British movie mogul LORD PUTTNAM OF QUEENSGATE is convinced of the power of film after learning The Killing Fields helped thwart a civil war in the Ukraine.
Shortly after the powerful 1984 movie, about the harsh realities of the Cambodian War, won big at the Oscars, producer Puttnam was asked to screen the film in the Ukraine, as part of a British cultural week in Kiev.
Delivering the keynote address at the Edinburgh Film Festival in Scotland on Sunday (21Jun09), Puttnam explained how impactful that screening was.
He said, "The British Council felt it was appropriate to screen the movie there (Kiev) and it didn’t take long to realise that I'd been rather badly briefed about the Ukraine - I had no understanding at all of the tensions that existed: political, religious, economic and cultural.
"We ran the film on a Saturday morning, in a huge cavernous cinema, to an audience of mostly young people - about 2,000 of them. After the screening, in an otherwise terrific question and answer session, no one mentioned Cambodia. All of the talk was of the Ukraine and its problems, and whether any such series of events (chronicled in the film) could possibly happen to them."
Unbeknown to Puttnam, the film was subsequently pirated and became a must-see for Ukranians. And the Brit learned of the full impact of the movie upon meeting the then-new Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko.
The moviemaker explained, "I heard one of the interpreters mention that I was the producer of The Killing Fields, at which point he grabbed me and excitedly explained that shortly after my visit the film had begun to circulate among their schools and colleges.
"Apparently lots and lots of VHS copies of The Killing Fields were shown in schools all over the Ukraine. In fact as far as I could make out, every kid in the Ukraine has at some point seen the movie. He asked me if I’d ever noticed that during the Orange Revolution (post-election protests of 2004 and 2005) there was never any discussion, at any point at all, about the possibility of a civil war breaking out.
"He said, 'Because of your film we understood all too well what civil war did to a nation. We saw what happened in Cambodia, and determined that it was not going to happen in Ukraine.'"