We had an interesting classroom discussion following the screening of The Sari Soldiers on Monday. You can read my previous post about the documentary here.
I'm going to attempt to discuss the classroom experience without giving away too much about the film. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a film that really needs to be seen and I don't want to ruin that experience for anyone. At the same time, in the interest of exposing other teachers and conflict resolution professionals to this documentary, I think it's important to describe the ways in which the students interacted with it and how it informed other aspects of the course.
Immediately upon the conclusion of the film the students appeared as though they might burst from their seats with eagerness to express their thoughts about it. To put that into context, this was a group of graduate students from whom I had to pull words over and over again the first few weeks. Energy and enthusiasm increased over the course of the term, but this degree of engagement was on a whole other level all together. They had been moved by the film both as individuals and as a conflict resolution class and they were responding to it from a point of intersection between the two. The class discussion was more branched than linear, but I'll do my best to describe it.
One student said that "I kept waiting for the good guy to emerge ..." and later he explained that "people could see each perspective and decide for themselves." Essentially, to this student, the filmmaker had presented all sides equally. Others wholeheartedly agreed.
There were questions about what has since happened to the women who were featured in the movie. There were questions about the current state of Nepal, the country in which the documentary is filmed.
The students talked about the strong women who were highlighted in the movie, and wondered about the role of women in Nepal. One student referenced the readings we've been doing in the Handbook of Conflict Resolution edited by Deutsch and Coleman and explained: "it was interesting reading about different models of conflict resolution and particularly how the narrative model is about telling stories because that is what happens in this documentary. Even if it wasn’t part of the culture for women to have the strong role these women had, their stories have now been told and those stories are now part of the culture."
Many, if not all of the students agreed that the more violent scenes were filmed and edited with "tact" and "respect" for the people involved and to the conflict in general. A number of students were concerned that it might be hard to obtain justice for all the families whose loved ones were "disappeared."
Finally, they inquired as to when they might see the documentary become available to rent or buy. Many wanted to watch it again and to show it to friends, spouses, classmates and numerous others. They laughed when I explained that I had "negotiated" for an early copy of the documentary given that we had spent a good deal of class time developing their negotiating knowledge. I responded with well, you gotta use the skills you have.
This movie made real previous class discussions about negotiation, power, gender roles & conflict, justice, moral exclusion, caste and class based discrimination, revenge, forgiveness, human rights, oppression, intractable conflict and various other essential concepts for understanding conflict and conflict resolution.
This movie is important to the field of conflict resolution, but more importantly, perhaps, is that it's just a darn good film with relevancy across numerous contexts.