Topic: CATALOG ENTRY: DECEMBER No 1


WE ARE TOGETHER – DEATH IN DOCUMENTARY ART


WE ARE TOGETHER is a documentary about an orphan school in south-africa and its choir. The main focus of the film is on one family of - i believe - five children, all orphans due to the AIDS epidemic. Three of the kids are living in the orphanage, three are living in the parent's house. Sometime during the film, we learn that the oldest brother, who still lives at home, is suffering from AIDS symptoms too. He is brought to hospital and soon after released with some AIDS medicine to be treated at home by his sisters. The plot of the film is not him or his illness, but how the kids from the orphanage choir are preparing for a concert tour to the UK. So the brother is more of a side plot.


When he is released from hospital, the sister carries him on her back home to the parent's house. The camera follows their walk for some time, along the dusty, red sand roads alongside dry bushes, walking right behind them, as if we (camera) were part of a caravan or some hiking team, all walking in a line.


After that the film documents the brothers last days at the house, showing him in bed, and the sisters walking about the two rooms of the house, bringing him water and helping him, when he has to vomit. The camera is among them, somehow accompanying but also being a bit in the way, in between things and people. It made me feel like being a visitor trapped in an akward situation. As if being invited to a dinner and than something unforeseen happens – like a martial argument – and you have to stick around to be polite while being totally out of place. There is also a scene where the sisters sing for the brother – bringing back the central theme of the film – and the brother discussing the song with them.


We watched the film at home, on our tv and paused it roughly at that moment to go to the kitchen to do one thing or the other. I remember asking AL during the scene where the brother is released from hospital, if he was now to die. I was already somewhat irritated by then and was fearing there would be more display of suffering ahead – which there was. In the kitchen I remember thinking whether to continue watching or not and mostly, how to tell her if i should decide not to, as i was wrongly assuming she really liked the film and the scene.


What was the reason for my irritation? I greatly resented watching the dying of this man. particularly because I felt like stumbling into this, since it was not the main plot but rather an unforeseen (by me) development of the story. The back-carrying-scene particularly made me feel like a passive on looker while feeling the moral obligation to be an active helper instead. The same of course goes for the following scenes. I have an absolute certain emotional position towards this kind of representation of death: i think it is wrong. I have a hard time watching it, always had, and – as in this case – even physically resent looking at the screen. I have discussed this issue with some people afterward but have not been able to come to a satisfying moral law or argument for my emotional position.


The closest i came to such an argument was saying, that the representation of factual dying makes us passive bystanders and thereby forms a sort of bond of agreement or at least of passivity with the situation (with death). This is untouched by whether the dying is the result of an act of violence - it always is, is it not? - whether it is condemned on moral grounds. Whether you think Ceaucescu deserved the rope or not is beside the point. You become a teammate of the hangmen. What does this mean in moral terms? Is it a question of thinking death to be a shame or a natural part of life? Why do i resent becoming a part of the situation? Because i can not deal with death in general, am afraid of the presence of death? I assume that it is because of this awkward and peculiar mixture of involvement and distance: i feel on the one side involved and unable to react or console the people in the scene.