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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

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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Sarajevo Ground Zero (1994): SaGA’s Films of Crimes and Resistance Produced Under Siege, 1992–1993: Trevor Laurence Jockims


Trevor Laurence Jockims

The film Sarajevo Ground Zero as an instance of “Sarajevo super-realism,” reflects a mode of participatory documentary in which the filmmakers from the production house Sarajevo Group of Auteurs, capture and document the very events they themselves are living through—namely, the war, blockade, and genocide that occurred in Sarajevo, Bosnia, from 1992 to 1995. This war, which coined the unfortunate term “ethnic cleansing”—a political linguistic dodge created by Western powers who did not want to be compelled into action by the genocide happening before the world’s eyes—saw an area of the world that seemed to exemplify diversity and multi-ethnicity torn apart by a small faction of extreme Serb nationalists. These nationalist forces surrounded the city of Sarajevo, effectively holding it—and its citizens—hostage. Less than a decade after hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics, Sarajevo became the sight of the longest military siege in modern history. Sarajevo Ground Zero documents, and cries out for help from, the very center of the siege.

Sarajevo Ground Zero is a fascinating instance of the aesthetic and humanitarian possibilities of film’s response to war and genocide. The collaborative effort of SaGA (Sarajevo Group of Auteurs) and Globalvision, a New York-based activist film group, Sarajevo Ground Zero simultaneously points to the representative powers of film in its response to atrocity, and the humanitarian and political limits of such representation. Globalvision’s Danny Schecter, co-producer of the film, released Sarajevo Ground Zero to illicit interest and aid...

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