Thursday night, February 17th, I attended a screening of The Last Survivor at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. About 8 months ago, Shan Jabara, the Executive Director of the Tallgrass Film Festival contacted us about screening LS for their monthly film series. Righteous Pictures happily obliged and sent me on my way to the Midwest.
I landed in Wichita around noon on the day of the screening. I must say, it’s a major culture shock going from Manhattan to Wichita; 8 million people versus half-a-million; skyscrapers versus sprawling landscapes; fast and furious versus slow and deliberate. Kansas provided me a much-needed respite from the frenetic energy that engulfs the “city that never sleeps.”
Shan picked me up from the airport and we headed to lunch where I met representatives from the 3 hosts/co-sponsors of the screening: the Tallgrass Film Festival, the Multi-cultural department at Wichita State University, and the Ulrich Museum of Art. I received a warm greeting and immediately knew that this would be a memorable trip; these were not people who took this film or our cause lightly.
On our way to the Ulrich Museum of Art on the 240+ acre campus of Wichita State University I learned a few fun facts about WSU:
1. The founders of Pizza Hut were students there and the original Pizza Hut HQ is right on campus.
2. The world’s largest Miro (the famous Spanish painter) mural adorns the outer wall of the Ulrich Museum of Art.
3. WSU’s collection of sculptures on campus is among the top 7 university collections in the USA.
Upon arriving at the museum, I was taken aside by a senior at WSU named Megan Pauly. She was writing for The Sunflower, the school paper, and wanted to interview me about The Last Survivor. We sat and talked for a half-hour on the balcony of the museum. Here is a link to the interview: http://bit.ly/iaO7WP.
The museum’s curator invited me to view a multi-media installation that the museum displayed in conjunction with the screening of our film. “We wish to inform you that we didn’t know,” by renowned artist, Alberto Jaar, comprises numerous forms of media showcasing the horrifying events of the Rwandan genocide and highlighting the lack of attention it received from around the world. The footage of testimony from Rwandan survivors coupled with speeches by former President Bill Clinton and other politicians was difficult to watch, but certainly set the stage the screening of The Last Survivor.
The screening room was spacious and beautiful, with close to 150 people settled into their seats ready to watch the film. Although I have seen it countless times, this screening yet again managed to elicit from me a strong emotional reaction.
The Last Survivor ended with many in the audience fighting back or wiping away tears, and the Q&A, moderated by my new friend, Shan, was set to begin. I fielded many questions and remained on-stage for a solid hour-twenty after the film was finished. I was glad. There is no better indicator of how the film played than the audience’s interest in finding out more when it is done.
As always, I left the screening filled with joy and hope. If people all over our country truly care about these issues, then perhaps we can alleviate some of these crises, or one day, eliminate them altogether. I am a hopeful person, and sometimes my optimism can be my downfall, but I firmly believe that we are headed in the right direction and that The Last Survivor will help us get there.
After leaving WSU, Shan and the clan invited me to join them at a dive bar for some drinks and a light supper. Of course I said “yes” and subsequently ate some delicious bruschetta and downed 2 glasses of Righteous Pictures’ signature drink, Jonny Walker Black (on the rocks). At dinner, we spoke about the success of the screening and the road ahead. I long to revisit Wichita and promised our dear friends at the festival, museum, and university that I would do my very best to bring future films to Tallgrass.
On my plane ride home, I looked out at “big sky country,” as the Wichitans call it, and felt euphoric. Life can truly take you to interesting and unexpected places.
So, this screening of The Last Survivor will be one of many in 2011. As I read Dave Eggers’ book, “What is the What,” which at its core is about a search for meaning in life, I feel lucky that I have found meaning in mine. I intend upon bringing this film to audiences around the world in an effort to promote tolerance, battle indifference, and inspire advocates for positive change.
Wishing you all much health and happiness.
Over and out-
The last year has been an exciting one. After close to three years of researching, filming, and editing, we were finally able to share The Last Survivor with the world. We were honored to participate in film festivals around the country and around the world and remain grateful to the audiences who came to our screenings, stayed after to speak with us, and have stayed in touch over the months since our paths have crossed.
