film production + social action



Last Survivor Screening in Houston

According to my own calculations (which have a habit of being wildly inaccurate), Thursday’s screening of The Last Survivor at the Houston Holocaust Museum marked the 1,631st time I’ve watched the film in its entirety. Let it be known that is too many times to watch anything. Once the theater goes dark and the familiar images are illuminated on the screen, my own self-conscious thoughts turn to figuring out whether the audience is enjoying the film. I overanalyze every sneeze, change of position, every chuckle and tearful wipe of the eye. I’ve tried to distract myself with attempts at learning Swedish and Swahili through the film’s subtitles, but they are in vein. And so, for these reasons, I’m considering limiting my presence at future screenings to the introductions and the post-screening discussions. For as many times as I’ve seen the film, I will never tire of speaking with an audience afterwards and hearing what thoughts, questions and ideas the film has conjured in their minds.

Thursday night’s post-screening discussion was no different. Once the lights went up and I could decipher the audience’s thoughts and reactions via explicit comments and questions rather than subtle coughs, I was pleased to learn Hédi, Jacqueline, Adam and Justin’s remarkable stories of survival and transcendence had once again inspired a new group of viewers to reflect on the horrific crime of genocide and how they might begin to work to end it’s tragic tenure on our Earth. While I enjoyed the entirety of the discussion with a wonderfully diverse audience, there were two instances that gave the evening a true sense of purpose.

The first was a simple question, the last of the evening: “So why did you come to Houston, Michael? What do you want us to do?” The opportunity to answer questions like that was the very reason Michael and I set out to make this film 4 years ago. The question gave me an opportunity to share with the audience the simple actions we can all do – whether we have just one fleeting minute or a little bit of time every week – to fight genocide and assist those who have survived its horror. It also gave me a chance to offer a wise piece of advise Mapendo International’s Founder, Sasha Chanoff, had passed on to Michael and I when we had asked a similar question ourselves. What can our generation do, we had asked Sasha, to prevent genocide in the future? “Get to know your neighbors,” Sasha had suggested. Whether we realize it or not, our neighbors come from all over the world. They offer us an incredible range of experiences, perspectives and stories from which we can expand our own understanding of the world around us. By spending just a little bit of time each week getting to know one another, we can create a truly diverse global community bounded by the deep commonalities we all share as human beings. A community that recognizes that the unique differences between us are worthy of celebration, not condemnation.

The second key moment of the evening came as I was walking out the door. A young audience member pulled me aside and introduced himself. He thanked me for the film and told me he couldn’t believe what he had seen. “You hear about all these things out there – lack of food, education, poverty – but I never knew that people were just being killed like this. How can we let that happen?” The film was the first this young man had ever heard of Darfur and Congo, let alone Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and the other horrors of our past. Having immersed myself in a network of survivors as well as anti-genocide activists and scholars over the last several years, it’s easy to forget that there are still many good people of the world who simply do not know these atrocities are occurring. At the end of the day, awareness remains the first and crucial step toward action.

To find a screening of The Last Survivor near you, or host your own screening, please visit thelastsurvivor.com

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