According to the Butter Lamp Films, LLC website: “Filmed over three years during the most historic and pivotal time in Nepal’s modern history, The Sari Soldiers is an extraordinary story of six women’s courageous efforts to shape Nepal’s future in the midst of an escalating civil war against Maoist insurgents, and the King’s crackdown on civil liberties.” The website goes on to describe it in further detail, illustrating the complexities of the stories that were captured in this film. Yet there are ways in which writing about it cannot do this documentary justice. This is truly a film that needs to be seen – I’ve already seen it twice.
The first time I watched this documentary it was at an intimate screening that I attended with a filmmaker friend who is friends with the director and co-producer of The Sari Soldiers. I knew nothing about the film, had no expectations going into it, and just kept thinking while I was watching it this is huge for the field of conflict resolution. Unlike most documentaries -- particularly ones made by American directors -- I could find no hidden or outspoken agenda in this film. There were six interwoven stories seen through the eyes of six strong and unique women, all told with equal parts empathy. Combined, these stories revealed what conflict resolution professionals have known for years: there can be multiple truths to any conflict. My first viewing took place last fall and since then I have worked to bring this documentary into my graduate studies course in conflict resolution. With permission of the filmmaker and distributor, I will be showing this movie to my students in class next week.
The course I teach is essentially a survey of conflict resolution theory and application, yet I have pushed them toward learning some of the more complex concepts within the field. We began with some foundational learning and conflict resolution basics (win/win, integrative vs. distributive) but in recent weeks have moved on to discussions about culture and bias in conflict resolution, intractable conflict, and next week, international and religious conflict resolution. I believe that over the previous seven, pretty intense weeks, we have created a safe but challenging learning environment where each student has something valuable to contribute. I have warned them that The Sari Soldiers is intense and at times graphic but I am confident that together we can handle anything that comes up for them during and after the in-class screening.
I would not show this movie to every group of conflict resolution students in every possible context, yet I truly believe that every student of conflict resolution must see it. Therein lies a contradiction of sorts, but like with this documentary, seemingly opposite realities can be simultaneously true. Perhaps a documentary filmmaker and a conflict resolution professor or professional are not that different. Both must develop relationships and earn trust of participants, and both must know when to get out of their way. A project is oftentimes most successful when we create a space in which participants can safely speak for themselves. That is the gift that this documentary gives to the field of conflict resolution and it is something I hope to extend throughout the rest of this course.
The Sari Soldiers will be having its North American Premiere at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York City in June, and is going to be the "Center Piece" Film for the festival. Go to www.hrw.org/iff/2008/ny for more information. The Sari Soldiers will soon be released on DVD through Women Make Movies.
I will post a follow-up after the in-class screening.