It’s also been a frustrating year. At nearly every screening we attended, we were both moved and aggravated by the same inevitable question: “How can I share this film with my community?” We were moved of course by your interest in our work, but aggravated by our inability to give you an adequate response. “Soon,” was the go-to answer.
After a year spent assembling an all-star team dedicated to bringing the film to communities around the country in a meaningful way, we finally have our answer:
In recognition of Genocide Prevention Month, this April we will be launching a nationwide community screening campaign with the hope of bringing The Last Survivor to communities around the country to engage audiences in an evening of dialogue and, most importantly, action. Our vision is simple: local organizations, universities, high schools, and faith-based institutions can host screenings as a way of activating their community around this critical issue. After the film, audience members can participate in conversation to learn about and get involved in efforts launched by their neighbors, meet survivors and refugees who live in their neighborhoods, and begin to engage in a critical conversation about discrimination, hatred, and intolerance – the seeds of Genocide that we see in neighborhoods all around the world, including our own. We firmly believe in the power of local action to foster global change, so we want you to personalize your screening to make it resonate with your own community. And we’ll help you.
We two Michaels and the rest of the RP team will be traveling with the film to lead post-screening discussions, talk to audiences about the three year journey that was the making of The Last Survivor, and provide a set of actions we can all take to prevent genocide around the world. Jacqueline and Justin – two survivors profiled in the film – will also be available to accompany the film and speak about their experiences with genocide as well as the inspiring work they are currently engaged in.
Thank you so much for your continued interest in our work. Please, click here, to bring The Last Survivor to your community.
And don’t worry, we’ll be here to answer any questions you may have and walk you through the process if need be. We’re dedicated to making your screening as successful as possible.
We look forward to seeing you all soon,
Michael Pertnoy & Michael Kleiman, Directors, The Last Survivor
An article from Susan Smylie, reposted from the Express-News
Last month, approximately 80 San Antonio area residents gathered to watch “The Last Survivor,” a documentary that presents the stories of four genocide survivors and their struggle to make sense of tragedy.
The showing of the film was timely, taking place on the very day that citizens of south Sudan began voting in a referendum to determine whether to become an independent country. This vote, in which an estimated 99 percent of the population voted for independence, is the culmination of a process put in place by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended 22 years of civil war that resulted in 2 million deaths. The United States was instrumental in negotiating the CPA; it is important that the U.S. and its international partners remain engaged as post-referendum issues such as wealth sharing and border demarcation are worked out. There is significant risk of a return to violence if the international community looks away at this critical time.
In spite of all they have gone through, the people of South Sudan may be lucky compared to those in Darfur. The conflict in Darfur began during the time when significant attention was turned towards South Sudan as the CPA negotiations took place. Recently, as the world has turned to put the focus on the referendum in the south, violence in Darfur has once again increased. In December, over 32,000 Darfuri civilians were forced to flee from their homes because of aerial attacks by the government of Sudan and clashes between the government and rebel groups. In 2010, an estimated 300,000 civilians were displaced in Darfur. Over one-third of the population is living in internally displaced persons camps. Survivors face severe shortages of food and clean water.
The new U.S. Special Advisor to Darfur, Ambassador Dane Smith, must address these recent atrocities and make it clear to the Sudanese regime that violence targeting civilians will not be tolerated and will not lead to normalized relations with the United States. Ambassador Smith must push for unfettered access for peacekeepers and humanitarian workers throughout Darfur to support and protect the millions of civilians uprooted by the violence. Protection of civilians in Darfur is a key stepping stone toward eventual peace and new negotiations which can permanently end the crisis.
Smith must pursue the policy of sticks and carrots promised by the Obama administration, and make sure not to award too many carrots prematurely, before the situation in Darfur is resolved. By pursuing a balanced policy, the ambassador can help place Darfur on a new road leading to peace, justice, and stability in the region.
San Antonions who attended “The Last Survivor” were moved by the stories of survival they heard. The question we all have to ask ourselves is, when do we get to stop talking about survivors? When will the world see the last survivor? With decisive action by the international community, the people of Darfur will be able to move beyond worrying about their survival and instead will be able to have the same hopeful future as their cousins to the south.