From Forgotten Frontlines

Remember when Nagorno-Karabakh topped the news? Two decades ago it became the war to report. For a while we all knew how to say and even spell the name of the disputed territory fought over by Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Armenia eventually took control and many thousands died.  Armenian journalist Vardan Hovhannisyan’s film, A Story of People in War and Peace, takes you there with compelling video tape of the conflict and a return to the present day to see what war made of those he met as soldiers. His battlefield footage, gory at times, is also loaded with warmth and not without humour. There is delight all round when the men hit lucky with “Marlboros from the enemy. The more we kill the more we smoke!”

There is a line in Hovhannisyan’s script, “In war there is only brotherhood, names are not important, but in peace we become individuals again”. This film connects with those post war individuals in this unresolved conflict. Armenia may still hold the territory but both sides are apparently arming for another conflict and an International Crisis Group analyst recently told me Nagorno-Karabakh is on the list of coming wars. That ought to be reason enough not to forget.

On another continent the Sri Lankan conflict has waged for a quarter of a century. Here, substitute those battle hardened, prematurely aged Armenian male soldiers for a couple of pretty and charming twenty-something woman soldiers. My Daughter the Terrorist is an extraordinarily intimate film which takes us into the personal and professional lives of Dharsika and Puhalchudar, surely the most engaging potential suicide bombers you will ever meet. As Black Tigers, fighters with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), they are prepared to carry out a suicide mission should they be called upon to do so. Filmmakers Beate Arnestad and Morten Daae had to have worked doggedly  to win the confidence  and trust of their two subjects and the result makes riveting viewing.

We watch as Dharsika and Puhalchudar do each other’s hair, including a fascinating sequence of one of them plaiting her long dark locks with technical perfection. The two, whom we are told have spent every day of the past seven years together, talk almost delightedly as they reflect on the cyanide sticks they wear as necklaces revealing that they sometimes feel so close to the edge that they fight with them clenched between their teeth. Off the top of this film the directors use a voice over from a news report about an attack on the Sri Lankan president. In a brisk delivery we’re told that the president survived, policemen and bodyguards were killed, and that the police say the attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber. As is too often the case with radio and TV news the words are delivered with such speed they lack impact. Happily this is the only time we hear a reporter’s voice in My Daughter the Terrorist. This film works so elegantly and engagingly in part because there is no reporter. It breathes, giving the viewer time to linger over the pictures, and the words of its subjects. “I don’t know exactly how many people I have killed”, says one, “In battle everyone has a gun and everybody is shooting.”

This series is all about keeping stories alive in our heads. It is also about the sheer dedication of filmmakers like the ones I’ve mentioned along with many others. Terje Carlsson’s Welcome to Hebron is not to be missed. Hebron is surely not a forgotten story yet it fits well here and this film reminds us that old conflicts which appear to be without end can still produce upbeat individuals who offer hope that someday there can be a resolution. Fat chance perhaps when you see Carlsson’s extraordinary footage of girls and women – Jewish settlers vs. Palestinians – kicking, pushing, name calling, and spitting at each other. Some of this footage is shot through a wire fence and you feel caged in, trapped.

These films are made by journalists who take high risks financially, editorially and also with their own lives to bring us the stories about which they care passionately. Where else but at the Frontline  and among the club’s members can you find such commitment to keeping alive stories that matter?

Frontline’s Forgotten season is a series of documentaries selected to highlight some of the worlds many forgotten issues.  The season runs from 4th – 22nd August.  For more information please visit  frontlineclub.com.

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