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Changing People, Defying Deletion
[Mon 13/08/2012 09:40:02]
By Anthony Soegito
What happens when a people are displaced and driven out from their ancestral homelands through violence and intimidation? If the people and, to a lesser extent, the history, can survive elsewhere, is a culture still a culture without a homeland?
This is the situation facing the Assyrian people: traditionally from a region of northern Iraq called the Nineveh Plain, these indigenous people face unprecedented violence and persecution post-US invasion, particularly from the Kurdish Nationalists who now seek to claim many of these lands as their own. Filmmaker André N. Anton made the 25-minute documentary Defying Deletion: The Fight Over Iraq’s Nineveh Plains as an impassioned plea on the Assyrians’ behalf, in the hopes of drawing attention to the situation and to garner support.
Gaining attention in both artistic as well as political circles, Defying Deletion has won several festival awards, including Best Documentary at the Detroit Independent Film Festival. Anton’s short film has also had some help from some big names. “One of my favourite directors is Terrence Malick, and of course I got turned onto his work because he comes from an Assyrian background... Part of the reason why my film got screened in front of the United States Congress frankly had to do with his behind the scenes help.”
The Congress screening was something of a success for Anton. It forced the US State Department to reassess it’s spending in regards to the Assyrians and the minorities of Iraq. “I’m talking $20-30 million-plus going to these Iraqi indigenous peoples – the money was supposed to go to them but of course the State Department misappropriated these funds and gave them to non-Assyrian organizations.”
Defying Deletion shows where this money went: to restoring churches and not to the people that needed it. “Now there is specific language for Assyrians and minorities [in policy] and the State Department have learnt their lesson about giving the money to the Kurds and expecting them to distribute it.”
Anton continues his work in Australia and is in Sydney to promote the film. Defying Deletion has been screened at the Sydney Parliament House; another success, with the screening being complemented with presentations and speeches regarding the Assyrian situation. “It was a very meaningful night in the sense that you got the chance to see the very intellectualized side of it, where you have scholars who have studied the past history of what’s been happening to the Assyrians since 2003 and you have scholars that have studied what’s been happening to them since World War I.”
With the screening of the film the audience, with some members of Parliament in attendance, got to see “the emotional, personal stories of individuals that helped you understand exactly what was happening to these people.”
With an upcoming Federal Parliament screening on August 14, as well as a screening for the European Union further down the track, Anton predicts: “now this issue has been, or will have been, publically discussed all around the world within these governmental events, I’ll release it online and boom. Hopefully the campaign will blow up like [social media campaign] Kony 2012 did.”
The success of Defying Deletion and how its message has spread is evidence of how art can affect real change.
“I feel that the medium of film itself, as an art form, works in a greater essential way than any other art form. It can influence people in a way that reading books or reading an article online can’t… [Film] can affect you in ways and influence you in ways you might not have always known.”
The screening and André Anton’s visit to Australia was sponsored by the Assyrian Universal Alliance - Australian Chapter.