Filmmaker says activist movies reflect cultural perceptions

By Alex Cragun, Staff Writer

Movies such as “Hotel Rwanda,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Last King of Scotland,” might have messages that bring awareness of political or social issues, but Lee Isaac Chung said these movies are a reflection of ourselves.

Chung, an alumni of the U and film director, said he believes certain movies, which he classifies as “activist films,” have superficial meaning and are only derived from our own cultural perceptions.

Chung recently produced a movie called “Munyurangabo,” which documents the story of two boys from separate tribes and their visit home after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He has been screening the film to audiences since May 2007 and presented the film Tuesday to U students at the Fort Douglas Post Theater.

“(These) movies (are) not made to see another culture, but to see our own culture,” Chung said.

He criticized the trend of big budget films set in non-Western countries that have a good message but don’t utilize local people for lead roles. Chung said too often the citizens end up playing exotic or menacing characters and in the end, only the Western character is the one with a valuable message.

Even though Chung criticized the movie industry, he did admit to his own shortcomings.

“I don’t believe I was successful in portraying (the people),” Chung said.

He said because he is a man behind the lens and a Westerner, he cannot authentically produce a Rwandan story.

Linking the idea of cultural perception, American consumerism and world poverty, Chung predicts that the scourge of world poverty will not be solved by Western powers.

“Poverty will not be solved by the West when they keep asking, “What is in it for me?'” he said.

Chung implored his audience to shift from mass consumerism to mass generosity and challenged the audience’s choice of film, asking, “What type of films do we support (as Americans)?”

Steve Winters, a member of the audience, said he really enjoyed the lecture and planned to watch the movie afterward.

“It was a great idea that he (did) a film on Rwanda,” he said.

Winters said Chung’s challenge was meaningful to him and should have meaning for Americans.

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Lucas Isley

Isaac Chung returned to the U as part of this week?s 60th anniversary celebration of the College of Fine Arts. Chung spoke about his career as a film director and his new film on the Rwandan genocide.