VDC Screening in Christchurch, New Zealand

“Each of these films is a fight (struggle) involving people in a battle against injustice.”

At the Returned Services Association (RSA) hub in the heart of Christchurch City, New Zealand, 40-odd people gathered to view a small selection of Veteran Documentary Corps films. An even smattering of university students, scholars and veterans produced an atmosphere of engagement and curiosity.

Photo by Sophie Clement

VDC Director and University of Canterbury Fellow, Professor Daniel Bernardi, provided a brief introduction to VDC’s mission and the four documentaries that were screened: Concentration Camp liberator Ralph Rush (directed by Bernardi); “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Resistor, Zoe Dunning (directed by Silvia Turchin); US Army Ranger and Conscientious Objector Rory Fanning (directed by Michael Behrens); and, Special Forces Combat Cameraman Michael Blackwell (directed by Bernardi). Bernardi also screened the trailer to a feature documentary, “The American War,” which tells the story of the Vietnam War from the perspective of five Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army veterans.

Photo by Sophie Clement

The screenings were followed by a Q&A session. A diverse range of questions were asked, from to “What do you think of 9/11?” to “How do the experiences and opinions of a person affect the overall narrative of a documentary?” The level of engagement from the audience was both surprising and thoughtful, with conversation revolving around agency and democracy, the right of American citizens, and, inevitably, the topic of U.S. President Donald Trump. There was a certain universal quality to the thread of discussion, in which people engaged critically with the films shown, both relating their own experiences to the ones on screen and considering the global picture.

Photo by Sophie Clement

An ex-soldier who attended the evening commented that he enjoyed how the films “didn’t have an agenda” and provided an “honest and neutral dialogue on each of the subjects.” Scholar Alec Groysman felt that he connected with the films on a personal level, saying “These films force people to think and ponder how to behave, how to live, and what is truth… These films are truthful. They touched me to the depths of my heart… ” Each individual who graciously shared their thoughts on the films expressed the importance of understanding the weight of war and the ways in which we can create a better future. As one viewer put it, “I honestly don’t think that the average Kiwi can comprehend what war and devastation is, as we are such an insular country… I think Daniel should try and work with the modern Kiwi soldiers, as I think he will be able to develop a completely new way for the general public to understand [war].”

Photo by Sophie Clement

Overall, the screening revealed how the community in Christchurch is a conscientious one, and how the stories of American soldiers shown are a key tool in allowing a space and the opportunity for important discussion.

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Blog post and images by:
Sophie Clement
University of Canterbury English Literature and Cinema Studies Major
VDC Intern

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