American Film Institute/Silver Spring presents brand-new films as well as decades-old classic ones.
Among the latter is “Rashomon,” a 1950 Japanese film describing rape and murder/suicide from four different perspectives.
The movie, directed by Akira Kurosawa, won an honorary Best Foreign Language Film Award. It’s innovative cinematically but also in its narrative structure, said Michele M. Mason, Associate Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland. The film lent the term “Rashomon effect” – the subjectivity of perception on recollection – used in social sciences, legal studies, film and literature.
“I’d first point to the use of the camera in some of the scenes in the forest,” said Mason. “At the time, it was unheard of to point a camera toward the sun … Kurosawa wanted to express the strange impulses of the human heart through the use of an elaborately fashioned play of light and shadow.”
Also interesting, Mason said, is the use of the camera in the “court scene.”
“Unlike most of the rest of the film … the camera (here) remains fixed, looking at the people who are testifying. We never see the figure of the judge …These strategies force the viewer to take the place of the judge, who is responsible for deciding the truth of the event.”
The real issue for the director is whether human beings are capable of telling the truth.
“What’s unique to Kurosawa’s message is that the characters do not deny their culpability but, rather, all take credit for the crime,” Mason said. “This narrative device underscores the hubris of humans, not merely their corruptness.”
Along with screening “Rashomon,” AFI is hosting a panel discussion with several experts. It will explore the inability of victims’ to speak about their experience for fear of not being believed and denial by the perpetrator denial. Instrumental to the panel’s formation, said AFI Film Programmer Abbie Algar, was Tali Elitzur, founder of AHA! (Achieving Hope and Awareness) Moment DC.
“I formed AHA! Moment as both a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence and as a psychotherapist working with survivors of interpersonal trauma,” said Elitzur. “As a survivor, I saw … there is just a small window of time when we get enough clarity, energy, motivation to say ‘I need help.’”
If it’s not forthcoming, shame, confusion, depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress symptoms may keep victims from reaching out again.
Elitzur coordinates two awareness screenings a year at AFI for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
The screenings grew out of a conversation Elitzur had with her husband, Haggai, a film lover who hosts podcast for the Film Noir Foundation, after seeing “Gaslight,” a 1944 drama about emotional abuse.
As screening coordinator, Elitzur tries to involve several partner organizations and panelists for the post-film discussions.
“It was Haggai who came up with the idea of showing ‘Rashomon’ for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Although it’s not a film about sexual assault, per se ways it explores the themes of perceptions of truth and the power of shame lend itself perfectly to discussions that need to be had about sexual assault today.”
It’s “powerful,” she added, for the audience to play the roles of judge and jury as they listen to opposing versions
“Today we are fortunate that sexual assault and harassment are taken more seriously than ever before,” Elizur said. “The stigma surrounding the reporting of incidents is changing. However, it’s still terrifying to come forward to report a sexual violation … Once your personal story becomes public, it is no longer yours.”
“Rashomon” will screen on Sunday, April 28, at 5:45, at AFI, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. www.afi.com/silver.