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Racist films in the Roma Pavilion at the time of the Venice Film Festival. August 29 - September 8, 2007.

noroma_flyer.jpgThe images to be shown at the time of the Venice Film Festival in the dim attic of the Venice Biennale's Roma Pavilion are not meant to shock but to remind visitors of the not infrequent, disgraceful and inhuman uses of film. The films will run on half-hidden monitors in a cupboard, placed as if by accident in the attic of the palace housing the first ever exhibition of Roma contemporary art at the Biennale; they are skeletons in the closet. The installation is a distant reference to the "National Socialism" section of the German Filmmuseum (Deutsche Kinemathek) in Berlin, where Nazi films, including the films of Leni Riefenstahl, are shown in a cupboard, the drawers of which "are not only reminiscent of an archive, but also of a morgue". The anti-Roma racist films in the attic of the Roma Pavilion, however, are not just traces of a bygone era—such as the documentary of racial experiments from the 1930s, Riefenstahl's "Tiefland", or documents of the Roma holocaust—but extreme and extremely virulent recent racist incitements that populate popular video-sharing sites like YouTube.

The images of hatred and demotion of human dignity that are regularly viewed by tens or hundreds of thousands are not just documents of marginal subcultures on the faded periphery of European culture. The selection of racist anti-Roma films includes footage from mainstream television talk shows and reality shows, where the audience and the viewers laugh at the misery of the Roma, who are calculatedly shamed by the hosts of the programs.

It was not an uncontroversial decision to piece together the films in the program. Some of us at the OSA Archivum ( who are responsible for the screenings—both Roma and non-Roma—felt that our presentation would inadvertently contribute to spreading that which we despise and intend to fight. We feared that we would injure the dignity of the Roma, or the dignity of the non-Roma, the decent majority of the group whose members produced these inhuman images.

OSA Archivum, one of the largest recent history and human rights archives in the world, has a huge propaganda film collection. Our experiences - our regular propaganda film festival, for instance, and the showing of the "Eternal Jew", the most horrendous Nazi anti-Semite racist film, to history teachers and students—convinced us that we have nothing to fear from showing images of past and present reality to our contemporaries. We work in an archive and we know that it is not enough to name in order to know: seeing is believing, even for the most appalling aspects of our world.

From Rejection to Racism

The films in the installation were located and assembled from diverse sources. The Roma artists exhibiting in the Roma Pavilion were requested to suggest material, primarily from their own countries or cultural spheres. Public archives and collections of films depicting Roma were searched (national film archives, television archives and collections of amateur films). Extreme (and not-so-extreme) right-wing and populist media, news websites, far-right organizations, and hidden or unofficial outlets like the blogs and websites of racist groups and file-sharing sites were also searched. European Roma rights organizations and NGOs and well-known scholars of Roma culture and history were also involved in the project.

The research yielded many diverse genres of material from different periods and regions. The films date from between 1940 and 2007 and come from both western and eastern Europe. Amateur recordings made with super8 cameras or mobile telephones, music videos, montage films, so called racial research films, documentaries and feature films made on celluloid or video, sports, news and entertainment television broadcasts, as well as both edited and uncut material distributed on file-sharing networks were also located. The common feature of the images was the prejudicial, derisive or negative portrayal of Roma, extreme hatred, and, in many cases, incitement to act against, persecute or annihilate the Roma. Films that were not intended to alienate, but which, nevertheless, serve as important documentary evidence of anti-Gypsy attitudes were also included in the collection.

Several hundred derisive or racist clips were assembled into an "anthology". We chose to exhibit them together as a video installation—while remaining faithful to the original content—by showing them simultaneously on several screens. The result is a flood of images and sound recorded between 1940 and 2007. This cacophony emphasizes the diversity and intensity of anti-Gypsy sentiments. Racism revealed not just in a clearly articulated film addition to a successfully defended doctoral thesis, not only in films recording deportations and in the gestures of a filmmaker who first uses Gypsy children as a convenient stand before dispatching them to the death camps. Besides open hatred on the soundtracks to skinhead music videos, and the inarticulate screaming of a football fan, there also is unmistakable incitement in the questions asked by a television presenter, or in the way a cameraman frames a group of Roma, or the way a program editor dubs in canned laughter during a recorded television interview with a Roma. Day-to-day racism is locked inside the cupboard, flooding out the moment we open the door.

