When media re-construct memory – Omer Fast’s Spielberg’s List

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In Warsaw CSW nowadays can be seen an exhibition titled History Will Repeat Itself by Inke Arns. Its topics were nice described in this two notes of the great art blog We Make Money Not Art, so there is no need to do it again here. But it is worth to concentrate particularly on one of the presentations referring to the issue of media as a way of history re-enactment.

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Spielberg’s List is a movie project by Omer Fast. His work – two channel video constructed around the experiences of Polish extras that participated in Steven Sielberg’s shooting of famous Schindler’s List – shows how easily media and entertainment can re-construct memory.

Contemporary experiences related to the shooting of the Spielberg’s movie are in the Fast’s work mixed with the common memory of the real historical events and situations connected to the Holocaust and WWII. Sometimes even it is hard to find if the story of the old person sitting in front of the camera tells the historical truth or only describes the situation on the movie set.

As Régine Debatty writes, by neutralising the differences between the true story and the later reinterpretation of the events, Fast wants to demonstrate how strongly media images shape and overlie our memories, and that films have assumed the function of monuments for collective memory.

For me, the most important question of his project is the question of the truth. In the situation, where lot of people gets historical knowledge from the media, there is a danger, that for them this second version of the past will become an original one. Holocaust movie tourists who come to Krakow to see the places where Schindler’s List was shot, behave as if the reality of that movie was a historical reality. They want to see the borders of the getto seen in the cinema, they are searching for the paths of the girl in the red dress (Roma Ligocka) from the movie episode. And on the other hand, the polish extras treat theirs film experiences as a true historical ones, sometimes describing they as a beautiful (great camp german organization, handsome SS officers etc.). One woman even admits that she felt on the movie set as a real camp prisoner, that she in part has survived the death camp and her experiences can be similar to the experiences of the real Holocaust victims.

Problem shown by the Fast’s work is also important in the case of historical awareness inspired by the internet. This awareness can be built on very often manipulated or fake sources. The superficial issue starts in the sphere of facts, more deeply problem is connected with the esthetization, where Holocaust and the death are easily reduced only to the part of the movie script. In a such situation the viewer and the historical witness have the same rights to give a testimony about the truth.

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