Local film festival raises respect-life issues
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (Catholic San Francisco) - The Cinema Vita Film Festival, held at San Francisco’s Delancey Street Theatre March 7, showcased films that celebrated both the mystery and sanctity of life.
“Every single report I have gotten back — from e-mails, written responses and our evaluation forms — has been positive. Every single one,” said Vicki Evans, coordinator of the Respect Life Ministry for the Archdiocese.
“One thing people did suggest,” she said, “is that we expand the categories and invite films longer than three to five minutes, perhaps 10 to 20 minutes.” She said organizers agree they want to repeat the festival in 2009, tentatively targeting a May date.
Evans said they have also received an inquiry from persons in Florida who are interested in producing a “Cinema Vita East,” to echo the local festival.
Nazi survivor fantasy
Sponsored jointly by the San Francisco Archdiocese’s and Oakland Diocese’s Respect Life Ministry offices, Marriage for Life and Ignatius press, the festival kicked off with a thought-provoking and award-winning film, “After the Truth.”
The German-made film, written by American screenwriters Christopher and Kathleen Riley, explores a fascinating hypothetical: What if the infamous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele were found alive and brought to trial in modern-day Germany?
The film’s central plot revolves around lawyer Peter Rohm, a defense attorney from Ganzburg, Bavaria, the city where Mengele was born. At turns both fascinated and repulsed by sharing a hometown with the Nazi doctor, Rohm is on the verge of writing a definitive biography of the man after years of painstaking research conducted in partnership with his wife.
Rohm remains conflicted, however, and has yet to write a word. He still cannot answer the most important questions about Mengele: why would any human being take part in tortuous and ultimately fruitless medical experimentation on helpless victims? What possible justification could a doctor have for participating in the attempted extermination of an entire race?
Rohm, portrayed by Kai Wiesinger of Germany, finds answers to those questions. Whether he accepts them or not becomes the focus of the film. Kidnapped by surviving Nazis and taken to South America against his will, he finds Josef Mengele alive. Mengele returns with Rohm to Germany to stand trial, and the young lawyer soon finds himself roped into defending the man he has come to know so well.
The outcome of the trial raises issues of when, if ever, euthanasia is justified, whether potentially lethal medical experimentation on human beings should be done if those same patients are doomed anyway, and how a slippery slope of ethically dubious choices can lead down the path to depravity.
The most chilling aspect of the Mengele character as portrayed by German actor Gatz George is how sympathetic he becomes. After all, the audience is reminded, those men whom civilized society would proclaim as monsters are still men, and there is no depth to which man can sink that he cannot find an excuse for digging further still.
George, so moved by the script that he helped finance the film to the tune of one million marks when other sources of funding dried up, portrays Mengele as cold-hearted and unrepentant for sure. Still, it is the humanity he brings to the role that leaves the viewer wondering if he or she could make the moral choice given the circumstances. Balancing Mengele’s calculated self-defense are both Rohm’s tortured realization of the doctor’s sociopathic motives and prosecutor Heribert Vogt, played by Peter Roggisch. Vogt channels all the righteous rage of Mengele’s victims into an impassioned plea for justice in the face of his horrific crimes.
Nazis, too, played 'compassion' card
German-born Dominican Father Anselm Ramelow, who took part in a panel discussion following the festival, examined the moral issues raised by “After the Truth.”
“Euthanasia is a taboo in Germany precisely because of the history [of Nazism],” the priest said, adding that the topic is nevertheless one of vital importance. “It starts with small things where we cross certain boundaries and can lead to scenarios like concentration camps.”
Father Ramelow pointed to modern parallels in Central Europe, like the Swiss group Dignitas, an organization that helps patients with incurable diseases commit suicide. The priest explained that the earliest Nazi propaganda films on the subject had nothing to do with race or eugenics, but rather with “compassionate mercy killings” of suffering patients. Father Ramelow said these films were the subtle first step that laid the groundwork for later Nazi atrocities.
The festival’s other films highlighted similar issues regarding the importance of human life, even in the midst of suffering. In the high school category, winner Nathaniel Sharpe used a documentary technique in ...
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