The Abyss of Humanity: Resistance and Responsibility Today

in 61st Krakow Film Festival

by Dieter Wieczorek

Festivals can be a kind of world conscience, at least the good ones. During the last decades we’ve noticed, especially in Polish cinema – and festival selections – a more focused recognition of intriguing moral and ethical questions. This may not be astonishing when facing a culture still strongly marked by Catholic religion and within the concept of guilt. It would be a huge and worthy discussion to have, asking whether religion still is the main force and catalyst to activate the request of responsibility. Can we develop a responsibility for those close to us, but also for strangers, the environment and nature without belief, even if rational thinking also can lead to equal results, but rational thinking of a global scale, and not only on the level of personal interest.

Whatever, also this year’s Krakow edition was marked by a huge number of films facing human disasters and looking for solutions. But still, there is a difference in reclaiming human rights, accusing war crimes and environmental disasters and (to allow) to be confronted with a personal responsibility.

Facing responsibility: FIPRESCI´s award winning film Children of the Enemy by Gorki Glaser-Müller (Chile-Sweden), presented in the International competition, is already an outstanding example here. The main protagonist, the Swedish-Chilean Patricio Galvez, struggling with own problems has failed to attend to the psychological development of his own daughter, which in turn has led her and her husband more and more towards the direction of military Islamism. He failed a second time not sending her money as she urgently ask for it already integrated in the war on Syria’s ground as jihadist. Confronted with her and her husband’s death, he decides to take action without – at least at first – any assistance from his Swedish government and to try to get at least his surviving seven grandchildren out of the al-Hawl refugee camp.

In Far Eastern Golgotha (Dalnevostochnaya Golgofa) by Julia Serginait (Russia) we meet a frustrated young man without special skills, who stands up against Russian State corruption and is then accused as a loser from one side and hunted, intimidated and “controlled” by the States’ side. He risks losing everything, as also his friend who technically assisted him. But they had been the only ones protesting openly against the degradation of the public space, health care and social services, not to mention the total lack of future perspectives.

In When We Were Bullies, presented in the short film competition, Jay Rosenblatt (USA) comes back to a quite personal trauma back in his childhood, when he, together with his classmates, attacked an outsider, using harsh physical violence. Their then teacher accused them of being animals. After decades Rosenblatt stopped his silence and started to recontact all these classmates, asking for their memories and reflections, including the teacher’s one. In this painful memory work Rosenblatt – not by chance known as deeply involved in psychoanalytic thought – could finally find the right and quite touching words in writing a letter to their former victim, who the director decidedly avoided to include as an object in his film.

Branka by Álor K Kovács, also part of the short film competition, present a young nurse in 1990s Yugoslavia, a falling apart country divided by bloody conflicts, starts working in a hospital, where she is confronted with the fact, that unnecessary chirurgical intervention are practiced and new born children are declared as dead to their mostly isolated and helpless mothers, but factually are delivered to be sold to the Western market. The head physician legitimises his actions, resuming this is the best way for the children to get a fair life and for the mothers to be released. But Branka needs to take her personal decision.

In Lost Boys by Joonas Neuvonen and Sadri Cetinkaya (Finland), we follow a group of young men, including the filmmaker, on their way from Finland to Cambodia to have fun, sex and drugs, as worst examples of Western consumers. But after things get out of control, the filmmakers escape back to Finland to find the message there, that one friend died and one other got lost somewhere in the streets. He then decided to go back to clear up the circumstances, and more importantly, to look for his friend, who may have survived someway.

Beside these examples of explicit responsibility–taking documentaries, we find some key documents of political resistance in Krakow’s 61st festival edition. In Courage we see hundreds of helpless people of all kinds, but mainly simple citizens, being disrupted and smashed by military and police forces in actual Belarus. Aliaksei Paluyan (Belarus-Germany) follows the pain of people looking for their imprisoned, tortured and sometimes disappeared friends or family members.

Helpless but resisting are also the young Hongkongers surrounded by state forces on their University camp. “The Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers” (their names need to be hidden) posted in Inside the Red Brick Wall, their cameras in the centre of the struggle, capturing disparate escape tentatives and intern discussions on how to act in this hopeless situation. Whether to surrender or to fight up to the end, this painful document offers another example of societies destroyed and oppressed, even if hundreds of thousands people try to resist. The resistance on the street today seems to collapse, when facing advanced observation and military technologies. Fighting for freedom and justice evidently needs other dimensions and strategies. The main power game cannot be won in the streets, maybe never could be. It remains a symbolical force.

Still there is another level of conscience, over passing social and political conflicts. Nature My Homeland by Marek Gajczak (Poland) is one of these examples offering the possibility of a new dialogue with nature, with the basics of our own life. Scientists, artists and other socially engaged individuals, each of them taking action in their own way, facing the most urgent and profound survival questions today. This challenge, we know about it. Do we need to get reminded, to get confronted again? Is knowledge enough? Today even the most easily realized actions do not take place in daily life on a larger scale. It’s late. Can films change realities? We need to believe…

Dieter Wieczorek
Edited by Savina Petkova