The World Memory Film – Overview



Please note: “Xenocide” is a term we coined from combining “xenophobia” and “genocide”. It refers to the “killing of the other”. It covers the most heinous acts of humans singling out groups and trying to destroy them. Generally speaking, it includes any crime that previously could be termed a genocide, but adds crimes of similar magnitude committed for ideological, political, or social reasons, and those (more modern) crimes against groups, due to rivalry for scarce resources. We feel we are offering a new term for a new generation, thereby re-energizing the desire to learn about the past, as a pathway to building a more hopeful future.

The UNITAS Foundation in Estonia and Michael Kirtley, international writer-photographer and filmmaker from the USA, have teamed up to launch an unparalleled social experiment called the World Memory Film Project (WMFP). The project’s goal is to encourage youth empowerment through worldwide social media, against historical and contemporary crimes against humanity.

Our initial impetus involves the making of a feature-length documentary film drawn mainly from thousands of creative “video stories” solicited from internet enthusiasts in various nations (“crowdsourcing”) through social media and other vectors. These short personal films will relate participants’ emotional reactions to, personal memories of, or artistic expressions against xenocidal actions committed by oppressive regimes and groups, past and present.

Our longer-term aspiration is to mobilize an “army” of young activists who use their passion and civic influence to commemorate past victims and help prevent such atrocities in the future.

Our first objective is to promote understanding of the commonalities of all xenocidal actions, wherever they took place, since the beginning of the 20th century. These include, among others, those in Bosnia (Srebrenica), Cambodia, China, East Timor, Europe under the Nazis, Indonesia, North Korea, Rwanda, the former Soviet Bloc, Sudan (Darfur), and against indigenous peoples. Along with this understanding, we wish to show how xenocides have a ripple effect on everyone who hears about them, even those not directly affected.

Our second objective is to empower young people through personal expression to create a collective voice for the prevention of future xenocides. We will do this via social media community-building around the world. Through this community we will encourage grass-roots activism, solidarity with victims, and creative empathy.

The WMFP will carry out these objectives in a manner that is interactive, reconciliatory, emotional (rather than purely historical), healing, and forward looking.

The following gives a nutshell overview of the aims and methods of the WMFP:

Create a feature-length documentary for theatrical release, with a potential ready-made audience in the millions, since most of its visual content will have been solicited from that same audience (who in a sense therefore become the “filmmakers”). The manner of building this audience will be through carefully-planned ads and teasers distributed through social media and other methods, as well as showcasing incoming video stories on our web site.

— Raise awareness of the impact of crimes against humanity committed by communist regimes and others, through soliciting indirect emotional memory as well as direct memory of the events. (For example, what was the trauma of Soviet oppression on Americans during the Cold War? What is the distress felt by Westerners reacting to Darfur or Libya?)

— Promote a reconciliatory view of history, helping youth distinguish between perpetrators or regimes that commit crimes against humanity and the nations and people they represent today.

— Explore ways to anticipate xenocidal oppression through a better understanding of the “anatomy” of xenocide. Solicit video stories that highlight these themes through an exploration of our collective memory of personal experience (direct or indirect) relating to such crimes.

— Improve youth understanding of how the past influences the present, thereby encouraging them to tackle current issues with activism, compassion, and foresight.

— Sensitize millions of youth to potential or ongoing present-day xenocides around the World, and encourage pro-active citizenship to deal with such issues.

The backbone of our documentary will draw from thousands of self-generated video stories uploaded to the WMFP website by “videomakers” worldwide. While all appropriate uploaded videos will be viewable on the web site, a certain number of them will be selected to become part of the feature-length documentary. In this way, the worldwide internet community will become the “creators” of the finished film.

We will encourage creativity and imaginative expression, but all videos must relate to the memory of 20th or 21st century xenocidal crimes perpetrated by regimes or ethnic/cultural groups against large groups of people, within the context of pre-determined standards to define xenocide. All videos will need to be less than three minutes in length, although we will ask participants to retain their source material, for possible future use. The video source material can be gathered on a variety of formats — from a mobile phone camera to a top-of-the-line production studio.

What counts the most is story quality, not production quality.

The guidelines of our crowd-sourced video stories are presented here.

We realize that many of history’s most brutal crimes against humanity took place before the 20th century (atrocities against Native Americans, the African Slave Trade, etc.). However, we have decided to limit the scope of this project to the period since 1900, roughly corresponding to a “modern” era of such barbarity.

Because of the universal appeal we aspire to, all videos should be submitted in English.

The World Memory Film Project is currently in the phase of seeking international partners and fundraising. We already have institutional partners in several European nations, and plan on developing a network in more than thirty countries.