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June 3rd, 2008
Beslan: Seige of School #1
Filmmaker Notes

Meet Director Kevin Sim

A hundred years ago, during the heyday of another war against terror, a young Russian assassin stood and watched the carriage of his victim roll harmlessly by. Although his head was full of the revolutionary certainties of the day and his bomb was primed, when the decisive moment came he did nothing. He had seen a child sitting alongside his illustrious target. At considerable risk to himself, he pocketed the bomb and went on home. The revolution would have to wait.

Today this story seems almost quaint.

On September 1st, 2004, as children and their families celebrated the festival, which welcomes new pupils to their first school year, School No. 1 in Beslan was seized by terrorists. For the next three agonizing days, more than a thousand people — most of them women and children — were held at gunpoint in conditions calculated to cause maximum distress. Finally, in a climax which many had predicted as inevitable from the start, over three hundred hostages were killed, almost half of them children.

Today anyone who wants to can walk and see what a dead school looks like. Its roof and walls are torn open. There are holes in the floors and ceilings. Paraphernalia of school life lies rotting under classroom walls, which still carry the letters of the Russian alphabet alongside smears left by the women suicide bombers.

During the filming, I asked members of the crew to find something that carried the meaning of what happened here. There were a dozen or so objects in a bag marked, “Things Found in the Beslan School.” A protractor; a cardboard clock for learning how to tell the time; an alphabet book; a map of England with London and Oxford and Liverpool all clearly marked. There were postcards of Puskin and Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy, a school register for eight-year olds with columns for performance in tests and a complete set of vinyl LPs of the story “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” There was a strong sense that it was not only people that died at Beslan that day.

In the school gymnasium — where most of the deaths occurred — there was a rain soaked poster expressing solidarity from the school children of Columbine in the United States: “Children of Russian School, We are with you” it said.

We have to ask ourselves what we are doing when we make films like this. Terrorists want to change the world, but their tactic is to get on the nine o’clock news. If we following the law of diminishing returns, terrorists must try harder and harder to catch the eye of the news editor and the commissioner of documentaries. At Beslan they succeeded at a cost which can be seen in the film. But the world didn’t change. They have already announced that there will be more attacks. This is going to go on.

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