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Deconstructing Hate: A People Uncounted

January 29, 2013

By TO411 Daily staff writer Daisy Maclean

A visually striking and intensely thought-provoking film has been making the rounds of the festival circuit over the past year, and I suggest you add it to your list of top film’s from 2012 you still need to see. A People Uncounted explores a piece of the Holocaust rarely covered, the massacre of an estimated half million Roma (Gypsies), and puts context to the world’s legacy of racism and genocide towards the Romani people by demonstrating how their present state has been deeply shaped by the tragedies of the past. With intolerance on the rise in Europe, from the Golden Dawn Party in Greece to Muslims enforcing sharia in England, the film could not be more timely. This is Aaron Yeger’s first film and I managed to catch him between festivals and ask him a few questions about the experience:

Why was it so important to tell this story?

It’s important for every successive generation of people growing up in this world to learn about The Holocaust and other genocides. These events are the worst humanity is capable of, resulting from the worst of human attitudes — racism, intolerance, xenophobia, fear. The genocide of the Romani people during the Holocaust has always been a footnote in history. It’s very important to raise this up to a place of serious inquiry and study. By learning about the Holocaust from multiple perspectives, it strengthens the history for all victim groups, and takes us one step further down the road of understanding how the Holocaust happened. It is also tremendously necessary at this particular juncture, for the empowerment of Romani people, especially in Europe, who are currently suffering from all the same attitudes that led to the Holocaust decades ago — the same stereotyping, marginalization, expulsion, xenophobia and racism.

What kind of surprising or unexpected things did you come across in the making of this film?

I learned about a startling resurgence of politically and socially acceptable racism and xenophobia all over Europe, while at the same time meeting wonderful and accepting Roma who were eager to participate in a film attempting to do justice to their story. Despite all the stereotypes and superficial assumptions that exist in popular culture and the media about “Gypsies,” they are people just like any other people. The idea that we were making a film about a culture that is somehow unusual or mysterious proved absolutely false.

How many different languages did you need to deal with in the various interviews? what were the challenges inherent in translating everything?

This film posed significant logistical challenges. Marc Swenker (Producer) and I arranged the interviews in advance of our trip through 8 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to English, we conducted interviews in the dominant native languages of all these countries, and relied on our contacts in each locale to act as both guide and interpreter, and in some cases hired specialist translators. Coming back from the trip, we needed to have nearly 100 hours of footage transcribed into English text. This made editing somewhat more complicated, as any given piece of content had to be subtitled in advance of even testing it in an edit.

What were the challenges of finding and interviewing survivors of such a horrific event?

Finding Romani survivors who were comfortable telling their stories was the central mandate of the production. Marc and I researched this in advance, and books on the subject along with academic experts led us to contacts in various countries who helped greatly. The only challenge in the interviews was the language barrier. The interpreters could only give us bits and pieces of what was being spoken at the time, and we only knew the full extent of the stories after the transcription process several weeks later. In a sense however, this language barrier made it easier to film day after day with such tragic and sometimes graphic descriptions of the horrors that went on during the Holocaust / Porrajmos.

What did you learn about yourself both personally and as a filmmaker, during the making of this film?

Personally I learned through the stories in the film and the research, that the Holocaust happened as a result of prejudicial and fearful attitudes permeating large swaths of the populations of every country at the time, and the complacency of even more people. Things like this don’t happen solely because of a few powerful people at the top. I learned that it’s actually realistic for something like the Holocaust to happen again, even in the same countries. We need to remain vigilant in paying attention to what happens in the world around us, and not fall prey to dogma. As a filmmaker, I learned that it’s important to me to devote at least some of my career to more work like this — telling stories or uncovering truths that have the potential to shape our world in a positive direction.

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