Celluloid Hopes: Peace In Our Time?

Celluloid Hopes: Peace In Our Time?

By John Michalczyk

In a season of light, searching for peace, we set our goals hopefully high. During recent decades, however, our hopes have often been dashed by civil strife, large-scale conflict, and genocide across the world. The media have captured this all too vividly, as the news from the war front interrupts our dinner meal with details of more civilian and military casualties.

But through my experiences as a filmmaker, working with the Etoile Documentary Group of Boston College, I have come to believe that the media also can help us see the capacity within ourselves for forgiveness, compassion and tolerance - instead of merely reminding us of our human failings.

Of our group's 12 documentary films on social justice, four bring the thirst for peace into sharper focus. This quartet of films traces the evolution of international conflicts with rays of hope for a peaceful reconciliation.

These four conflict resolution films have already served as vehicles for information and reconciliation. Widely distributed and used in many and diverse settings of classrooms and conferences, they serve as an educational and social tool to bring images of tension, civil unrest, war and genocide to the audience. Above all, they show that each community has its own historical narrative about its religious, social, cultural, and political identity.

Our Boston College/Boston Theological Institute visit to Northern Ireland in 1997 helped us understand how a 30-year conflict in the region was on the verge of being resolved. Our subsequent film, "Out of the Ashes: Northern Ireland's Fragile Peace," appeared on the scene just as the Good Friday Peace Accords were initiated in April 1998. Although the road to absolute peace and reconciliation is still rocky in Northern Ireland, there is no turning back to the days of violence when 3,500 people were killed in the tragic sectarian conflict.

The Balkans in the early 1990s was the scene of a split-up of the former Yugoslavia following the death of Marshall Tito and the end of the Cold War. The bankruptcy of Communism as it was then known in the region created a vacuum where violence and massacres became all too common. Our documentary, "Prelude to Kosovo: War and Peace in Bosnia and Croatia" (1999), chronicles the above, but with an emphasis on how the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians attempt to go beyond the divisive hostilities, and create first tolerance and then mutual respect in an effort to make peace among themselves.

The third film in the series, "South Africa: Beyond a Miracle" (2000), studies the origins of apartheid in a country ravished by racial turmoil. How do you live side by a side with a white man who beat, humiliated, and even killed members of your family? We found deep in the hearts of black South Africans a sense of reconciliation that was truly remarkable. These scarred victims professed great hopes of peace and racial harmony, never wishing to do unto others what was done unto them. One of them humbly acknowledges, "We are a forgiving people."

In our most recent film on the current Palestinian-Israeli crisis, the greatest challenge was to document a conflict while it was still in progress. We filmed the three earlier films on location after the strife had been reasonably solved. In retrospect, we were able to see then the seeds of peace already in the hearts of the conflicted parties. "Different Drummers: Daring to Make Peace in the MidEast," however, offers an image of an on-going conflict with the unheard voices of peacemakers.

While the media broadcast graphic images of the results of suicide bombings and house demolitions, with news of an intrusive security fence separating the two peoples, there are true peacemakers today among the Israelis. Like John the Baptist during this season of Advent, their voices seem to cry out in the desert. What supports them today, however, are the thousands who rally for peace, the glimmers of cautious optimism with the proposed "road map" of the United States and its allies, and the current promising but controversial blueprint of the Geneva Accords. May the voices of the peacemakers in this Holy Land not fall on deaf ears!

When massacres turn to tolerance and mutilations transform into mutual respect, then the biblical lion can feel comfortable lying down with the lamb. At a time of reflection on the meaning of light and peace, there is still darkness throughout the land. In the end, despite this darkness, these films provoke us to belief in the goodness of humans who passionately desire to share good will.

-John Michalczyk is professor and chairman of the Fine Arts Department, and co-director of BC's Film Studies Program.

"Forum" presents faculty and staff perspectives solicited by the Office of Public Affairs as part of our media outreach efforts. Its purpose is to share learned insights on topical and newsworthy external issues for the benefit of the Boston College community. Chronicle reserves the right to edit all submissions for space, clarity and style.


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