Memories compelling and tragic, but ultimately hopeful

Human rights award-winner Ali Saeed tells his story in gripping documentary

Human rights activist Ali Saeed is interviewed in Aaron Floresco’s Memories of a Generation.

“Where can I tell my pain?”

That was the first question Ali Saeed asked himself when he came to Winnipeg in 1984. Twenty-six years later, we have Memories of a Generation.

Winnipeg film director Aaron Floresco gave Saeed an almost exclusive stage to tell his life story.

Memories is an intense and passionate film. The stories seem outlandish, but the earnest and sad look on Saeed’s face as he tells them leaves no doubt of their truth.

In fact, Floresco himself comments, “If I only read about this, or heard about it from others, it would be difficult to accept.”

Saeed wants his stories to be an education for all people, but especially for Ethiopians – a chronicle of their country’s history of rulers without mercy.

The film at times borders on being an advertisement for the United Nations, but with good cause. The U.N. High Council for Refugees got him out of jail in Somalia where he was being held for no reason other than he was a refugee.

Saeed had been imprisoned in his home of Ethiopia, along with other intellectuals, educators and political free-thinkers during the military reign in the mid-to-late ‘70s. He said that “torture was part of the daily routine.” Once out of jail, he walked to Somalia and was immediately arrested at the border.

Memories is full of the horror stories you would expect. You’ll hear stories of families being torn apart, of unprovoked beatings and prisoners being tortured and killed.

Saeed tells the tales of how the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia were unjust, leader after leader. He only calls them by their names or as “fascists.”

Saeed punctuates stories of personal pain from his youth by saying “life continued,” emulating Billy Pilgrim’s grim, “So it goes,” from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-5.

Despite the tragedy, there are a few moments of brightness in the film. Saeed clearly recalls the spirit of his fellow prisoners and how they looked out for each other. He talks about the serendipitous meeting of his current wife.

But the brightest moment of the film was unintentional – a quick shot of a letter from the International Centre in Winnipeg shows the signature of Tom Denton and his title of “Executive Director.”

After the tragedies have been told, ultimately Memories is a success story. Saeed and his wife were able to settle in Winnipeg and live more freely than they ever had before.

Published in Volume 64, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2010)

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