“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. With these words German physicist Albert Einstein underscored human ruthlessness after World War II, ended with the launch of the atomic bomb on the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Dramatic, but not isolated, episodes of a century marked by wars with high level of cruelty, fought with every means. German director Max Mönch focuses on these conflicts and on weapons that characterize them, bringing out the effects which still continue to spill on the environment and humans. The result is Footprints of War, documentary of 2013 that won Best Short Feature (Miglior Mediometraggio) at CinemAmbiente 2014 in Turin, festival member of Green Film Network.
Technological progress and human decline have led to an obsessive arm race, powerful arsenals with devastating and long-term side effects, on humans and nature. Max Mönch brings us to discover warm places in the world where, at a distance of years, the poison of those battles has not yet consumed.
“From a human perspective, environmental issues stand below any issue that directly threatens human life”explains the director Max Mönch, with whom we chatted about movie, “In the moment of suffering the trauma of war, public discourse avoids questions about side effects of that war beyond human life, for example on environmental issues. It is usually morally inadequate to put them on the public agenda of a mourning society. As I am German “my” history is a very bellicose one. World War II is perceived as the “Never Again” event in our and probably in world history, because of its devastating effect on human lives. I am still not so sure whether it is adequate to talk about the environmental damage given that human disaster. Still there is one. I believe that questions about environmental costs of a war or any other perceived military conflict could contribute reduce the readiness to pull the trigger. Since environmental costs are, between many other, also economic costs”.
From exterminated lands of Verdun, where French and Germans have annihilated each other during World War I using chemical weapons for the first time, to seabed of the Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, sprinkled of UXO and toxic waste, the shadow of the past keep on threaten water, air and soil. An alarming reality often, often unmentioned even in official documents, where the information about weapons, nuclear experiments and contaminated places are regularly hidden.
However it’s impossible to hide war traces, clearly visible in the vegetation of Vietnam, razed by orange agent, in its waters contaminated with dioxin, on the faces of its inhabitants, mangled by mutations. It’s impossible not to find those traces in dozens of deaths caused by uranium used by US Army in Iraq. In a game of references between cause and effect, the movie alternates historical footage of laborious military actions to devastating pictures of today, where invisible death moves in deafening silence.
“Although the motivation of that film was to inform and to offer a perspective, the most important effect of film in general, I am convinced, is the emotional part”, reveals the director, “I realized the maximum of all aims I could have is to make people interested, and to get them look into the whole issue themselves. It is about finding the red thread, a voice and the motivation of that voice. The priority of films usually is not the information itself, but the effect of it. Footprints of War has been not designed for cinema. It is a tv documentary, which makes a big difference. Many aesthetic decisions are pragmatic. Of Course there still is some personal handwriting. But I am not an artist. At least in the “science documentary” context my expressive will is guided by one aim: do whatever is necessary that the film works. And do not do anything that interferes with that plan, for example to be too expressive and too visible as director and author”.
In this sense the movie can be read as an outspoken map of those places that human cruelty has condemned forever. In the same time, yet, it’s a map that shows us the journey of humanity: a humanity that has not learned to give up its destructive power and to become aware of its effects, that don’t know any flag and don’t know any mercy.