“The Destruction of Memory” – a new feature documentary film about cultural destruction

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The Destruction of Memory, a new feature documentary film about cultural destruction and its brutal impact on humanity, has just been completed ahead of international broadcasts and screenings.

"The Destruction of Memory" - a new feature documentary film about cultural destruction
A soldier patrols in front of Djinguereber Mosque, Timbuktu. Image by Francois Rihouay from ‘The Destruction of Memory’ / © Vast Productions USA 2016

Based on the critically acclaimed 2006 book ‘The Destruction of Memory – Architecture at War’ by architecture critic Robert Bevan, the film explores ‘the war against culture, and the battle to save it’. It will be seen at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City on 21st June 2016, before further international screenings, including at the British Museum in London on 26th June.

Over the past century, cultural destruction has wrought catastrophic results, and has been steadily increasing. The Destruction of Memory looks at why this is happening, and how the push to protect and rebuild has moved in step — as well as out of step — with the destruction itself. The film draws together diverse narratives, including Kristallnacht and the Bosnian War, to current actions by Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and comes at a time of significant media attention on sites like Palmyra, as well as groundbreaking policy and legislative movements.

Interviewees for the film include Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; as well as international experts including the Smithsonian’s Corine Wegener and architect Daniel Libeskind. The film’s narrator is the extraordinary Oscar™, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated British actress, Sophie Okonedo.

Produced by New York based Vast Productions USA, the film traverses a tension building journey, examining how a lack of proper recognition of the devastating toll that cultural destruction takes on our identity, combined with a refusal to recognize ‘cultural genocide’, allowed the issue to remain neglected until very recently.

Robert Bevan says:

The assumption has long been that heritage is an unfortunate collateral casualty of war. What this film demonstrates is that, instead, architecture can be targeted deliberately for destruction, particularly in campaigns of ethnic genocide and cleansing. It is vital, therefore, to make more explicit the links between cultural protection and the protection of human rights.

Director and Producer Tim Slade says:

The use of cultural destruction as part of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s violently exposed the seriousness of the issue, but at international courts and tribunals, recognition of the role of cultural destruction in ethnic cleansing and genocide during these Wars has fluctuated. The links between the killing of people and the killing of their identity are not necessarily being made.

People are at the film’s core — those who willingly risk their lives to protect not just other human beings, but our cultural identity – to safeguard the record of who we are, and to provide evidence of crimes against humanity. People who never thought of themselves as heroes have fought back, and it’s these people and their resistance that gives heart and also hope to the story.

Crucially, The Destruction of Memory tells the whole story of the issue in modern times. For Slade, this is necessary because “unless we look at this process as a whole, and look at it deeply and honestly, it will continue.”

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