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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 Heaven on Earth: Lost Boys of Sudan (2003): Ajak Mabior

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Ajak Mabior

Sudan is the largest country in Africa; tragically it has been plagued by internal violence for over 50 years. In 1983, the second civil war broke out between North and South. The northern government carried out military aggression against civilians in both the southern and western portions of the country. The North, which is predominately Muslim, attempted to impose “Sharia” (Islamic Law) on the entire country. This Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) that has raged in the country for almost three decades has claimed more than 2.5 million lives, and has caused the displacement of millions more including many children who lost their families, homes, and communities. One group of the approximately 17,000 displaced children at one point, primarily orphans who lost their parents in the conflict, has become known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan.” They are the victims, but also the survivors of the ruthless ethnic cleansing that purged their families from their homesteads.

“The Lost Boys of Sudan” were given this name by numerous aid organizations, including the United Nations, and also named after Peter Pan’s group of orphans.1 Most of the lost boys are from the Dinka, Nuer, and several other tribes of Southern Sudan, where hundreds of villages had been burned, livestock stolen, and families decimated. Government troops blazed through towns at night, killing, raping, and burning villages. As the destruction of the villages was continuing, boys ranging in age from five to thirteen began running east...

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