Films in the Installation, listed by type

Music Clips
1. "Gypsy Issue" (video clip, Hungary, 2007, 3 min.
Music clip with manifest racist content from a skinhead band, Division88 with a refrain in the song: "Death to the Rroma"
2. "Death to Gypsies" (video clip, Hungary, 2007, in Hungarian with English subtitles, 3 min.)
A racist video clip of the Division88 skinhead band. Text of the song includes a direct call for physical aggression and demolition of homes of the Roma: "I want to see blood and corpses / disemboweled gypsy dirt. / I want to see Gypsy shanty towns in flame, / with every single Roma burning inside."
3. "Gypsy Problem" (video clip, Slovakia, 2006, in Slovak with English subtitles, 3 min.)
A racist video clip of the former Czechoslovak, today Slovak, skinhead punk band ZONA A.

Archive footage
4. "Historical Burgerland" (amateur footage, Austria, early 20th century, silent with German subtitles, 3 min.)
Fieldwork and campsite in Burgerland; footage of Roma, authorities take fingerprints and photos of them for the records.
5. "Romani (Gypsy) Children Used in Racial Studies" (research film by Eva Justin, Germany, probably 1943, silent, 4 min.)
Eva Justin was an assistant to Dr. Robert Ritter, the Third Reich's "expert" on Roma. She studied these Romani children as part of her dissertation on the racial characteristics of Roma. The children stayed at St. Josefspflege, a Catholic children's home in Mulfingen, Germany. Justin completed her study shortly after this film was taken. The children were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them were killed upon arrival at the camp. German sound and subtitles in English are excerpts from the documentary "Das Falsche Wort", dir.: M. Spitta and Katrin Seybold, Germany, 1987.
6. "Deportation of Roma" (amateur footage, 1940s, silent with English voice over, 2 min.)
Filmed documentation of concentration of a large group of Roma for deportation. Man and women of all age, and children are put on a truck.
7. "Lowlands" ("Tiefland", dir.: Leni Riefenstahl, 1953, Germany, in German with English subtitles, 3 min.)
"Tiefland" was Leni Riefenstahl's last feature film. Set in early 20th century Spain, a melodrama about a Gypsy dancer, played by Leni Riefenstahl herself, who becomes the mistress of an evil Spanish tyrant but later finds absolution and love. The filming of "Tiefland" took place between 1940 and the end of the war, but premiered only in 1953. Some of the scenes were shot on location near Kitzbühl, Austria. In order to enhance the story's "Gypsy" flavor, Riefenstahl aides arranged to "borrow" some 51 young Roma prisoners from the nearby labor camp at Maxglan-Leopoldskron as extras. For other scenes, filmed in Berlin-Babelsberg in 1942, Riefenstahl used as extras at least 66 Roma and Sinti inmates, from the Berlin-Marzahn camp for Gypsies. There's evidence, that the German Criminal Police returned the Roma, after fulfilling their "obligation", to the Maxglan and Marzahn Gypsy camps (Zigeunerlager) and later deported them to their deaths at Auschwitz.
8. "A Hole at Csente" (excerpts, amateur footage, 1944, Hungary, silent, inserts in Hungarian, subtitles in English, 4 min.)
The amateur film was shot by a sociologist and is a visual diary of a family excursion to a village called Csente and its nearby Romani settlement in the summer of 1944. The film, found in a private family collection, and is a rare document about Gypsies in Hungary during WWII. Many Roma lived on the outskirts of villages and worked as traders or laborers. This footage is a unique documentation of the dismal living conditions that Roma endured in Hungary in 1944. Of special interest is the footage of interaction between the Gypsies and the non-Gypsies: where the father and the daughter are distributing tobacco among the Roma children.
9. "Forced Shaving of Gypsies" (excerpt of a fiction film, dir.: Sándor Sára, 1968, Hungary, 3 min.)
This fiction film, with documentarist elements, contains outstanding documentation of measure against Gypsy communities taken by public health and epidemiological agencies. Gypsy men and woman of all ages, and children, were forced to undergo shaving and bathing.
10. "Ferencváros vs Újpest" (sport program broadcast, TV2, "No Comment", date uncertain, Hungary, in Hungarian with English subtitles, 3 min.)
Radicals at a football match in Budapest, where the supporters of both teams sing explicit racist rhymes, like "Dirty gypsy! Dirty gypsy!" and the answer is, "You're just a load of Jews. Hey! Hey! You're just a load of Jews. Hey! Hey!"
12. "Operation Solstice - Beanfield Eviction 1985" (documentary film, excerpts, United Kingdom, 1991, 10 min.)
The film recounts the story of how 420 people were arrested on June 1, 1985, on their way to Stonehenge to hold the 11th People's Free Festival. It uses video footage, the police radio log, photographs and personal testimony to recreate what became known as the Battle of Beanfield. This documentary presents horrifying evidence of the semi-military tactics employed by police as they smashed up Travellers' homes. This portrait provides a good background to what was, at the time, the longest running civil case in British legal history, when 24 people sued the police for damages and brutality.

