodia, extracting it word by word from the lips of the perpetrators. His mission was to find out who ordered the killings, and above all, why. Every weekend he relentlessly embarked on an investigative journey into his country’s dark past, as he traveled to the northwest countryside near the Thai border. There, he interviewed the war criminals, documenting the encounters in a meticulous video file that would establish an oral history of the genocide. The ghosts of the past still haunted him. He personally committed himself to this responsibility in light of the death of several of his family during the Khmer Rouge regime, especially his father’s execution at the hands of Khmer Rouge, his mother’s forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge leader and her subsequent death in childbirth. In a broader sense, however, he wanted to leave a legacy to his people and pave the way for reconciliation in the future.

Collaborating closely with British filmmaker Rob Lemkin, Sambath completed a microcosm of his findings in a documentary Enemies of the People (2010), the term used by the Khmer Rouge...

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