As a representative of Home Theater Forum, I was invited to attend an event at the Chandler School in Pasadena, CA today to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the production of Schindler’s List and to announce the launch of a new project of the Shoah Foundation.
For those who are unfamiliar, the USC Shoah Foundation was founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 to record and preserve the testimonies of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust of Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s, a genocide based purely on racial and religious bigotry. As pointed out by Mr. Spielberg during his remarks at the event, the Foundation was inspired by a Holocaust survivor who visited the production of Schindler’s List while it was filming in Poland and reminded him that he was only telling a small part of her story. After thinking about this, Spielberg created the Foundation in the wake of the movie, and facilitated the videotaping of thousands of Holocaust survivors’ complete stories. Thanks to the Shoah Foundation, those stories have been preserved so that future generations may have a better understanding of what went on during the Holocaust and hopefully prevent history from repeating itself.
The event at the Chandler School promoted both the upcoming release of Schindler’s List on Blu-ray next week and a new interactive website for middle school and high school students called IWitness. The interactive program allows students to access many of the testimonies for use in school projects ranging from essay work to poetry. Students may create their own video collages, using the testimonies as a base component and building their own text and music around the stories contained in the thousands of videos on the site. (The testimonies on the site have been catalogued and cross-referenced on multiple levels for ease of access, particularly as students are searching for specific study areas.) The USC Shoah Foundation hopes this program will be adopted by teachers and students across the United States and around the world. Currently, the program is being beta tested by students at the Chandler School. The event promoted the IWitness Video Challenge, which is an outreach to schools to use the program and learn from it.
The event at the School was led by Shoah Foundation Executive Director Dr. Stephen Smith, Director of Education Kori Street, and Steven Spielberg. All three people spoke to the importance of preserving the testimonies of the survivors of genocide. Stephen Smith pointed out that the program has been expanding to include various genocides around the world since the 1940s, most notably the Rwandan massacre of the 1990s, the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s and others including the genocide in Armenia. Teams from the Foundation have been travelling around the world to interview people, particularly in Rwanda, to help survivors tell their stories and prevent the atrocities from recurring.
Kori Street introduced a teacher from the Chandler School, followed by three students out of a group assembled at tables in front of the gathered press, all with laptops displaying the IWitness program in action. Each of the three students presented a school project created through the new program. Of the three, the most notable was the third – a visual poem created from the memories of a survivor who recounted the kindness shown to her by a soldier who empathized with her plight.
Steven Spielberg made some remarks about the creation of the Shoah Foundation as a continuation of the work he began with Schindler’s List 20 years ago. He noted that it took years not only to collect the testimonies but to transcribe and translate the words of people speaking in multiple languages in multiple countries. Following his remarks, several questions were taken from the press, nearly all of which concerned Schindler’s List and were addressed directly to Mr. Spielberg. In some cases, the press was asking about the intentions and impact of the movie. One reporter asked if the new Blu-ray will have connectivity to the new website (it does not). But it was the final reporter who asked the most interesting question. He asked about the IWitness and what schools for which it will be made available, public as well as private. Kori Street responded that they were trying to get the program out to as many schools as possible. She commented that this was something she was dealing while in Rwanda last week as part of the new interviews being conducted by the Foundation.
The gathering then mostly broke up as Mr. Spielberg took a few minutes to meet the students and discuss the program with them. I took this time to speak directly with Dr. Smith. My concern, as I relayed it to him, was to ask about the application of the Foundation’s work. Specifically, I wanted to know about the idea of making the process and the testimonies available to many countries around the world where genocides continue to happen. While it is important that we in the United States have a living record of what occurred in the Holocaust and multiple other atrocities as occurred in Rwanda, it may be even more important that many people in other countries have access to this material. I stressed the notion that this material could be crucial in helping people who may have been raised in households where hatred of other people was effectively taught around the dinner table. Dr. Smith was receptive to this discussion, talking both about the work in Rwanda and the outreach going into the Middle East. I discussed the various unfortunate events that have happened in multiple areas, including India and Pakistan, as well as what occurred last fall after the infamous online video ignited much of the Middle East. He agreed and noted that this was a focus of the Foundation, but education of this kind takes time to take hold. With that, our interaction was concluded and the event came to an end.
It’s important to keep the USC Shoah Foundation in mind when viewing the new Blu-ray of Schindler’s List, as the foundation really is the living embodiment of the Talmudic notion expressed in the movie: “He who saves a single life saves the world entire.”
For information regarding IWitness, readers may go HERE.
An edited video of the event can be accessed HERE.
Photos of the event may be accessed HERE.
I will post a full review of the Schindler’s List Blu-ray next week.
February 27, 2013
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