film production + social action



Those Who Fail To Learn From History Are Doomed to Repeat It

San Antonio Film FestivalYesterday I caught up with director Michael Pertnoy after The Last Survivor’s recent screening at the San Antonio Film Festival. One of his favorite parts of taking the film on the road is the post-film discussion he gets to have with impassioned audience members. Michael described a particularly poignant moment at SAFILM last weekend.

“A woman raised her hand and said, ‘After hearing Jacqueline talk about what happened in Rwanda and how genocide is a process, do you think we should be worried about what’s happening in our country in Arizona?’”

It’s an interesting parallel. “We always talk about the moment people’s rights get taken away,” says Pertnoy. “That’s how it starts. We say, ‘You’re not like us. You’re something else.’ According to Carl Wilkens, the way to eradicate genocide is to eliminate this idea of the Other.” Carl Wilkens is the only American who chose to stay in Rwanda in 1994 and was responsible for saving hundreds of lives. He is also the namesake for the Genocide Intervention Network’s Fellowship Program, in which Pertnoy participated in 2009.

For the woman at the Q&A, Michael had a ready answer. “Absolutely,” he replied. “We should be alarmed. It would be very naïve and arrogant of us to think that a genocide couldn’t happen in our country. In fact it already has.”

It’s something we don’t hear much about, maybe because it’s left such an ugly stain on our history. In her book “A Problem from Hell:”America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power points out that we killed 19 million Native Americans in this country. Not only did we instigate a genocide of epic proportions; we are the only nation to successfully carry one out.

Which brings us to 2010. There is no outright slaughter, no Trail of Tears. But we are erecting a pernicious “Other,” this time in the form of immigrants. Recent immigration laws in Arizona not only blatantly defy our country’s cherished protections of asylum, but our Constitution itself.

“We should be outraged,” Pertnoy says. “We should be alarmed. And we should be thinking more about our civil liberties and how we ought to respond.”

As Winston Churchill famously said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Last Survivor was, as usual, a smash hit at SAFILM, taking home the Audience Award for Best Documentary. What’s next for the filmmakers? A trip to Israel, where the film will enjoy its international premiere at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. Stay tuned for transatlantic news!

-BB

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