Genocide Survivor Testimony in Documentary Film: Its Afterlife and Its Legacy
September 3, 2009
If you missed this panel discussion at USC, you can watch a video of the event here.
The USC Shoah Foundation Institute has worked with documentary filmmakers over the past years, many of whom have been involved in the creation of documentaries or film projects dealing with the topic of genocide. In addition to using testimony from the Institute’s archive, often, these filmmakers conducted their own interviews with genocide survivors and witnesses, footage of which has been included into their respective films. While clips from these interviews are woven into a film’s narrative, the interviews as a whole often remain intact in a filmmaker’s collection of footage. The value of these interviews or testimonies potentially goes above and beyond the documentary for which they have been created. For example, they may be of value to secondary and/or post-secondary education.
As part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts Visible Evidence XVI Conference, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute hosted a panel discussion and audience participatory Q&A session on issues related to conducting interviews with genocide survivors for use in documentary film and what happens to the body of footage after its initial use.
- Circumstances of interviews
- Logistical considerations
- Political considerations
- Ethical and moral concerns
- Copyright issues
- Preservation of, and access to, interview footage
- Potential roles of interviews beyond their place in documentary film projects
Participants in this panel discussion come from different creative backgrounds and play different roles in the creation of the various works, but their films and work also represent a range of different genocides including the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), and the genocide in Darfur (2003-).
The participants were (alphabetical order): Anne Aghion (NYC), Ted Braun (LA), Andi Gitow (Panel Moderator) (NYC), James Moll (LA), Socheata Poeuv (New Haven). Participant bios follow:
Andi Gitow, producer (NYC, NY)
Andi Gitow is a two-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, news producer and psychologist currently working at the United Nations. Andi has reported on human rights abuses, genocide, conflict and post-conflict and humanitarian crises in more than 30 countries throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South America, including such crisis spots as Rwanda, Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sarajevo, Beirut, and Laos. More…
Andi produces and senior produces broadcast features and documentaries on international issues distributed to hundreds of broadcasters globally, specializing in stories on the emotional effects of living in conflict situations. She also helped develop and senior produces a television news-magazine program now airing on BBC, among 50 other broadcast outlets worldwide.
She has interviewed hundreds of survivors of trauma, and has authored over 15 manuscripts, lectured at Universities and conferences and was an instructor to Columbia medical students.
Andi has received 18 journalism awards including 2 Emmy Awards, 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards, a National Headliner Award, 2 awards for International Reporting, and a Los Angeles Moondance Film Festival Award.
Anne Aghion, filmmaker (NYC, NY)
Created a film series on Gacaca Justice in Rwanda (2002-2009).
Filming for over a decade in a tiny rural hamlet in Rwanda, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Anne Aghion has charted the impact of the Gacaca on survivors and perpetrators alike. More…
First film: GACACA LIVING TOGETHER AGAIN IN RWANDA? (2002)
Venturing into the rural heart of the African nation of Rwanda, this film follows the first steps in one of the world’s boldest experiments in reconciliation: the Gacaca (Ga-CHA-cha) Tribunals. These are a new form of citizen-based justice, aimed at unifying this country of 8 million people, after the 1994 genocide. Award-winning documentarian Anne Aghion bypasses the usual interviews with politicians and aid workers, skips the statistics, and goes directly to the emotional core of the story, talking one-on-one with survivors and accused killers alike.
Second film: IN RWANDA WE SAY… THE FAMILY THAT DOES NOT SPEAK DIES (2004)
Since 1999, award-winning filmmaker Anne Aghion has traveled to rural Rwanda, to chart the impact of that country’s efforts at ethnic reconciliation. This, her second film on the subject, continues Aghion’s quest to learn how the human spirit survives a trauma as unfathomable as the attempt, in 1994, to wipe out the Tutsi minority, with 800,000 lives claimed in 100 days. A fascinating and intimate look at how, and whether, people can overcome fear, hatred and deep emotional scars, to forge a common future after genocide.
Third film: THE NOTEBOOKS OF MEMORY (2009)
On a lush green Rwandan hillside, more than a decade after the 1994 genocide, a small rural community gathers on the grass over and over again for the Gacaca trials. This final chapter follows the process, as a tribunal of local citizen-judges weighs survivor accounts of the massacres against the testimony of perpetrators who barter confessions for reduced prison sentences.
