9th Biannual Conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) Buenos Aires, July 19-22, 2011

Truth, Memory, Justice, and Recovery

9th Biennial Conference of the
International Association of Genocide Scholars
July 19- 22, 2011
Center for Genocide Studies
Universidad Nacional de Tres Febrero
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Over the last two decades, the field of genocide studies has rapidly proliferated. To date, however, the field has not fully addressed the aftermaths of genocide, including the ways in which post-conflict societies negotiate issues of truth, memory, justice, and recovery.

This focus is particularly appropriate given the venue, Argentina, and the fact that this will be the first IAGS conference ever held in Latin America. During 1980s and 1990s, the phrase “truth, memory, and justice” became a key watchword of resistance and resilience. Despite periodic attempts to focus on one of these issues alone (for example, seeking truth instead of justice), many people in Latin America have and continue to insist that only the three pillars together enable individual and social recovery from collective terror. Truth, Memory, and Justice, then, are preconditions for the fourth pillar, Recovery.

Panel presentation title: FILM AND GENOCIDE
Editors and contributors to Film and Genocide, forthcoming in 2011 from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Panel chair and presenter:
Tomás Crowder-Taraborrelli, Soka University of America. “Film and
Genocide: An introduction.”

Presenters and respondent:

Kristi M. Wilson, Soka University of America.
Tomas Crowder-Taraborrelli, Soka University of America
Stephen Cooper, California State University, Long Beach.
Donna-Lee Frieze, Deakin University, Australia (respondent)

Film and genocide: An introduction
Tomás Crowder-Taraborrelli 
Soka University of America

Film critics have long been dissatisfied with the ability of commercial films to convey the suffering of victims of genocide and the political and social conditions that lead to it. Night and Fog, Alain Resnais’ 1955 documentary film remains, to this day, the most critically acclaimed film of the genre. It seems that little progress has been made, in terms of formal innovations in the medium, toward being able to tell these extreme stories and recreate the sociopolitical contexts that fueled the events. Critics are still waiting for a film that marries the storytelling of horrific events to their sociopolitical context; one that has the ancillary persuasive ability to politicize audiences to the extent that genocide-prevention becomes a high priority for them. This panel is concerned with the discursive effectiveness of genocide films to help “muster the imagination,” or as Lynn Hunt calls it, develop imagined empathy.

This panel will explore filmic representation and documentation of genocides motivated by such factors as colonialism and decolonization, religious and ethnic difference, totalitarianism, and political difference. We will also look at the potential of documentary and fiction film to help in understanding the legacy of genocide that continues to haunt contemporary life and popular culture. We have opted for a generally inclusive and comparatist approach to definitions of genocide, because we feel that it best represents the type of dialogue and debate that already exists in many films and theoretical discussions about genocide. A short list of topics we will address includes: aesthetic realism versus fiction in giving voice to genocide; the challenge to depict atrocities in a manner that is palatable to spectators; questions of genre and formulaic approaches to genocide; the Holocaust film as a model for other films about genocide; the role of new technologies in the distribution of films about genocide.

The Specter of Genocide in Errol Morris’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara
Kristi M. Wilson
Soka University of America

On any given day, with the click of the remote, one can revisit the glories of World War II on The History Channel. Featured show like Patton 360, Battle 360, Hero Ships, Dog Fights, Lost Worlds, and Hitler’s Eagles Nest Retreat, offer a never-ending celebration of American bravery during the ‘good war,’: “our all-American war in which we fought the bad guys to a standstill because they forced us to do it” (Basinger and Arnold, The World War Two Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, xii). The near ubiquitous range of World War II program offerings, website forums, video games and gift shop items available on The History Channel’s companion website attests to Andreas Huyssen’s concern that the act of preserving memory at all costs, has usurped the act of envisioning the future in Western societies.
Nowhere is the United States’ problematic relationship to history better exemplified than in its atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and firebombing of Japanese cities at the end of World War II. In Errol Morris’s film The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) Robert S. McNamara’s recollections of his political and military career intersect with a powerful visual argument about air wars.

The Fog of War posits a connection between US military imperialism, capitalist expansionism, a Bush era continuity of aggressive Cold War nuclear age politics and an overall rupture of the US’s rhetoric of World War II heroism in favor of a repositioning of this identity as a nation with an ongoing, complex relationship to the concepts of history and genocide. McNamara’s confessions about his actions during WWII in Japan fall under the rubric of what Leo Kuper has called “white collar genocide” and Morris’s creative use of aerial photography and historical re-enactment through archival State department footage provide a radical break with the tradition of silence around such a politically taboo topic, or what Samantha Power would call “a problem from hell.” Thus, The Fog of War is as much a critique of the present packaging of memory for U.S. consumers as it is about American’s dark past in Japan.

The impulse of film towards death: the open society archives in Budapest
Stephen Cooper
California State University, Long Beach

For millennia the ancient dream of capturing life-as-it-is tantalized artists, poets and philosophers. When film was discovered, first as photography, then as cinema, the dream had finally come true … just in
time to begin recording the nightmare of contemporary genocide. What do we see when we view a photograph or a film, whether celluloid, videotape or digitization? What do we do when we see it? André Bazin, Roland Barthes and Johanna Drucker have pondered the ontology of these media, often linking the impulse toward film with death: Bazin on art as embalming; Barthes’ “flat death”; Drucker’s terror before the image of a nocturnal field of snow as “digital purity manifest in its full sterile wholeness.” 

 Siegfried Kracauer contends that film is specifically attracted to “phenomena overwhelming consciousness,” including atrocities of war, acts of violence and death. Recently, Susan Sontag has charged that as viewers we incur certain responsibilities face-to-face with the evidence staring back from images of the victims of wars and genocides. “Let the atrocious images haunt us,” she exhorts. My essay will consider the intersection of these theories as they impinge on the intersection of film and genocide, in the context of a research visit to the Open Society Archives in Budapest. The OSA houses one of the world’s most important collections of audiovisual documentation regarding human rights and war crimes, including genocide. I plan to spend two weeks in Budapest early this summer investigating the archive’s holdings with the assistance of head film archivist Zsuzsa Zadori.

For a copy of the conference program go to the following link:

For more information about the conference visit IAGS website:

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