In modern societies, films play a profound role in the formation of peace, justice, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
This is the main finding of a study called “Film as a Significant Factor in Fostering Peace and Justice in Society”, carried out by English language lecturer and coordinator of mentoring program at King Abdulaziz University, Fariha Asif, and Immigration Law practitioner and filmmaker Jagmohan Sangha.
The power of film in today’s society
Films can ask the audience thought-provoking questions, communicate ideas and theories, showcase different examples of injustice, oppression and violence, while providing solutions to these problems. Films are also a reflection of the society they’re produced in. They portray the circumstances in which a community, region or country finds itself, and the prevailing attitudes, beliefs and traditions in the cultures they’re produced by or are trying to recreate. They can also be used to propagate specific claims or a variety of viewpoints, to indoctrinate, educate, integrate and sway various groups of people.
Furthermore, films are easily accessible and are often watched by people who might otherwise not be interested in other forms of art. They also tend to be entertaining and more easily play to people’s attention spans than any other medium. Finally, they are able to reach audiences with fewer language capabilities, for example, those who cannot read.
The UN has used films as a force for promoting peace internationally. It has done so through film festivals such as PLURAL+ (young filmmakers around the world aged 9-25 create short films about human rights) and We the Peoples (for films that promote key UN Millennium Goals).
Anti-war films and how they have encouraged peace culture
The authors of the research paper above analyze three famous anti-war films and dissect how they have encouraged peace culture. The first film is All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Erich Maria. In this film, a young German schoolboy is inspired by his schoolmaster to join the army, having romantic delusions of saving his homeland. At the front, he faces the harsh realities of violence, death and destruction. He returns home, seeing his schoolmaster exhorting other students to join the army. Unable to convince them of the horrors of war, he returns to the front to train new soldiers and is shot while trying to catch a butterfly over the trench.
The second film is Gandhi (1982) by Richard Attenborough. Mahatma Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent protest are contrasted with the violence of the police in Durban and India. The film transforms concepts like peaceful resistance to tyranny into concrete actions and words through the use of Gandhi’s character, his actions and the speeches he gives within the story. “We will not strike a blow, but we will receive them. And through our pain, we will make them see their injustice”, as said in one of the scenes, is an example of this transformation of ideals into words. The authors are careful to point out that films which depict violence, if not analyzed critically, can be seen as glorifying violence instead of denouncing it.
The last film analyzed in the study is Shooting Dogs (2005) by Michael Carton-Jones. A group of Tutsis (a Rwandan ethnic group) take refuge in a Kigali secondary school, briefly protected by UN peacekeeping troops. Once the soldiers withdraw, nearly all of the 2500 men, women and children are massacred by the Interahamwe. One of the central characters, Father Christopher, is used to illustrate various theological questions. He is present with those suffering and welcomes hundreds of strangers into his school, trying to organize their protection, and finally losing his own life as he attempts to help several children. The film asks whether nonviolent means are an effective form of peacekeeping in the face of unconstrained violence.
Methods used in the study
In order to answer the study’s questions concerning film’s role in society, the authors used both quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative method included a questionnaire/survey of ten questions relating to films’ role in society. It was administered to 70 respondents, in various age groups, nearly half being male and the other half female. The qualitative method included a detailed interview of five filmmakers, producers and diplomats working in different institutions, which has been transcribed and analyzed by the authors. The interview included questions and discussions on the role of films in forming human attitudes, changing public opinion, propaganda and related topics.
The mixed method model allowed the authors of the study to summarize the different types of information that were necessary for the research. Quantitative approaches such as questionnaires and surveys have broader validity and objectivity in their results and conclusions. They deal more often with numbers than interpretations of various experiences, opinions, feelings, etc. On the other hand, qualitative approaches, such as interviews, provide an opportunity for in-depth inquiry on the topic. Moreover, the researcher has direct contact with the subjects under study and thus can gauge a more detailed description of them and their statements.
Conclusions about film’s role in society
The research paper reveals that around 70% to 80% of the respondents in the study believe that film is one of the most effective mediums to influence human behavior. According to the interviewees and respondents, films can change perspectives on discrimination and bias, elicit emotions, create harmony, promote peace and foster reflections, conversations and cultural and artistic collaborations among hostile countries. Most of the respondents seem to indicate that films can be used at the beginning of negotiations to build confidence, facilitate negotiations or break diplomatic deadlocks to create a climate conducive to negotiation. Media events such as films, rock concerts, or radio programs can celebrate peace agreements and negotiations.
However, it is agreed that films can also promote ideological differences and develop emotions of hostility among people. Dehumanizing films, for example, divide people and instill a sense of fear of the other and a hatred of those who are not similar to what is expected or who do not fit into the status quo. All in all, the study highlights how films can be more than entertainment and can be used as an instrument for changing public perception, therefore changing the world.
Many of the interviewees; the filmmakers, writers, producers and social scientists point to the central role of the film in world events and international relations such as Pakistan-India relations, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the wars in Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraq, the NATO and US led “War against Terror in Afghanistan”, the drone attacks in Waziristan and adjoining areas, etc.
Filmmakers throughout the world have made films and documentaries to release tension among hostile countries. National Bird (2016) by Sonia Kennebec is an example of this – a deep, multilayered, look into America’s drone wars. For many in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world, America’s national symbol is not the bald eagle, but a gray shadow armed with Hellfire missiles. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is another example of movies that raise awareness about terrorism.
Some of the films mentioned in the study:
- Three Short Films About Peace (2014) by Errol Morris. A documentary style film featuring Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, former Polish president Lech Walesa and rocker Bob Geldof, who talk about their campaigns for peace.
- Salt of this Sea (2018) by Annemarie Jacir. The film portrays Soraya, an American-born Palestinian woman, heading to Israel and Palestine on a quest to reclaim her family's home and money, which were taken during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
- The Square (2013) by Jehane Noujaim, which depicts the ongoing Egyptian Crisis until 2013, starting with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 at Tahrir Square.
Based on the findings of the study, the authors recommend that filmmakers should use the powerful influence of films to foster peace, justice, love and fraternity in society and between nations. As far as authorities are concerned, the authors believe that the governments should set up structures for the training of filmmakers professionally for the growth and sustenance of the film industry, so as to be able to use it to promote peace, social justice and preservation of cultures. The government should also work together with filmmakers to encourage the creation of films which promote culture, heritage and peace.
About the author:
Country: North Macedonia
School: Orce Nikolov
Juror in Giffoni Macedonia: 2020, 2021, 2022
Giffoni Experience Italy 2022
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