Culture | Beyond the evening news

Concordia film screenings put a human face on distant conflicts

The title of this short film screening couldn’t have been more fitting. It very neatly summed up the feel of the films, as different as they were. I’m talking here of the Images in Time//Images in a Time of War short film screening at Concordia last Friday. Most of the short films were touchingly personal – they were shot in living rooms and in local cafés in Baghdad, at weddings, and even funerals. They showed everyday situations, in which even during wartime people made the effort to retain at least the illusion of calm and peace.

I was hooked from the first film. Untitled Part 3 told the story from the viewpoint of a house: the man behind the camera had come back to his old house to find it in ruins. The house tells him what has happened in his absence. One of the most humbling stories was about a Lebanese security service employee, who was assigned to film an important section of seashore promenade from a van. At the same time every day, he would focus away from the people he was supposed to film and instead fix the lens on the sun descending over the sea. He was found out and fired, but got to keep his sunsets.

Another one of my favourite scenes was from Baghdad in No Particular Order, which was a sort of patchwork of stories. This one showed a Mosque prayer leader sitting in his living room singing “She’s a Lady” and other classics to the camera, surrounded by what appeared to be giggling family members. In another portion I got the opportunity to hear the Arabic version of “I Will Always Love You,” blasting from the speakers in a taxi as huge oil trucks passed by.

I particularly enjoyed how the films covered a varied range of places, moments in time, and styles of filming. There was black and white film from the sixties; several of them blended photos and film recordings; some had narrators, others didn’t. Some served as windows into regular people’s lives where wartime was implicit, while others were more acutely placed in the context of war. The film where the house was speaking, for example, more overtly addressed the situation, and believe me when I say the bitterness and sadness of this house was palpable. In their own unique ways, each film was effective in delivering the mood of Images in Time//Images in a Times of War and made for a broader picture of the everyday lives of people trapped in the middle of never-ending conflicts.

With the Israel-Palestine conflict looming over our consciousness, it’s easy to get muddled up by the formal discourse surrounding the issues. Political debates over the rights of one country against the other, news channels broadcasting bombing and devastation – and what we end up with is really only brief glimpses into the eye of the storm. It’s hard to really get a sense of the places and people involved, because the lens is so explicitly aimed at the dramatic, the kind of events that – however morbid they might be – will attract most viewers. We have, then, an impression of a kind of distant nightmare, not a relatable experience of people who all have their own story to tell. This is exactly the gap that the screening filled for me.

There are millions of stories that remain untold, but it did feel like the screening shrank the space between us and the anonymous victims of war, allowing them to become human, and not only mere numbers. I can also safely say that I learned more about the reality of their experiences from this screening than from any news story out there.