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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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No Exit: Palestinian Film in the Shadow of the Nakba: Eve Spangler


Eve Spangler

Israeli-Palestinian relations are fraught with conflict, as every newspaper reader knows. America has long been allied with Israel and, hence, most Americans have been exposed to the Israeli view of the conflict, whether through news media, documentaries, or fiction. Even American and Israeli filmmakers who wish to add unheard points of view to the discussion often fall into the trap of speaking for Palestinians, when Palestinians are well able to speak for themselves.

Ability is not the only issue. Palestinian film takes up the task of creating a national narrative under uniquely difficult circumstances:1 in the absence of a nation-state; with Palestinian communities dispersed across the Occupied Territories, Israel, refugee camps, and a wider diaspora; and with Palestinians in most of those places living virtually in a state of siege.

Moreover, the work of memory is never a matter of simple recall for any ethnic group. Multiple versions of events, some nostalgic, some manipulative, some cynical, some fanciful always contend to become, “the official story” and this is especially the case when the trauma is ongoing and a secure existence still a distant aspiration.2

Virtually all Palestinians agree that the central event of their recent history is al Nakba, “the Catastrophe,” of 1947–1949.3 During this period, by conservative estimates, at least 50% of Palestinians were permanently expelled from their homes,4 while most of their towns and villages and virtually all of their urban communities were destroyed.5 Palestinians...

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