Saturday, December 29, 2018

Venerable W plays MOMA January 4 through the 10

Watching Barbet Schroeder's THE VENERABLE W is like being woken up by having cold water sprayed on you from a fire hose while someone with spiked gloves smacks you into consciousness. It is a film full of the full weight of history and it crushes us with the sense we've been here before (this really is similar to what happened with the Nazis). It is also a film that is a cinematic fire alarm about the road we all could end up traveling down. It shows how words can and will inflame people to the point of genocide. It is a warning to everyone, both now living and future generations that genocide could happen "here", where ever your here is.

Schroeder's film documents the crimes against humanity being committed by the monk known as The Venerable Wirathu in Myanmar. W is turning many Buddhists against the Muslim minority via carefully worded sermons and outright lies. It is a never ending cycle of violence as W's words spark killings which spark revenge killings which then cause more violence and more violence and....

THE VENERABLE W is just down right scary. It is a film that clearly shows what unchecked hatred can do- we see the bodies of the dead and dying. We see how, step by step, W gained prominence and how he gets his message of hatred out. Schroeder gives us video of important events, tracts by W and his followers and commentary by experts. It is a portrait of a truly evil man doing what he can to spread his mindset of unbridled hatred.

Most importantly Schroeder talks to the man himself. Full of certainty and the "right" answers W told Schroeder that he could ask any question he wanted. Knowing that he was going to be fed bullshit Schroeder didn't ask the obvious questions such as how he reconciles the hatred he spews with the Buddhist notion of not hating. Instead he simply lets the man talk and hang himself with his own words.

The combination of words and images presented here is crushing and the portrait of a man of peace having gone so far afield is damning. Sitting in the front row with nothing to separate me from the carnage I felt bludgeoned.I had to look away.

How is that so many seemingly good people can be lead by such a sociopath? Why would a man of peace turn to violence?

There are no easy answers and Schroeder doesn't pretend to have them. In the Q&A that followed the New York Film Festival screening he refused suggest a reason why W preaches hatred. Schroeder refuses to speculate because he doesn't have all the information. Similarly he refused to say outright that W is somehow connected to the military who ruled the country for years and who has tried to wipe out the Muslims themselves for decades. All he would say is that many of the money men who circle the military looking for contracts can be tentatively connected to W via donations to certain monasteries.

Watching the film one can not help but see the parallels to the course of human events both past and present. As I said above what W is doing is very similar to how the Nazi's spread their hate. His quietly fanning any already held prejudices into full on hatred is turning good men and women into bad ones. The horrific violence not only frightens the Muslims but in its way also anyone who would speak against it. It is frightening because the ones committing the acts of terror are not the police or military but friends and neighbors.

As for the future all one sees is how the suspicion and distrust of Muslims is running rampant in the world. It is a false feeling of fear (Schroeder shows us stats) fanned by the media who get viewership by fear. However the danger doesn't need be a turning against Muslims, but any group. Living here in what is now a divided America, one need only watch how the President stokes the fires of hatred toward anyone he and his base dislikes to see that it could happen here (why else suggest building a border wall).

THE VENERABLE W is a film that will leave you broken and angry. It is a film of rare power, and singular filmmaking. Barbet Schroeder has made a masterpiece that will move you to try to do something even if it is to preach it's warnings and make you want to get word ot by talking the film up and pressing copies into the hands of people around you because word must be spread.

It is a singular achievement...

...even more so when you consider that the New York Film Festival screened the film with the short WHAT ARE YOU UP TO BARBET SCHROEDER? about the reasons behind the making of VENERABLE W.

Made for a complete career retrospective of Schroder's films WHAT ARE YOU UP TO... beautifully explains how Schroeder's deeply felt Buddhist beliefs resulted in him needing to go to see how a religion that is about love and non-violence could be perverted into something so black.

What I loved about the film is that in 13 minutes not only does the film explain THE VENERABLE W but it also explains Schroeder's feelings for Buddhism and the religion itself. I have been studying Buddhism for decades and watching the film I had several wonderful "ah ha" moments. I was so moved that I'd love to see Schroeder tackle a full on exploration of Buddhism.

Like the film it is nominally about, WHAT ARE YOU UP TO... is a singular achievement. And like that film it is improved and enhanced when seen with its companion.

THE VENERABLE W and WHAT ARE YOU UP TO... make up one of the most important and vital films of 2017, or any year. They are a cry for help for the Muslims of Myanmar and a warning that must be heard and answered.

See these films for they will change how you see the world.

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