The twentieth edition of Thessaloniki Documentary Festival embarks on rediscovering the experiences from the 1968-revolutions.

Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 2.-11. March 2018

Translated by Marielle Sjømo Samstad

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of 1968 – the year where numerous rebellions, protests and several comprehensive demonstrations worldwide culminated. No matter where in the world, 1968 was a year that left its traces in the 20th century. By screening seven documentary films – produced between 1968 and 2017 – less known sides of this legacy from the Far East, United States, Latin America and Central Europe are uncovered. 1968 is synonymous with rebellion and hope of a different and better future through fight – more specifically, in the anti-imperialistic fight for independence and in the anti-bureaucratic fight in the Soviet nations and in the Western societies. Where the colonised world fought for liberation from the American imperialism’s supremacy, the «Prague spring» made a fight for independence to raise a national sovereignty against Soviet hegemony.

1968 in France

If one single documentary film at the festival should be highlighted, it must be the two-hour long In the Intense Now (2017), directed by João Moreira Salles. In the documentary, we are introduced to many important fragments and situations from the epicentre of the 1968-events. Here you get close to the First Secretary Aleksander Dubcek in the power game over Czechoslovakia, which is widely known to have ended with the Soviet invasion. It also contains recorded footage of the hectic days in May, with young students in completely unfamiliar situations, answering questions from worried parents who haven’t seen their children for several days.

During the year 1968, history changes its rhythm. In France, the young people of the working class in Paris were in large numbers drawn towards universities that appeared to be of authority. This combined with the general resistance towards the American imperialistic warfare in Vietnam, led to protests and demonstrations. The young working class didn’t feel as home in the universities. Like expressed by the student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit on national TV: the nation has always used exams as a social mechanism of exclusion for protecting the privileged interests. Cohn-Bendit is recognised as a student leader at the centre of demonstrations and on TV. He used a direct political language and drew the attention towards the social circumstances that many of the French, in the given situation, experienced as out-dated and unfair. His political language didn’t only contradict the authority, but also exposed the Stalinist and social democratic organisations and leaders’ negligence.

Revolution as improvised theatre

For most of the young people it was almost like comparing it to improvised theatre where the pleasure never really set in, and the part – because of missing information and schooling – would make the play seem amateurish. And where would it all lead?

«During the year 1968, history changes its rhythm.»

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wondered and inquired the students’ actual plan. Naturally, the opposites of de Gaulle didn’t want to become part of a government with a background in a general strike. Therefore the president could – seeking the dictatorship as immediate imminent – discharge new elections. This caused a stinging defeat for students and workers. Who other than Stalinists and social democrats and their historical neglect could the student and workers blame in that situation for their pain and inadequacy they felt?

American Revolution 2

The painting of a future society or a social imagination was non-existing during the revolts in May. Whether it came to a general strike or not, the bourgeois France and the French nation was never at any point threatened as the French army never was involved.

Soviet supremacy

Soviet union had according to students historically betrayed the socialistic idea and appeared as anything but an example for the students and workers of the world. In June Turmoil we see how the intellectuals gather on the resistance against the Yugoslav communist party, by exposing the rhetoric that the communist party, for a long time, had been able to hold the oppressed population in a firm grip.

1968: Hope

The documentary 1968 – Hope, depicts the political game until the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August,1968. The intellectuals had together with the general public put pressure on the Czechoslovakian regime and questioned the role of the communist party in the society. The demand of freedom of speech was widespread – also in business circles – where the desire for greater freedom was an argument to save the development of the society. «Socialism with a human face» was the slogan.

«If one single documentary film at the festival should be highlighted, it must be the two-hour long In the Intense Now (2017).»

The First Secretary of the Communist Party, Alexander Dubcek, wanted to open up for the establishment of additional socialistic political parties, and he barely made it. Thereby was the Soviet Union’s limits for political tolerance reached: the Soviet power invaded Czechoslovakia and forced a change of direction in the country as well as the party. What a power manifestation!

American ‘Black Panthers’

In American Revolution 2 we see recordings from a local public meeting that shows the justification of the civil rights movement, and where the police violence against the black workers serve as a backdrop. Not only did the black people fight against «the pigs», but the extensive social divide divided the local solidarity in the effort of establishing local communities.

The Black Panther movement contributed to give radicalisation a dimension that was absent in Europe. First the French imperialists, then the United States had to pull out of Vietnam. The United States significantly felt the resistance to the war, partly at home, and partly from «the new left» in many parts of the Western world.

Visions of internationalism

Looking back, all the experiences from 1968 from all continents of several generations, brought together by pioneers, heretics and rebels – in a vision of a new internationalism – carried on until today a diversity of social movements. In 2018, the year of 1968 appears as a correction after the first stabilisation of international relations after two imperialistic world wars. In the shadow of the Cold War, the underlying imperative of economic growth caused the world to progressively challenge the climate and biodiversity.

«No matter where in the world, 1968 was a year that left its traces in the 20th century.»

At the same time, conditions of human development were increasingly subject to the market mechanism of social and cultural polarisation and the challenges of new technology.

Was the task of the responsible human – with Václav Havels words – «to come to oneself» and recognise that there is something higher than the man himself? The question remains in our remembrance of 1968, in which the social and societal subject is the driving force that will lead the society forwards. The dream still lives on today.