Winnipeg documentary presents genocide through first-person testimony

From left, filmmaker Yolanda Papini-Pollock, Edith and Sam Kimelman [Myron Love Photo]

A new documentary that premiered in Winnipeg on Sept. 26, is aimed at raising awareness that “never again” has to become more than empty words.

“Genocide remains a scourge and a stain on humanity more than 70 years after the Holocaust,” Erol Meryl, narrator and off-screen interviewer of the film, said in introducing Never Again: A Broken Promise at the premiere.

The 25-minute production, created, produced and written by Winnipeg filmmaker Yolanda Papini-Pollock, features testimonies from Holocaust survivor and retired Jewish teacher and principal Edith Kimelman, Rwandan massacre survivor and University of Manitoba professor Regine King, former refugee and Winnipeg transit driver Hadji Hesso, who is Yazidi, and Canadian residential school survivor and artist Victoria MacIntosh.

The interviews are interspersed with scenes of the survivors’ lives now and in the past, and of the genocides from the Holocaust, Rwanda and the ISIS slaughter of Yazidis in northern Iraq two years ago. Kimelman, Hesso and King all spoke of the way long-standing friendly neighbours turned on their minority neighbours in a flash, and all noted how their experiences as refugees in fear of their lives or, in MacIntosh’s case, the abusive treatment she received in residential school, left lifelong scars.

Also appearing on screen were genocide expert Adam Muller from the University of Manitoba; Kevin Lamoureux, the University of Winnipeg’s associate vice-president for indigenous affairs, and Montreal Jewish businessman Steve Maman, the founder of CYCI, an organization dedicated to rescuing Yazidi and Christian women and girls from ISIS captivity. (CYCI operates three refugee camps for Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq and Greece.)

Following the screening, the four witnesses to genocide and Muller took questions from the audience.

The idea for the documentary grew out of Yolanda Papini-Pollock’s efforts to combat anti-Israel propaganda through the Winnipeg Friends of Israel (WFI), a group she co-founded two years ago, shortly after the Gaza War. Through WFI, Papini-Pollock had established links with local Yazidis and Kurds and pro-Israel Christians.

“The Yazidi genocide didn’t happen in a vacuum,” the Israeli-born filmmaker says. “I wanted to raise awareness of modern persecution, enable viewers to recognize the signs of genocide and encourage them to take action.”

Formerly a teacher, Papini-Pollock became involved about five years ago in making biographical documentaries for families interested in preserving family histories. Never Again: A Broken Promise represents a new direction for her.

She says she applied for a Jewish Foundation of Manitoba grant last fall, and work began on the documentary six months ago. The multi-ethnic production crew – including Nigerian-born director Rogers Ofime – worked on a voluntary basis.

Papini-Pollock and her production crew are hoping to screen the film at Winnipeg’s two universities, and they envisage presenting the documentary as a pilot, with the aim of creating 13 more episodes with genocide survivors across Canada.

“We also want to show the role that Canada plays in helping genocide survivors rebuild their lives,” she says. “We would also like to encourage the government to do more.

“We are seeking funding to produce more episodes,” she adds.

Papini-Pollock is working on an educational booklet for schools, to accompany the documentary.