Welcome To Leith / Censored Voices - NZFF Review
Two different but nonetheless shocking voices link both Welcome To Leith and Censored Voices at the New Zealand International Film Festival, but serve to remind us that the horrors of the past remain inextricably linked to the behaviour of the present.
In the deeply uncomfortable Welcome To Leith, white supremacist Craig Cobb's push to turn a small community in North Dakota into an all white enclave yields viewing results that make you fear for humanity.
Despite the locals' protestations and alerts from the anti-racist watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Centre, this Cobb cancer takes root within, trading on the ignorance of neighbours who know little of his intentions. Trading on the ethos of keeping themselves to themselves, Leith soon found itself a hotbed of discord and discomfort as the true nature of Cobb's plans come to fruition.
It may be in line with America's belief in freedom, but directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K Walker imbue this piece with a dread feeling that will sicken any decent human being to their core. Shots of swastika flags being erected as Cobb and co buy up land achieve the maximum effect of shocking viewers and frustrating them in equal measure - it's an over-riding feeling of powerlessness of the authorities in Leith as they skirt around the human rights issues which cloak Cobb's group in protection that astound, pushing principles to the edge that form the basis of this piece.
But it's an over-riding feeling of astonishment that Leith's citizens rally to the cause and the directors do little to influence the action, merely cataloguing events as they happen that leads you to question what exactly is going wrong in America. Perhaps it's the fact that directors have brought a balanced approach to the piece that makes it as devastating as it is - both sides are given time and equal measure on screen.
Anyone wanting to do further research after this will be delivered a further gut punch as the internet charts the rise of hatred in Cobb; Welcome to Leith achieves the award of being the most shocking thing I've seen at the festival this year - and certainly seeing a young kid goaded to what word he knows that begins with N as he toys with birthday cake and his father struggles to hide is pride is an image I won't forget in a long time.
Elsewhere, the true disembodied horrors of a war by those who perpetrated it are given form in Censored Voices, an affectingly powerful doco that centres around the 1967 Six Day war in Israel.
Former soldiers, with years under their belt after the conflict, sit and re-listen to recorded testimony of how they felt in the aftermath of the brief and brutal conflict. The Israeli army censored the recordings, but this film from Mor Loushy collects them together for the first time, opening not only a window into the past, but cracking open the souls of those who return and suffer from the true horror of what they witnessed and inflicted on others.
In a world when first person shooters are rife in computer games, or where our digital avatars revel in the bloody killing of others, the simple shocking truth of a conflict is gloriously exposed. One soldier tells of how when being confronted with the enemy, he felt like he was shooting dolls in an amusement arcade, and each shot left him feeling pleased. As Loushy then uses shots of downed troops and victims of the conflict straight after, you can't help but question the risking sickening feeling in your stomach.
Footage from the time, comments like "We're not murderers, but in the war, we became murderers" are nothing short of haunting; but as the soldiers watch the reel-to-reel tapes unfold, their stony vistas reveal nothing of their thoughts years on. It proves to be a growing frustration until Loushy unveils a powerful final denouement that gives us the insight we've been waiting for.
Unflinching and unsettling, both Censored Voices and Welcome To Leith prove the simplest, well-told docos remain the most effective - both offer windows into worlds we'd rather not peek into, but both show the various paradigms of the human condition remain in play - for better or for worse.