Feature-length documentary: MY NEIGHBOR MY KILLER (premiere March/April 2009)
MY NEIGHBOR MY KILLER is the feature-length documentary which includes footage from all three films in the trilogy. The final installment in the series will be released during the 15th year commemoration of the Rwandan genocide in April 2009. In My Neighbor My Killer, award-winning filmmaker Anne Aghion has filmed for over a decade in a tiny rural hamlet, and has charted the impact of the Gacaca on survivors and perpetrators alike. Through their fear and anger, accusations and defenses, blurry truths, inconsolable sadness and hope for life renewed, she captures the emotional journey to co-existence. My Neighbor My Killer (2009), won the Nestor Almendros Prize for courage in filmmaking and was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
Anne received a 2005 Emmy for IN RWANDA WE SAY, 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship, and 2003 Fellini Prize for GACACA.
Theodore Braun, writer-director (LA, CA)
Writer-director Ted Braun spent the first five months of 2007 in Sudan with unprecedented access to the internally displaced people of Darfur, international aid workers, the government and the rebels. The resulting documentary - his critically acclaimed first feature film, Darfur Now - was produced by the Academy Award winning producer of Crash, Cathy Schulman, Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle, and three-time Academy Award winning documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris – who is also a Distinguished Professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. The film was financed by Participant Productions and Warner Independent Pictures, which distributed the film worldwide. More…
Darfur Now won the NAACP Image Award for best documentary of 2007, was named one of 2007’s top five documentaries by the National Board of Review, and was nominated for best documentary by the Critics Choice Awards, the Chicago Film Critics Society, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, the International Press Academy and Cinema for Peace.
For his work writing and directing the picture, the International Documentary Association awarded Ted Braun their 2007 Emerging Filmmaker of the Year. In addition, the Winter 2008 issue of Movie Maker Magazine named Braun, along with Errol Morris, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Michael Moore and Darfur Now producer Don Cheadle, one of 25 filmmakers whose work has changed the world.
Braun taught screenwriting at Amherst College before joining the faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where he is currently an Associate Professor in Screenwriting.
James Moll, filmmaker (LA, CA)
Emmy® and Oscar winning filmmaker James Moll is a director and producer of many documentary films. In addition, James Moll established and operated The Shoah Foundation with Steven Spielberg for the purpose of videotaping Holocaust survivor testimonies around the world. The Foundation videotaped over 50,000 testimonies, in 56 countries. More…
Moll received an Academy Award® in 1999 for directing and editing The Last Days, a 90-minute feature documentary, filmed in five countries, chronicling the lives of five Hungarian Holocaust survivors.
Moll produced Voices from the List, a documentary about Oskar Schindler for the Schindler’s List DVD.
Moll was the producer of Broken Silence, a series of five foreign-language documentaries. The five critically acclaimed films premiered on primetime television in Russia, Poland, Argentina, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and in the U.S. on Cinemax. Moll received a Christopher Award for this series.
Survivors of the Holocaust, a two-hour documentary produced by Moll for TBS and CNN International, was nominated for three Primetime Emmy® Awards in 1997 (winning two of them), and also received the Peabody Award. Moll received the Edward R. Murrow Award for producing The Lost Children of Berlin for A&E.
In 2007, Moll completed Inheritance, a feature documentary about the psychological legacy bequeathed by a prominent Nazi leader upon his daughter.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Moll was raised in Los Angeles and earned a degree from USC Film School. Before graduation, Moll worked in feature film development for producer Lauren Shuler Donner at Walt Disney Studios. He then became assistant to, and then director of development for, renowned French writer/director Francis Veber (La Cage Aux Folles, The Dinner Game).
Moll established Allentown Productions to develop and produce non-fiction theatrical and television films. Moll is a member of the DGA, the Television Academy, the Motion Picture Academy, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Documentary Branch of the Motion Picture Academy.
Socheata Poeuv, filmmaker (New Haven, CT)
Created the documentary NEW YEAR BABY (2006). Interviewed survivors of the Cambodian genocide.
The film received numerous awards such as: 'Movies That Matter' Human Rights Award - an initiative by Amnesty International. The film won by an unanimous jury decision. The highest human rights honor the film can win. More…
Poeuv:“I was born on Cambodian New Year in a Thai refugee camp and my parents never told me how I got there. NEW YEAR BABY is my personal documentary - a search for the truth about how my family survived the Khmer Rouge genocide and why they buried the truth for so long.”
Her newest project is creating Khmer Legacies, a visual history project with the goal of videotaping 10,000 Cambodian genocide survivors while interviewed by their children.