Friday, August 7, 2020

Tim Slade's doc THE DESTRUCTION OF MEMORY visits cultural annihilation

If what we now mostly call genocide -- the intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part, usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group -- is the nadir of the "civilized" world, close to this in terrible acts is something we might call cultural genocide whereby anything that reminds one of these people (their art, monuments, places of worship, even their very graves) are also destroyed. It's worth remembering, as the 2016 documentary THE DESTRUCTION OF MEMORY (now in its home video debut via DVD and VOD) makes clear, that the destruction of synagogues in Nazi Germany, as well as synagogues and mosques elewhere in the world, were happening before, as well as during and after the Jews and the Muslims in question were exterminated.

As directed and adapted (from the book by Robert Bevan) by Australian filmmaker Tim Slade (shown at left), the documentary begins by defining some of the reasons why cultural genocide is so important with the main one being that the removal of all cultural artifacts also eventually removes the memory of the people, and along with this any proof that they ever existed.

Mr. Slade and his crew move all over the world, from Sarajevo to Mosul and back again, as we hear about Raphael Lemkin and his campaign to halt cultural genocide (it was Lemkin, I believe, who first used the term genocide as a description of the act). Further, one genocide does seem to help pave the way for another, as did Turkey's of the Armenians lead to that by the Nazis of the Jews.

While some of what you see and hear in the film may be familiar, there are a number of things that arise here that were new to TrustMovies: for instance, the reason why the small amount of German Jews remaining in Dresden managed to survive the Holocaust, and the fact that Russia wanted the inclusion of cultural genocide in the post-WWII declaration, while the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand actively campaigned to have this cultural dimension removed -- due to their own history and treatment of aboriginal people and their culture.

While the documentary -- full of talking heads, history and ideas about the circumvention of cultural genocide --  tends at times toward the repetitive, its message is certainly vital, and its information often provocative. Regarding how these seemingly sudden genocides can happen, one speaker suggests that we try to imagine the USA had the KKK in control of its media for a full ten years, so that we had nothing to see and hear but the message of David Duke. Then we, too, might have civil war. At the rate things are progressing -- or devolving -- in America, this scenario seems less and less out of the question.

Occasionally the documentary approaches poetry, especially in its ruminations about a particular bridge in the former Yugoslavia. At other times, it forces us to consider the huge danger present in giving any political leader -- say, Milosevic (or Donald Trump) -- unlimited power. There are even a few moments of surprising good will that help counteract much of what we've seen and heard: the tale of how the small village of Baljvine (in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina) resisted the military and managed to save its mosque -- the only one in over 600 that kept its minaret intact.

By the time we get to the worst-case-scenario of Syria, how military necessity has most always been used to camouflage intent, and of ISIS using cultural destruction as both intimidation and a wretched funding source for terrorism, we're convinced -- and then some. The Destruction of Memory might be a bit drier and more talkative than necessary, but its message remains vital and increasingly dire.

From Icarus Home Video and running 85 minutes, the documentary arrived on home video -- via DVD and VOD -- this past Tuesday, August 4, for purchase or rental via IcarusVimeo On Demand and Ovid.

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