The Children of the Revolution
Children of the revolution
Cinematic re-imaginings of 1968 have flooded our screens in recent years to mark the 40th anniversary of the global phenomenon of revolutionary action. Such films are often coloured in a dangerous hue of nostalgia or, even worse, attempt to market their subjects as seductive youths titillated by violence, cheapening the political vigour that drove them. Shane O’Sullivan’s documentary Children of the Revolution is certainly immersed in the same fascinations, yet comes from a different vantage point, offering a unique point of reference: the daughters of the revolution.
Generational conflicts are always complicated, and even when the times allowed it, certain memories can be very unpleasant, if not painful to revisit. Especially when you are confronted with a past little out of the ordinary.
As in the case of Bettina and May, whose life as girls was marked by the radical choices of their mothers, who, at some time in their lives, they decided to go underground.
Children of the Revolution looks at the immediate aftermath of 1968 in Germany and Japan, from where revolutionary politics burst globally in the 1970s to have a long-lasting impact on our contemporary age. O’Sullivan positions Germany and Japan alongside each other for their shared histories as aggressors in the Second World War, as broken nations in its aftermath and, most importantly for this documentary, as countries that experienced large-scale civil revolt in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Both the Baader-Meinhof Group and the Japanese Red Army, leading activist groups of their respective nations, came up against limitations while operating within their own national borders and broke through internationally, ending up in Palestine to join its liberation movement. Both activist organisations involved women as central leading figures, namely Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu, and O’Sullivan details their personal histories through interviews with their daughters, Bettina Röhl and May Shigenobu, who were born and raised amid the chaos. Sep 06, 2011 Electric Sheep Magazine
It is in this intimate territory, but at the same time political, which pushes the powerful documentary by Shane O ‘Sullivan, “Children of the Revolution”, which tells, through the eyes of their daughters, the stories of two women who become figures center of the revolutionary movement in Germany and Japan in 1968, Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu.
Their stories are pretty much public, even if Europe is more familiar with the figure of Ulrike Meinhof than Fusako, but the private aspect of it which moves Shane to offers us new insights on the vicissitudes of a history destined to leave many questions open.
The film opens with the disturbing images of an attack plane and continues at a rate very close and decided to tell the events, with lots of interesting archival material, photographs and never before seen interviews with people around you.
One can not help but breathe violence. Nevertheless, the documentary manages to capture something different, more profound that goes beyond the story we all know. Shane enters the complex mother-daughter relationship, investigating their memories and their opinions about the choices of their mothers and of those who may be the limits of revolutionary action. What comes out is also the portrait absolutely unusual at the time, by reflecting, in a broader analysis, on how the media basically build a certain image of the story and its protagonists. “This is where you decide to start the story that makes the difference.” (May Shigenobu) Both Bettina and May did not follow in the footsteps of their mothers policies, but their opinions about it are very different. Bettina Meinhof and her twin sister Regina were little more than teenagers when their life changes completely after the choice of Ulrike, an established journalist and intellectual figure on the left, to devote himself to the cause of German revolutionary movement. By daughters of the middle class become daughters of the revolution and almost end up in Jordan to be trained as soldiers. May is already born as a daughter instead of revolution. His mother Fusako was part of the armed forces when the Japanese as’ the light in response to the report with a rebel Arabic. In the coming years would move from time to time, constantly changing identity for security reasons, but the relationship with his mother, though fleeting, still managed to stay strong and to create understanding and comprehension.
While Ulrike seems to have been less aware of what would be the consequences of his choices, to the point of being torn between her identity as a mother and that of revolutionary Fusako seems to have had a more consistent and conscious path, connecting the two women who were her mother, and the revolutionary.
In fact, the testimony of Bettina May and create a strong emotional contrast. Both know, however, that those years were complex, where the revolution was everywhere in the air and the actions of those who remained involved should be clear, sharp, impressive, because every age has its own means of communication and their voices to be heard. Filmed in Tokyo, Beirut and Germany, “Children of the Revolution” is the third documentary written and directed by Shane O’Sullivan, who agreed to answer some probing questions about his work.
