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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?
John J. Michalczyk, film professor and Director of Film Studies at Boston College, is the author of 10 books and numerous articles on the relationships of film, literature, and political thought. Since 1991, he has been involved in documentary filmmaking, having completed 20 films, notably on social justice issues, including conflict resolution. His documentaries, especially Nazi Medicine: In the Shadow of the Reich, have been broadcast nationally and internationally.
Raymond G. Helmick, SJ, teaches ecumenical theology and conflict transformation at Boston College. He has worked as mediator, counselor, and an interpreter of events in many conflicts since 1972 – in Northern Ireland, the Middle East (Israelis and Palestinians, Lebanese, the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey), the Balkans, and several other sites. He has collaborated with John J. Michalczyk on nine documentary films on conflict resolution topics.