Must See HIFF films – Conflict and Resolution
In an age of cutbacks on investigative journalism and media filled with political pundits, it is often difficult to get at the “truth.” A first person account holds more credibility than ever. If you want to see the “truth” of war, the films in the Conflict and Resolution Section curated by Cara Cusumano, serve as a history lesson, current affairs eye opener, and moral compass with incredibly compelling, disturbing, and ultimately effective filmmaking.
An astounding film, “The Good Soldier” directed by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys should be mandatory viewing for every President and member of Congress who is willing to make the decision to send men and women into war. In a culture where many veterans do not speak back home of what they witnessed and participated in battle, this film portrays five combat veterans from different wars ranging from WWII to Vietnam to the Gulf War to Iraq who emotionally lay it on the line. The sheer humanity of such inhumane situations is astounding and riveting and heartbreaking. The courage it takes for these soldiers to speak of their darkest moments and moral dilemmas with such brutal honesty is to be commended and brings up questions of our government supporting those they would send to die who did not die but came home. “Life is more difficult than death,” one comments.
“War puts you at odds with what is right and wrong,” one veteran explains. Their training as soldiers is to become killers without remorse, but as one asks, “How do you turn that off? One day you’re killing then the next you’re sitting at a bar in New York City.” In wars where the enemy looks just like the innocent civilian, “collateral damage” leaves its mark on the psyche of the soldiers which haunts them for the rest of their lives. As one veteran who is a founder of Veterans for Peace states, “War is not the way to settle a disagreement.”
Another film, “How To Fold A Flag,” from filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker also chronicles veterans, these freshly back from the Iraq War, providing a captivating first hand look at who is on our front line, and who, after putting their lives on the line, face many challenges when returning home. As one returning vet says, “I don’t know what normal is.” They fight not only poverty but PTSD and lasting injuries to their mental health and outlook to the future. Each veteran faces a different path: one runs for congress, one fights the demons literally in cage fighting, his fallen squad members’ names emblazoned on his shirt, another tries to get out of living in squalor, caring for his dying mother. The young men who left for the war are not the same men who returned, as this film opens our eyes to the reality of what we ask of our service men and women, and what our country gives or does not give back to them.
It was not a war since there was no fighting back as the tribunal leader notes in “My Neighbor, My Killer,” a ten year journey for filmmaker Anne Aghion. After the genocide of Hutus trying to wipe out the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, local courts starting in 2001 were formed, the Gacaca, where neighbors who massacred neighbors come together for judgment, mothers talking directly to the men who hunted down and killed their children with machetes. The horrors are etched deeply into the eyes and souls of these women who talk of, “the sad womb that gives life.” Yet we see them come to not only seek justice but a road to forgiveness and the future.
As a creative counterpoint, Rabbit A La Berlin from director Bartek Knonpka is a completely original look at a country divided. A fascinating footnote to history of the Berlin Wall is the community of wild rabbits who were caught between the walls when they were built, trapped and yet able to thrive with no natural predators. Since each shot from the gun of a guard had to be recorded, there was no hunting them, and with all the green grass and no enemies they became apathetic. Yet as the story parallels the increasing dangers to people, their holes were closed, the grass poisoned, and the shooting began. Think Watership Down against the East German Police. This is a fascinating and unique look at what it means to have your freedom taken away.
You will need a strong stomach to watch “City of Life and Death,” a tour de force dramatic look at the brutality of the Japanese soldiers against the Chinese citizens of Nanjing from director Lu Chuan who also wrote the screenplay. This narrative shows us a soldier of conscience who navigates through the harshest of realities of war for a civilian population. Powerful portraits of bravery and sacrifice prove the indominatable human spirit which survives no matter what is done to the body in this unforgettable and riveting film.