Contemporary Footage - Media and YouTube
13. "Meadowlands. The Eviction of a Gypsy Family" (documentary film, United Kingdom, 2004, 9 min.)
26 January 2004, a Travellers' site at Meadowlands near Chelmsford was evicted, with four arrests, forcing 30 people off the land they owned and had been on since 2001. To do the dirty work, Chelmsford Council brought in contractors, the self-proclaimed "gypsy and squatter eviction specialists" Constant and Co., who had to get past earth banks, barricades and ditches, plus the Travellers and their supporters, in order to clear the site. This was an operation without a court order or Injunction.
14. "Mother of a Gypsy Thief" (footage of Hungarian public television, 1990s, in Hungarian with English subtitles, 2 min.)
A mother of a 14-year-old boy who was sentenced to re-education for theft is interviewed by a public television correspondent. The frame of the image is set to include a mentally disabled person in the picture, who has nothing to do with the story.
15. "Ciganka" (amateur footage, YouTube, Serbia, 2006 ?, 1 min.)
The footage was most probably shot by a cell phone camera records an incident between a Roma woman on the tram, who's almost hit by a male passenger. The woman and her children try to ask the passenger to stop filming, but in vain.
16. "Gypsies in Monika Show" (television broadcast, Hungary, date ?, 1 min.)
The talk show records a most probably arranged scene between a Roma couple, where they hit each other, and use swear words on the stage.
17. "Cigansko Interview" (television broadcast, Macedonia?, date ?, 1 min.)
An interview with a Roma woman in the program "No Comment" (Bez kommenta). The entire interview is dubbed with canned laughter, while an inscription on the film shows "no comment".
18. "Matisz mortal" (music clip, YouTube , 2006, 1 min.)
Montage of disco music and images that originate from a TV news program. In the center of the clip are a Roma girl, who was abused by the boulevard media since she gave birth to a child at the age of 11, and her father, who has speech deficiency. Words of the song, "Chose your destiny", and repeated images of the family's poor life conditions, were clearly made with alienating purpose.
19. "Mostarski cigani" (amateur footage, YouTube, Bosnia-Herzegovina, date ?, 2 min.)
The film shows young Roma who are trying to recycle goods from the garbage. The man who holds the camera disregards the explicit wish of the Roma, who do not want to be filmed in that context.
20. "Opita ciganka" (amateur footage, YouTube, Czech Republic?, date ?, 1 min.)
A typical case of the negative portrayal of a woman found in control-less state. The footage shot by a cell phone camera was clearly made and shared with the aim of degrading Roma.

No Roma! is a work of the OSA Archivum
No Roma! installation is co-organized by Paradise Lost - The First Roma Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and the Councilor for Culture of the Venice City Council.
For more information about OSA Archivum please visit
For more information about the Roma Pavilion please visit
For more information about the Open Society Institute please visit
Budapest-Venice, August 2007

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