Documentaries of the Week – Survival
This week: three documentaries dealing with survival.
Paragraph 175 (2000)
Paragraph 175 refers to the section of the German criminal code that made homosexualacts illegal. Though it was introduced in 1871, this film looks at its use by the Nazis to prosecute and persecute gay men. The film also tells the story of a lesbian who was persecuted. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested and 50,000 sentenced (an often unnecessary step, as the Gestapo were empowered to arrest and detain gay men as a ‘preventative’ measure). Between 5,000 and 15,000 of these men were sent to concentration camps, where they were subjected to particularly cruel treatment, from other prisoners as well as guards. Only 40 per cent of ‘pink triangle’ prisoners survived the concentration camps.
Paragraph 175 was only removed from the legal code in 1994 (a year after same-sex activity was legalised in Ireland), at the end of a period of reconciliation between West and East German law following reunification.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman sought out the survivors of this persecution (in concentration camps and otherwise) to tell this untold story, which stood a good chance of remaining untold, as only about ten were believed to be living at the time the film was made. Their stories are dramatic, tragic and appalling: the lesbian who fled to England to escape persecution, the resistance fighter who helped refugees escape, the Frenchman who saw his lover eaten alive by dogs in a concentration camp.
Some of the subjects have moved on, some remain bitter and angry. Their stories of survival, and their various reactions to their experiences, create an important record of what happened to just some of the human beings attacked by an inhuman system.
God Grew Tired of Us (2006)
In the 1980s, 25,000 young Southern Sudanese boys walked for five years and over a thousand miles to escape civil war in Sudan. Thousands died in the process, before finally finding safe shelter in a refugee camp in Kenya.
God Grew Tired of Us focuses on three of these boys, now young men, John, Panther and Daniel. These three are part of a group of more than 3,000 ‘lost boys’ offered a new life in the United States. From their five-year struggle to survive, to their struggle to adapt to and survive in the US, director Christopher Dillon Quinn shows the worlds of these three men as microcosms of the worlds of thousands more.
Nicole Kidman narrates, but no film’s perfect.
Dark Days (2000)
Filmed in black and white, Dark Days explores the incredible underground community of homeless people surviving and thriving in Freedom Tunnel, an abandoned rail tunnel in New York City. The residents have built an underground shanty town, where they live free of rent and cops.
In a rare example of a documentary film-maker actually letting his subjects tell their own stories, the crew of Dark Days was entirely made up of the subjects themselves, though director and producer Marc Singer apparently handled the post-production.
Though the residents have their conflicts, this is a wonderful example of the innate human ability to create community from individuality.