HIFF Review: ‘A People Uncounted’

Oct. 13, 2011 | 0 Comments

The plight of the Roma people is sensitively portrayed in the documentary "A People Uncounted." (Courtesy Hawaii International Film Festival)

REVIEW BY GARY CHUN / gchun@staradvertiser.com

Aaron Yeger traveled through 11 countries with his crew to make a documentary about the Roma — commonly known in the popular misnomer as gypsies — and he’s accompanying the completed film, “A People Uncounted,” to the Hawaii International Film Festival.

‘A People Uncounted’

Halekulani Golden Orchid Award Documentary Feature Nominee

Screens at 6:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, and 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19

The film is starting its own trek through the festival circuit, and audiences should be moved and impressed with a documentary made with notable visual verve and style that effectively relates the story of a marginalized people who has truly endured centuries of crushing intolerance and persecution in its travels throughout Europe.

While the focus of the documentary is on the incredible tragedy of the estimated half-a-million Roma systematically murdered during the Holocaust that decimated the population, as well as the harrowing accounts by its survivors, it is offset with a sense of resiliency and purpose. As Roma academicians finally begin to piece together their history, the rest of the world will be shown that, regardless of racism and genocide suffered and still ongoing, the Roma and their rich culture perservere.

If “A People Uncounted” were your standard archive-footage, talking-head documentary, it would’ve been dutifully well-received. But thanks to the efforts of director Yeger and many others, including the laudable work of director of photography Stephen Whitehead and Roma composer Robi Botos, the documentary has welcome cinematic flourishes that include a strong score, location tracking shots, and a brilliant animated sequence recounting the historic travels of the Roma throughout the continent.

The documentary also makes it a point to make the Roma plight a human rights concern, and the related protests part of the overall history of civil rights movements around the world, including the U.S.

“The Roma has always been the hidden aspect to tragic historic events,” said Yeger by long distance phone Tuesday. As his first major project with a background in commercial work, he added that “I came into this film with the topic already decided by the producers, and I hope I helped them realize their vision. It was a great opportunity to do a feature film with such a meaningful topic.”

The showing of “A People Uncounted” at HIFF is the U.S. premiere of the film, after its debut at the Montreal World Film Festival.

“My family has been affected by the Holocaust,” said Yeger. “My Jewish grandfather is a survivor, so I grew up with pretty good knowledge of it. The Roma, on the other hand, have traditionally been treated as a footnote, and I hope this film and the work of academicians will elevate them to a place of dignity in history.

“The reaction to the film has been, despite how heavy the subject is, the depiction of the plight of the Roma is surprisingly gentle and not heavy-handed at all. I don’t consider the film as activist as much as it opens peoples’ minds to the topic, and hopefully it will motivate them to want to learn more.”
Click here for more coverage of the 2011 Hawaii International Film Festival.

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