Please join the Harriman Institute for a screening of the documentary film Art Is a Weapon (2017), followed by a discussion with director Andrea Simon. The event will be introduced and moderated by Martin Marinos, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Harriman Institute.
Run time: 85 minutes
Language: English, Bulgarian, Russian and German with English subtitles
This provocative documentary portrait of the Bulgarian Sephardic film artist, novelist, anti-Nazi saboteur and lifelong revolutionary Angel Wagenstein introduces viewers to a brilliant and charismatic storyteller, for whom art became a form of resistance against a series of oppressive and corrupt regimes. At ninety five, Wagenstein remains a passionate witness to history, and an active participant in the political debate on Europe’s rocky post‐communist future. Wagenstein’s fascinating personal story includes command of a daredevil Jewish partisan brigade, early dreams of a socialist utopia, furious disappointment when those dreams began to crumble, and a central role in the democratic reforms that ended communist rule in Bulgaria. But his most striking quality as a documentary subject is his willingness to think critically about whatever historical situation he is placed in, rather than succumb to the temptations of ideological purity.
The film has stirred unprecedented discussion in Bulgaria. Initially attacked by a well-known academic as “a candid gesture of Zionist supremacy,” in a morbid emotional tirade bizarrely portraying Wagenstein as a murderer, torturer and terrorist, the film soon called forth a series of well-argued defenses. But these heated debates clearly demonstrated the reemergence of anti-Semitism in Eastern European cultural discourse today. There are only 4,500 Jewish people in Bulgaria, none in a position of power. Yet they are a target of far-right political parties and movements that deploy Jewish conspiracies to explain Bulgaria’s crushing poverty and political chaos post-1989. While it was expected that Art is a Weapon would irritate this set of actors, a more surprising response came from the pro-EU, conservative right after one of the most prominent intellectual media outlets (the website Kultura) published an openly anti-Semitic review of Simon’s film. Although the editors decided to remove the text and published an anemic apology for its anti-Semitism, many liberal academics and intellectuals rallied round the author of this ugly racist text. Yet again, Wagenstein and his art seemed to have exposed the contradictions of the dominant political discourse by highlighting the dangerous trajectories of anti-communism.
Andrea Simon is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has explored the interaction between politics, culture, and religion in a variety of times and places. Praised as both visually striking and intellectually provocative, her films include Talk To Me, a free-wheeling populist film-essay on American identity (“The Whitmaniacal spirit has been brought to film by Andrea Simon. This America sings” -Todd Gitlin); the wryly subversive ethnographic chronicle Koriam's Law (Grand Prize, Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival) and PBS special Destination Mozart: A Night at the Opera with Peter Sellars (“Indispensable” -The Hollywood Reporter).