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Anthem Film Festival: Stories from Behind the Iron Curtain

According to polls from a variety of sources, such as the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and NPR, increasing numbers of young people in America say they prefer socialism to capitalism. The recent primary win by New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems to have made socialism “cool.”

Socialism and communism were explored in films and by a panel at the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival, part of FreedomFest, which took place at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas July 11-14.

Two Films about Communism

Two films preceded the panel: Wanda Wos Lorenc and The Peculiar Abilities of Mr. Mahler.

Anthem Film FestivalWanda Wos Lorenc, which won the Excellence in Filmmaking – Short Documentary prize, is part of a series of films titled The Witness Project. Funded by the Victims of Communism Foundation, the films focus on individuals who have resisted socialism. Wanda Wos Lorenc spent much of her youth fighting both Nazi (National “Socialist”) ideology and the Communist variant of socialism.

In the film, director Hawk Jensen of SMOCK Media interviews Lorenc, and illuminates her comments with historical footage. As a teenager she joined the Polish resistance to the German invasion during WWII. This led to her and her family being sent to concentration camps. After “liberation” by the Russians, she restarted her life, marrying and raising children. But the Russians installed a Communist regime in Poland and she wanted freedom for her children. You can view the entire film, linked at the bottom of this story. Other Witness Project films can be viewed at the SMOCK Media website.

Jensen encouraged attendees to search the web for Wanda Wos Lorenc’s name. He said that she and her family had done amazing work trying to save Jews from the Nazis.

The Peculiar Abilities of Mr. Mahler, winner of the Best International Short Narrative award, takes place in East Germany in 1987. Director Paul Philipp introduces viewers to special investigator Mahler. The police call him to solve the case of a missing six-year-old boy.

Police believe Mahler has psychic abilities which are supposed to help the parents. After interviewing them, however, Mahler reveals a dark political side. Under Communism, we find out, everything and everyone is the property of the state.

Real People Under Communism

The panel, “Stories from Behind the Iron Curtain,” moderated by Hawk Jensen, included Gabriele Hayes, Li Zhao Schoolland, and Jan Fijor, all of whom spent time living under Communism. They were joined by Lee Edwards, an American scholar at the Heritage Foundation and co-founder of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Anthem Film Festival
Lee Edwards, an American scholar at the Heritage Foundation

Jensen quizzed the panel about why there are so many anti-Nazi films, but so few anti-Communist films.

Edwards began by thanking Jo Ann Skousen for creating the Anthem Film Festival. “In the 1940s and 1950s,” Edwards pointed out, “there were very few films about the Holocaust. Starting in 1960 with the creation of the United States Holocaust Museum, that began to change. There was a concerted effort to make sure that a holocaust would happen ‘never again.’ We need to do the same thing for the victims of Communism.”

Edwards explained that the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation worked for 15 years to get a memorial built in Washington, finally succeeding in 2007. They then created a curriculum for high school teachers and a virtual museum.

“Now we are looking for a location for a real museum,” he said, “as close to the National Mall as we can get. We must touch the hearts and souls of people to get them looking at Communism. Communism was the greatest crime of the 20th Century.”

Jensen asked Jan Fijor how the people of Poland were doing now.

Fijor, who is a journalist, publisher, and entrepreneur in Poland, pointed out that his country suffered under both fascism and Communism during the 20th century. “I lived 35 years under Communism,” he said. “I escaped and lived in the West for 18 years and when Poland became free, I moved back.”

He pointed out that most people in Poland did not have the chance, as he did, to learn about capitalism. “They don’t know about economics,” he said, “so they are still following the state. Brussels is trying to do what Moscow used to do, even censoring the Internet, but we are selling a hundred books a day about free market economics. Things are growing.”

Communist Pressure

Anthem Film Festival
Survivors of Communism, from left, Gabriele Hayes, Li Zhao Schoolland, and Jan Fijor

Jensen asked Gabriele Hayes how much psychological pressure Communism puts on people not to express themselves.

Hayes, whose film Skid Row Marathon was an award winner at Anthem, explained that she grew up in a small town in East Germany. “I joined the Young Pioneers because I wanted to go to high school. If you are not a party member you can’t go. I didn’t get in to high school, anyway, so I had to work in a factory at age 14 and go to school at night.”

She explained, “I felt very much like I was in a cage. You couldn’t travel anywhere except socialist countries. I had a dream that I wanted to see the world. In 1985, a bus I was taking broke down and I was hitchhiking and got a ride from an American.”

After four years of dating, that American became her husband and he moved to East Germany to be with her. In 1989, just before the Berlin Wall came down, they were able to get out of East Germany.

Hayes explained that she was free but didn’t know what to do. “It was overwhelming,” she said. “I didn’t know how to take risks because under Communism everything was planned for you from cradle to grave. I started working in Dallas, Texas, as a teacher and then started doing documentaries, trying to tell stories to help people.”

Not Free Yet

Jensen explained that panelist Li Zhao Schoolland lived in China for 26 years. Schoolland organizes seminars on the free market, writes a weekly column published in China, translated liberty-oriented books, and has taught in high schools and universities.

Anthem Film Festival
Hawk Jensen of SMOCK Media, directed ‘Wanda Wos Lorenc’

“I envy my co-panelist,” Schoolland said. “I am not a free person because the Communist government is watching me and monitoring me. Because the communists are still in power, we are not free. The secret police from China told me to stop what I am doing, or I won’t be able to return, or if I do return, I may not be allowed to leave.”

Schoolland had a tragic childhood. “My cousin, my idol, was only 16 when she killed herself. My father was doing surgery and told a joke to the other doctors. After the surgery ended he was labeled a counter-revolutionary and imprisoned. Growing up as a child of a prisoner meant no choices. Even joining a club was not allowed. I was not allowed to do sports, dance, or learn an instrument. My walk-away point was when I saw the people who did the killing being memorialized and honored. Mao did horrible things. People raided my house, beat my parents.”

Jensen asked the panel how we could unify victims.

Fijor balked at the word “victims” and said he preferred “survivors.”

Hays summed up her beliefs. “Freedom is a choice and a responsibility,” she said. “We need to tell stories about what we went through and to tell the truth. We must take what we have and try to make a difference.”

For information on next year’s Anthem Libertarian Film Festival check the FreedomFest website or the festival Facebook page.

 

 

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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