Annual Meeting

Debating History and Politics at the Eighth Annual AHA Film Festival

Vinayak Chaturvedi, November 2013

The AHA film festival has become an important part of the annual meetings in facilitating lively debate about the significance of films for studying the past. The eighth film festival will be held at the 128th annual meeting in Washington, DC, and it promises to provide further opportunities for stimulating intellectual conversations and analyses around the annual meeting theme, "Disagreement, Debate, Discussion." The selection of films represents diverse historical approaches and interpretations of politics in the writing of history today, ranging from the role of lesbians in the making of US and Canadian political culture to the impact of Asian Underground music as a form of cultural critique of 1970s–1990s Britain. The role of global environmentalism in the 20th century will be also be considered, as will the theme of farmer suicides and new media in postcolonial India. In addition, the politics of resistance and the pro-­democracy movements in Myanmar will be examined. The topics of these films will indeed raise important concerns for historians about diverse approaches to studying politics in a comparative and global context. The screenings for the films will take place in the Marriott Wardman Park's Delaware Suite, accompanied by discussions hosted by experts in the field.

This year we are pleased to feature:

Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution  Thursday, January 2, 5:30–­7:30 p.m.Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution
Thursday, January 2, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Myriam Fougère, writer, director, and editor; Pauline Voisard and Myriam Fougère, producers (Distributed by Groupe Intervention Video, 2012).

Lesbiana examines the role of lesbian activists of the 1970s and 1980s who created communities exclusively for women in North America. Through archival footage and interviews, the film documents the establishment of a revolutionary sisterhood, initially inspired by second wave feminism, which led to the creation of new solidarities among women in the US, Canada, and beyond. Lesbiana tracks the impact of lesbian activists and intellectuals in the making of public spaces, literature, art, music, and political culture, more generally.

Susan Freeman (Western Michigan Univ.) will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward.

Cosponsored by the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History.

Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music  Friday, January 3, 12:00–­2:00 p.m.Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music 
Friday, January 3, 12:00–­2:00 p.m.
Vivek Bald director, Claire Shanley and Vivek Bald producers (Mutiny Sounds Productions, 2003).

Mutiny: Asians Strom British Music explores the emergence of Asian Underground music in Britain as a form of cultural critique in the 1990s. Bald, a former DJ and now associate professor of writing and digital media at MIT, traces the links between the politics of antiracism in post-­Thatcher Britain and the creation of new music by South Asian youth. Mutiny further explores how artists established critiques of politics by producing music that combined reggae, punk, electronica, and hip-­hop with classical, folk, and popular film music from South Asia to create an alternative form of British music.

Philippa Levine (Univ. of Texas at Austin) will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward.

Cosponsored by the North American Conference on British Studies.

They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain  Friday, Jan. 3, 7:00–­8:00 p.m.They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain 
Friday, Jan. 3, 7:00–­8:00 p.m.

Robert Lieberman, writer and director (PhotoSynthesis Productions, 2012).

This documentary was filmed secretly over a two-­year period. It explores everyday life in Myanmar under the military dictatorship. Lieberman, a lecturer of physics at Cornell University, interviewed nearly 100 individuals, including the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was kept under house arrest for many years, to provide a wide range of critiques of the government and its policies. They Call it Myanmar provides important insights about the nature of politics, culture, and society in perhaps the most isolated country today. The film also raises the issue of filmmaking as a political act in providing a critique of the military regime that continues to govern Myanmar.

A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet  Saturday, Jan. 4 12:00–­2:00 p.m.A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet 
Saturday, Jan. 4 12:00–­2:00 p.m.
Mark Kitchell producer, director, and writer (Kitchell Films, 2013).

A Fierce Green Fire brings together five case studies in the history of environmental movements: the Sierra Club's fight to stop the building of dams in the Grand Canyon; the battle to stop the dumping of toxic chemicals in Love Canal; the campaign to save whales; the rubber tappers' efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest; and the struggle to fight climate change policies. Isabel Allende, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and others narrate these critical environmental histories in order to provide a social and political context for a popular and academic audience. 

Professor Laura Mitchell, (Univ. of California, Irvine) will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward.

Peepli Live Saturday, Jan. 4, 5:00–­7:00 p.m.Peepli Live
Saturday, Jan. 4, 5:00–­7:00 p.m.
Anusha Rizvi, writer and director, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, producers, Mahmood Farooqui, co-­director (Aamir Khan Productions, UTV, 2010).

Peepli Live is a feature film that examines the topic of "farmer suicides" in India. The film tells the story of two brothers who are bankrupt. A local moneylender suggests that one of the brothers should commit suicide in order to qualify for a government assistance program set up to pay families only after a suicide. The government subsidy will help save the family farm, but the question is, which brother will end his life for the sake of the rest of the family? As the brothers attempt to sort out this conundrum, the local newspaper starts covering the story of the brothers' dilemma. Through social media, the news item spreads nationally and becomes a media sensation. The resolution of the brothers' problem is an indictment of the nature of the culture of late capitalism in a postcolonial context. Further, Rizvi's film provides an important critique of state policies and the role of new media in India today. 

Professor Rajit Mazumder (DePaul Univ.) will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward.

Cosponsored by the Society for Advancing the History of South Asia.

—Vinayak Chaturvedi is associate professor, Department of History, UC Irvine.