July 3, 2008
United Nations Screens Controversial “Screamers” Film in Tokyo
"Screamers," the critically-acclaimed documentary about genocide in the last century, with music by the Grammy award-winning rock band 'System of a Down,' was featured last week at the United Nations Refugee Film Festival 2008 in Tokyo, sponsored by UNHCR and Japan for UNHCR.
UNHCR called the festival a "vital component of UNHCR's year round action plan to raise awareness of the plight and triumph of the world's 33 million refugees and internally displaced persons. A select array of films from across the globe gives voice to seldom-heard stories of hope, despair, and resilience. In line with World Refugee Day's theme for this year, the festival draws attention to the human side of refugees.""We included 'Screamers' in the festival this year because it looks at the history of genocide and what is happening in Darfur--through the eyes of history," says Festival Director Kirill Konin.
"Film is an important medium to introduce the many aspects of the lives and circumstances of refugees across the world, and through this entertainment vehicle, create better awareness and understanding," said Angelina Jolie, UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador.
"Screamers" examines the repeating pattern of genocide, from the Armenian genocide, to the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, up to Darfur today. After its theatrical release in the US and Canada, the documentary was screened in the U.S. Congress, British Parliament and European Parliament to raise awareness about Darfur and genocide education. Sony BMG has recently launched "Screamers" DVD.
Director Carla Garapedian, who has made documentaries about Afghanistan and Chechnya, led discussion sessions at the UNHCR Festival for "Screamers" as well as "Letter to Anna," about the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, directed by Eric Bergkraut, and "Kite Runner," the uplifting story of truth and redemption in Afghanistan, directed by Marc Foster. Director Steve Thomas was on-hand to discuss his film "Hope" about the journey of an Iraqi refugee family to Australia.
"We must remember history," said Garapedian. "After the Armenian genocide, the U.S. opened its doors to thousands of refugee survivors from Ottoman Turkey, including my family. If they hadn't done that, I wouldn't be here."
The UNHCR screening of "Screamers" follows a dispute in April 2007 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where the Turkish delegation demanded reference to the Armenian genocide be omitted from an exhibition entitled, "Lessons from Rwanda," sponsored by the Aegis Trust. After a three-week delay, and criticisms from the media and former UN Commander Romeo Daillaire, reference to the Armenian genocide remained in the exhibition, but only after the word "murder" was changed to "mass killings."
Turkey continues to deny that its successors committed genocide. Under its penal code, it will prosecute anyone who raises the issue on the grounds of "insulting Turkishness." Last week, publisher Ragip Zaracolu was sentenced to five months in prison, commuted to a fine, for publishing a book about the Armenian genocide. Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor and contributor to "Screamers", was also being prosecuted under the code before he was assassinated last year. Meanwhile, U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for the new ambassador-elect to the Republic of Armenia, Marie Yovanovitch, were postponed last week because the State Department has delayed responding to Senators' questions about the ambassador-elect's position on Armenian genocide recognition. The position has been unfilled since Ambassador John Evans was recalled two years ago by the Bush Administration for recognizing the Armenian genocide. Another Ambassador-elect, Richard Hoagland, was withdrawn last year after a Senate hold.