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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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Specificity in Genocide Portrayal on Film: Sometimes in April (2005): Sara L. Rubin


Sara L. Rubin

Raoul Peck, the widely respected director of Sometimes in April,1 boasts a filmography that includes works about Third World countries and the people who live in them. His personal background contributes to his interest in and skill at making a film about Rwandan genocide.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Peck’s family fled the regime of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier when he was eight, settling in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Educated in Kinshasa, as well as in Brooklyn, Peck earned his baccalaureate in Orléans, France. He worked as a taxi driver, journalist and photographer before obtaining a film degree from Berlin’s German Film and Television Academy (DFFA) in 1988.

At the same time, Raoul Peck’s administrative credentials are impressive. He served as Haiti’s Minister of Culture from 1996–1997, in the administration of Rosny Smarth. Once Prime Minister Smarth resigned, in large part because he believed that the April 1997 first-round parliamentary elections were rigged, Peck relinquished his own position,

While in Haiti, Peck released his feature film L’Homme sur les quais (The Man by the Shore) in 1993, competing in that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Two years later, it became the first Haitian film to receive a US release. His 2000 feature film, Lumumba, a profile of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, also received high praise.

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