What is left after the dust settles?

TOURISM: Dutch doc revisits cities devastated by disasters.

Natural disasters or man-made conflicts have long captured viewers’ attention. When news breaks, journalists, stringers, and live streamers – all rush to the new subject of interest. The name of a place ravaged by a disaster dominates headlines for weeks or even months on end, enthralling our minds and stirring our fantasies. We all have witnessed the immediate aftermath of an earthquake or a shelling, be it via numerous video packages that we conveniently consume from the comfort of our homes or via live streams that feed into our desire to be simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.

Media interest toward sights of devastation are rather short-lived – cameras keep rolling as long as a story makes a headline – but what happens once a calamity is over and our appetite for dramatic content is sated? The 2019 documentary Once the Dust Settles by Dutch filmmaker John Appel brings us back to devastated cities after cameras have withdrawn and interest in them has petered out. The film confronts vast destruction left by disasters – the Italian town of Amatrice that was nearly decimated by the 2016 earthquake, Pripyat in northern Ukraine that turned into a ghost town following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, and the ancient city of Aleppo that was shattered by Syria’s protracted civil war.

Perhaps, in an attempt to do justice to each, the director reserves each city . . .

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Sevara Pan
Journalist and film critic.
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