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Bearing Witness

The dehumanizing wrought by drawn out hostility, intolerance and aggression was, as paradoxically as this may sound, beautifully portrayed at Film Streams last week, which showed Declan Keeney’s two documentary films, We Are Not Afraid and We Carried Your Secrets. Sponsored by Creighton University’s Werner Institute, the first film portrayed the Siege of Sarajevo and the second the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

We Carried Your Secrets followed the Theater of Witness Programme, which describes itself as follows:

Theatre of Witness is a form of performance developed by founder and artistic director Teya Sepinuck, which gives voice to those who have been marginalized, forgotten or are invisible in society. Their true, life stories, performed by the people themselves, are shared onstage so that audiences can collectively bear witness to issues of suffering, redemption and social justice.

Each film, at its core, presented the process of healing through remembering. The traumas represented in each were viscerally shocking, and the capacity to revisit these events for those people participating seemed unimaginable. Yet, despite the emotionally excoriating subjects, a sense of healing and hope emerged out of the conversations. While my own experience of the Troubles was limited to the mainland bombing campaign during the 90’s in London, frankly, I never thought I would see peace in Northern Ireland in my generation. I was, therefore, gratefully stunned when the Good Friday Agreement was announced, albeit that peace remains fragile and, as We Carried Your Secrets showed, the tragedy remains a ghost haunting those who experienced it.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War. In 2002 I started work with, Jorge, the first Argentinian I had met in my life. It took some months of getting to know each other before we talked about that war. I recall being concerned that while I liked Jorge, I did not know his attitude to that conflict. I knew that I had supported the war, but was dismayed both that it took place and that it had such a human cost. Eventually, and as friends, while Jorge and I did not agree entirely about sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, we mutually regretted the waste of human life and wished to see a pursuit of a diplomatic discussion.

It was uplifting at Film Streams to witness the shared healing shown in these documentaries and gave me hope that, in the face of past and continuing belligerence, we may yet find ways to engage each other.

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