Film Can Be Memorable For all the Right Reasons

By Jason Menard

While some will dismiss the arrival of the film Karla as just another sign of Hollywood profiteering and sensationalism, the fact of the matter is that films of this ilk can actually serve a positive role by forcing us to remember society’s ill – and vow to never let them be repeated.

For many, June 20, 2006 will be a day to be regretted. There will be those who denounce the film in full throat without viewing it first. There will be those who argue that the topic of this film should mandate its immediate banning from screens in this country. But those people are missing the opportunity that a film of this nature can provide.

If done responsibly, and by that I’m not referring to the Tori Spelling Movie-of-the-Week treatment that many of these sensational films undergo, films of this nature can make us remember the human tragedy behind the headlines. They can force us to understand that lives were impacted, real people like us were involved, and they can leave an indelible imprint on our hearts and souls.

The announced release date of Karla closely follows the DVD release of the Quebecois filmAurore, which is a heart-wrenching remake based on the true story of a young girl who was systemically tortured and eventually beaten to death by her step-mother. The movie, without being gratuitous, conveys the horror of these events while allowing us to look at the people involved. We are able to see how this tragedy was allowed to unfold and we, as viewers, are left with the burning desire to do our part to ensure that this never happens again.

And that’s where film, and its little sibling television, can assert their dominance as the most effective story-tellers in modern society. A sensitive portrayal by a team of writers, directors, and actors can make a tragedy relevant to viewers from all walks of life. They move the principals from the realm of quaint stereotypes to living, breathing humans like all of us. Instead of archetypes of evil and good, they become flawed, realistic entities to whom we can better relate.

We are presented with tragedy each and every day of our lives. The 24-hour news networks provide us with an ever-changing – and never-ending – reel of the worst that humanity has to offer. But, as a coping mechanism, we are able to dehumanize the principals involved in the situation and turn it from a slice of reality into a spectacle at which we can alternately sympathize with and marvel at. Today’s tsunami turns into tomorrow Hurricane devastation. And we move on to the next tragedy as the previous horror finds itself back to the recesses of our minds.

What film can do is bring a slice of history back to the fore. If done with empathy and skill, they can leave a feeling and message that will resonate long into the future for the viewer.

It’s the human story that brings us closer. For many, the Holocaust is a tragedy beyond the scope of our comprehension. There comes a time when we fail to be able to adequately process the idea of so much death and wanton destruction. But for many of us the face of the Holocaust tragedy belongs to one little girl, Anne Frank, whose life is revealed to us through her diary until its abrupt end – offering an ellipsis wherein we fill in the tragic ending. Reading a textbook of the Holocaust tragedy can provide us with the essential facts and statistics. Reading the personal stories at the Wiesenthal Center provides us with the soul. Through the commitment of the individual’s stories to methods that will ensure their posterity, we will be able to put a human face on the tragedy for generations to come. Instead of being reduced to numbers, the victims of this horror will always remain human – and that’s the greatest way to ensure that we remain vigilant in ensuring that this tragedy does not get repeated.

Currently the continent of Africa is being decimated by the twin demons of genocide and AIDS. But we are unable to adequately empathize with the depth of the tragedy because there is no singular human face. There are millions of stories on the continent, but not one has been told to the degree where we feel moved to rally behind the issue.

Film can tear down the protective wall with which we distance ourselves from these nightmares. Film can make us accountable to our souls and compel us to do whatever we can do. Instead of desensitizing us to violence and aggression, a well-done piece can actually make us more sensitive to the issues at hand and drive us to be more vigilant when it comes to taking a stand against their existence in our society.

When it comes to the Karla film, we’ll have to wait to see if the parties involved chose to make a quick buck by profiting on a dynamic story, or if they lived up to the potential that the medium has to make a difference in our lives.

While time heals all wounds – even revulsion — humanizing a tragedy through film may help ensure that those young women who lost their lives remain a rallying point for society to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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