As to the idea of working on a topic as complex as the revolutionary movement in Germany and Japan, where it started the idea? My research on these stories are started before 9/11. The anti-capitalist demonstrations in Seattle and Genoa drew the student revolutions of the ’60s and the spirit of that time. Then the attack of 9/11 made it all fall into the nightmare of terrorism and anti-globalization movement is eclipsed. When the war in Iraq reported on protests in the streets, the government ignored them and “Operation Free Iraq” began. So I became interested in the energy and idealism of ’68 and what ensued. In Germany and Japan, the movement had a more international footprint so as to bring their own representatives in the Middle East.
In the documentary you wanted to mainly occupy the two female protagonists of the movement. What made them so interesting to you?
I considered the strongest characters of the movement and, after reading childhood of their daughters, Bettina and May, I found a way to tell a great political event through an exclusive point of view. The mother-daughter relationship, which is the focus of the documentary, highlights not only the personal aspect of the story, but it also reveals other motivations of the two protagonists.
In the documentary, have always maintained a neutral position and distant but telling the story of two women from a very intimate point of view. Do you think this is an aspect of the story that was left out and instead is important in the analysis of events that happened?
I believe that, as often happens, it creates the myth around so controversial figures. These two women have been slandered and defamed, but there were very human and complex motivations behind their actions that have been taken in a political and cultural context very different from that of today. Aspects of the society of which we are now almost careless were instead a source of conflict at the time. I do not condone their actions but I try to understand them.
I think the strongest aspect of the film is the subjective point of view of Bettina May and in telling the story of their mothers. A unique point of view that comes from personal experience and extensive research and knowledge of the history and politics of the time.
Their personal stories help us to reflect in a more wide variety of political issues: the nature of protest and resistance and how to defy an unjust war, the company or an economic system. Relazionandoci to them and the mother-daughter relationship you can imagine, up to a certain point, as it may have been their lives.
The mother-daughter relationship of the two protagonists seems to have been very complex to analyze. Where have you found it harder?
The relationship between Fusako-May was easier to understand why, despite the ongoing events, May continued to maintain a relationship of love and support to his mother and his comrades of the movement. Ulrike between Bettina and the relationship was much more complex and psychologically unstable. The transformation of Ulrike, divided between the maternal feelings and ideals of the movement, has a great influence on children and the growth of Bettina, distorting the relationship between the two.
As they affect the differentiating cultural and Bettina May is the approach to the past of their mothers and the idea of revolution in general?
I would say a lot of influence. May grew up in the Middle East where his mother was seen as a heroine. The environment in which she grew up shared the same ideals of his mother, and the revolution was seen as a just cause against imperialism, despite the West were seen as terrorists. In Germany, Bettina lived in a society much more bourgeois, capitalist, with a father in a suburb alienated in Hamburg, away from his mother and his revolutionary ideals. To date, the generation of ’68 found opposite judgments between right and left, and Ulrike is seen as an idealist or a terrorist psychopath.
The documentary explores parallel both the past and the present in a manner that causes it to reflect on those which can be broadly human errors. What is your opinion?
The issues behind the student movement of ’68 are still alive: the struggle for education within the reach of all, the protest against a corrupt economic system that threatens to implode Europe, trying to stop a war. The nature of the protests has been transformed: from hijackings and sieges embassies to the popular revolutions in the Middle East; operations of hacker Western societies and looting shops in the streets of London, as part of a youth discontented. But the question is always the same: what are legitimate means to fight social injustice?
In the 70s, the only way that the Japanese or the Palestinians had to attract the public was hijack a plane and then give a press conference to present their demands and be known as a movement. Now things have changed. We have more sophisticated tools to communicate, organize and mobilize the people that make the operation of control by the authorities, a job much more difficult. The movements of the “Arab Spring” pointing to a more effective way to be heard and demand changes. But how do we evolve into a movement that comes to have a permanent voice in the political system? The protests are much more powerful now, but we are still waiting for a new wave.
Karin Bauer author of “Everybody Talks About the Weather..We Don’t: The Writings of Ulrike Meinhof”