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November 09, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - A People Uncounted


Aaron Yeger - 2011
Urbinder Films

A documentary? A documentary about people frequently identified as "Gypsies"? Sometimes I need to step out of my customary comfort zones, especially as most of what I know about the Roma people is from watching several of Tony Gatlif's films. To some extent, Aaron Yeger's documentary and Gatlif's films compliment each other.

A People Uncounted primarily examines the genocide of the Roma and Senti people during World War II. Yeger also touches on parallels with the American Civil rights movement as well as genocide that has taken place in more recent years. There is a lot of ground covered within an hour and a half, maybe a bit too much for a film of that length. Still, it's a flaw I can live with - better a film that tries to say too much, than a film that essentially says very little. And I can't imagine anyone seeing A People Uncounted not being affected by it in some way.

The heart of the film is primarily about the Roma people during what is commonly referred to as "the holocaust". Many of the people interviewed are concentration camp survivors. Just when might have thought you knew how bad the Nazis and German soldiers were, come these first person accounts which paint them as even worse than imagined. Most harrowing is the story Dr. Joseph Mengele's surgical experiments with children by one survivor. In reference to the title, there is no accurate count of Roma and Sinti people who died in death camps or the various round-ups, but it estimated that the population loss was close to 90 percent.

Historical perspective is provided with a brief look at the origins of the Roma people, as well as previous actions where they were expelled, as from England by Henry VIII, or enslaved, tortured and killed during previous centuries. There is also a look at current laws, such as in Italy where Roma people are registered and have been forced to move from cities such as Milan, where municipal laws are able to circumvent European Union rules. A montage of clips from movies and television shows touch on how "Gypsies" have been portrayed in popular culture with a mix of both prejudice and fanciful romanticism. It is the first person accounts that make A People Uncounted worth watching, both for providing some added historical perspective on a minority people, but also as an antidote to those who insist on trivializing history for their own dubious purposes.

(Viewed as a DVD screener)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 9, 2011 08:12 AM