From Oscar winners such as “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Son of Saul” to this year’s international feature entries “The Auschwitz Report” and “Dara From Jasenovac,” the horrors of the Holocaust have been repeatedly explored by international filmmakers, but genocide and mass deaths in other countries are not given so much attention.
“The Promise” (2016), starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, centered on the Armenian genocide, but it was a rarity. However, this year there are several films that deal with global atrocities, including four on Oscar’s international film shortlist: Bosnia and Hezegovina’s “Quo Vadis, Aida?” Guatemala’s “La Llarona,” Romania’s “Collective” and Russia’s “Dear Comrades!”
Beyond the shortlist are Kazakhistan’s “The Crying Steppe” (directed by Marina Kunarova and Canada’s “Funny Boy” (Deepa Mehta), which was disqualified after being submitted for the international film category. The films respectively center on genocide in Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka.
“The tragedy of Sri Lanka, and it’s happening all over the world right now, is it’s a very difficult country if you are not ethnically the same as the government,” Mehta says.
Jasmila Žbanić’s “Aida” centers on the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims who had gathered outside the U.N. compound to escape Christian Serbs.
“Genocide is happening right now as we speak in many places of the world. Many genocides happened in silence without presence of cameras and it is really thanks to filmmakers that the world finds out about them in a deep, meaningful way,” she says.
Alexander Nanau’s “Collective” is a documentary of a nightclub fire in which 27 perished and the subsequent medical negligence that left 37 more dead.
“In 2016, the lack of trust in the establishment in many countries around the world led to the election of populists in the hope that they would care about citizens and bring change.” he says. “What I think I have learned by observing the Romanian healthcare and political systems after years of populism is that populists always start by dismantling state institutions. They do that by manipulating the truth about their real intentions and interests, while appointing incompetent and submissive people into key positions of state institutions.
“In ‘Collective,’ we managed to capture in real time how powerful a free and highly professional press can be when people trust it. Because of this power of exposing the truth with facts, the courage of only one whistleblower that refuses to comply with a rotten system and comes forward can influence a whole society in the best way. No wonder we are assisting worldwide in an ever-increasing attack on journalists! It says the most about the direction we are moving in and that it takes all our efforts to stand up for the kind of society we want to live in.”
“Dear Comrades!” from Andrey Konchalovsky covers the 1962 massacre at Novocherkassk. It was snapped up for U.S. distribution by Neon after its Venice premiere.
The massacre “was a complete blackout and banned for 30 years,” Konchalovsky said at a recent awards season event. “Every citizen of Novocherkassk had to sign an affidavit saying they wouldn’t speak about it or risk the death penalty.”
Jayro Bustamante wanted to remove the misogyny around “Llorona,” and made “the weeping woman cry for something more relevant than a man, to cry for the suffering of all her Mayan people.”
“To think that a person who defends these rights deserves an insult leaves us wondering that we are a country where a genocide could have happened with impunity,” he says. “Knowing that the local audience does not want to talk about the serious issues that affect them, I looked for a more fantastic way to tell it. This concept helped me get to ‘La Llorona,’ like a mother who cries for her children.”