Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series about the Utah Film Center. Today’s installment continues with a look at three films that are part of this weekend’s inaugural Gandhi Film Festival, being held today through Sunday, Sept. 25, at free, public screenings in the City Library auditorium. The festival is being presented with the Gandhi Alliance for Peace. For previews of the other films and the festival, see yesterday’s Selective Echo post below or here.
Among them are the following:
‘Bringing Down A Dictator’ (Steve York, U.S., 2002, 56 mins.) – Saturday, Sept. 24, 5 p.m.
NOTE: York will be present for a Q&A after the screening.
In the climactic days of the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, a report on Al-Jazeera English showed youth leaders watching this award-winning documentary which focuses on the precipitating events for the eventual downfall of the late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and the rise of the nonviolent movement called Otpor! (which is the Serbian word for resistance).
The 2002 TV documentary, which won a Peabody among many other awards, demonstrates the tremendous discipline for nonviolent strategies in both the student protesters and political opposition leaders during the 2000 elections. York makes its thoroughly evident that if the political opposition (representing nearly 20 parties if not more) had not united to support a single candidate (Vojislav Kostunica), then the resistance movement might have failed and Milosevic could have prevailed.
In an interview earlier this year with a correspondent with the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the groups involved in the Egyptian revolution, York described what he had set out to achieve in the making of this documentary:
‘Simply stated, it’s a popular belief that authoritarians and dictators can only be defeated militarily. History has shown this argument to be false, many times, but the myth persists. Films like this one are a very small effort to gradually provide evidence that nonviolent options are viable, that nonviolent struggles do succeed, more often that is commonly understood, and against all kinds of adversaries.’
Accordingly, viewers of the documentary should take note of how the young leaders of Otpor! carried through their strategic work, which was extraordinarily difficult. However, it also is easy to be impressed by the young leaders’ capacity for humor, creative demonstrations, and bold slogans that proved to be critical stimuli for broadening the movement’s support.
Furthermore, it would be somewhat foolish to think that other nonviolent resistance movements should simply copy what happened in Serbia. Unity, organization, and nonviolent discipline are essential, according to York, and that conclusion is a commonly occurring theme in all of the festival’s films.
Today, few media pay attention to what has transpired in the former Yugoslavian republic, which is moving toward full membership in the European Union. Last spring, Boris Tadic (who is seen in the film), now Serbian president, announced the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general who was wanted on war crimes by The Hague tribunal. This was critical because Tadic, who became the defense minister after the 2000 elections, had led a monumental reform of the country’s military and police forces which still had operated under the guise of Soviet-style communism.
Indeed Serbia’s reforms were tenuous in the initial years after Milosevic’s downfall. For example, Zoran Djindjic (also seen in the film) was the new prime mminister but he was assassinated by dissident nationalist paramilitary forces a year after York’s documentary was released.
Tadic has been extremely significant because he is the face of Serbia’s moral and geopolitical rehabilitation, particularly as the continent continues to sort the enormously complicated mess of Kosovo, recognized as independent by the EU but not by Serbia. And, it was the Kosovo bombings in the 1990s that eventually led to Milosevic’s downfall.
York’s documentary, therefore, effectively reminds us why international support for continuing reforms in Serbia, as launched in 2000, by the Otpor! Movement is so critical.
‘Budrus’ (Julia Bacha, Israel, 2009, 78 mins.) – Sunday, Sept. 25, at 1 p.m.
Viewers should look at Bacha’s film about a tiny Palestinian enclave of 1,500 residents and olive tree groves differently in light of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid today for his nation’s statehood before the United Nations General Assembly. Bacha filmed the events in 2003 and 2004, during which 55 peaceful demonstrations organized by Ayed Morrar eventually forced the Israeli government to move the Separation Barrier and not close off his village from the rest of the West Bank.
The film is a stunning piece of visual culture of how the landscape is manifested as the medium for conflict and contest in countercolonial struggles. The so-called fence – better yet, a wall of imprisonment – is plainly ugly amidst the olive trees upon which the Budrus residents depend solely for their livelihood.
Seven years after Budrus, the questions remain the same as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg suggests:
‘Is the maximum the Israelis can offer equal the minimum the Palestinians can accept? The answer, so far, on both sides, has been no, but I don’t doubt that most Israelis, and most Palestinians, seek a deal of some sort, and would like the peace process to progress in a way that ensures their security.’
Even despite the most heartfelt nonviolent efforts of Morrar and his fellow Palestinians, the barriers were still there.
A Skype Q&A will take place with Bacha following the screening.
‘Gandhi’ (Richard Attenborough, United Kingdom, 1982, 191 mins.) – Sunday, Sept. 25, 3 p.m.
Only a few words need to be said about this film, which won eight Oscars and scores of other awards. One of the most intriguing bits of trivia regarding the film concerns the two-minute funeral sequence, which was filmed coincidentally on the anniversary of Gandhi’s funeral (which occurred Jan. 31, 1948). Two-thirds of the 300,000 extra actors used for the sequence were volunteers. It is an extraordinary scene.
The best guide for viewing the film, now nearly 30 years old, comes from Roger Ebert’s 1982 review:
‘Imagine that for many Americans, Mahatma Gandhi remains a dimly understood historical figure. I suspect a lot of us know he was a great Indian leader without quite knowing why and such is our ignorance of Eastern history and culture. We may not fully realize that his movement did indeed liberate India, in one of the greatest political and economic victories of all time, achieved through nonviolent principles. What is important about this film is not that it serves as a history lesson (although it does) but that, at a time when the threat of nuclear holocaust hangs ominously in the air, it reminds us that we are, after all, human, and thus capable of the most extraordinary and wonderful achievements, simply through the use of our imagination, our will, and our sense of right.’
For more information about the festival’s complete slate, see here.
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