By Shelby Otto
KU’s departments of Art and Art History collaborated with Cinema, Television and Media Production to screen the documentary, “The Destruction of Memory”, on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The film focused on the destruction of international cultural monuments in wartime and was followed by a Q&A session with the director, Tim Slade.
As the documentary is centered on concepts like war and genocide, “The Destruction of Memory” contains numerous cultural, political, historical and emotional components. Slade constructed the film as a timeline that takes the audience from the cultural destruction of WWI to events like 9/11 and the violent protests of the Middle East a few years ago. With this extensive historical survey, viewers can clearly see the violence that impacts cultural monuments during the war.
In talking with Slade, one of the most dynamic elements that lead to the creation of his film was the full “depth of the issue.” The film explores several examples of cultural destruction, the various motivations for such destruction and the legal technicalities that allowed for what had been previously deemed “collateral damage.”
When asked which monument he knew had to be included in the film, Slade highlighted the National Library in Sarajevo. Sarajevo’s National Library was set on fire during a siege by Bosnian-Serbs in the middle of the war in 1992.
Two sisters, Aida and Amila, serve as an emotional underscore to the film’s dramatic course. Aida, a woman who worked in the National Library in Sarajevo throughout the war, was shot during the siege “protecting what she loved,” as her sister claimed. However, the family did not find out about her death until the following day, which only intensified the emotional events portrayed in the film. Despite the documentary’s focus on cultural institutions, Slade interweaves the more human experience that accompanies arts and monuments conservation.
What also makes this film so impactful, especially in our part of the world, is Slade’s inclusion of the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. Slade states, “Sometimes at screenings, people will ask ‘why did you include that?’ and, particularly New Yorkers, but all Americans [understand] why.” This particular feature of the film highlights our modern understanding of culture and its correlation with national and international monuments, while also showing the different values of various world regions.
Further, he claimed that they may not have been “the most beautiful buildings” but were definitely representative of something more than finance. The inclusion of the Twin Towers in the film helps a younger generation grasp what it means to have some sense of identity torn from a community since many of today’s undergraduates were too young to remember many of the other events portrayed.
Slade’s “The Destruction of Memory” is a documentary film intended for education and awareness purposes. It has been shown at numerous conventions and universities and still remains relevant today, as war is always an ongoing conflict in contemporary society.