In light of the destruction to architectural heritage sites in PalmyraThe Destruction of Memory documentary film couldn’t be more topical: it examines “the war against culture, and the battle to save it.”

Based on architecture critic Robert Bevan’s acclaimed book by the same title, the issues in Palmyra are echoed in the films trailer: “In this war, buildings aren’t destroyed because they are in the way of the target, they are the target,” the narrator, Oscar-nominated British actress Sophie Okonedo implores.

In what may come as a surprise to some, people—and not buildings—are still the film’s primary focus. The Destruction of Memory places emphasis on “those who willingly risk their lives to protect not just other human beings, but our cultural identity—to safeguard the record of who we are, and to provide evidence of crimes against humanity.” These individuals provide hope in the otherwise bleak landscape of cultural and architectural preservation.

The film also looks at what and how preventative measures will tackle the demise of cultural heritage in war-torn countries across the globe. Examples ranging from Kristallnacht, the Bosnian War (notably the fall of the Mostar bridge), and contemporary challenges in the Middle East feature throughout.

In addition to this, The Destruction of Memory draws on interviews from Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; as well as international experts including the Smithsonian’s Corine Wegener and architect Daniel Libeskind.

“The assumption has long been that heritage is an unfortunate collateral casualty of war. What this film demonstrates is that, instead, architecture can be targeted deliberately for destruction, particularly in campaigns of ethnic genocide and cleansing,” said author of the book, Robert Bevan. “It is vital, therefore, to make more explicit the links between cultural protection and the protection of human rights.”

Director and Producer Tim Slade said “The use of cultural destruction as part of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s violently exposed the seriousness of the issue, but at international courts and tribunals, recognition of the role of cultural destruction in ethnic cleansing and genocide during these Wars has fluctuated. The links between the killing of people and the killing of their identity are not necessarily being made.”

The Destruction of Memory will screen at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City on June 21st, and at the British Museum in London on June 26th.

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