South Bank Show : Peter Kosminsky

Peter Kosminsky #2
Image by Sheffield Doc/Fest via Flickr

Last night’s South Bank Show on UK’s ITV featured an interview with, and restrospective of, Peter Kosminsky.

Kosminsky is a documentary / film maker with a track record of focussing on difficult subjects. His particular interest is in challenging the viewer to acknowledge awkward realities about our world. As well as the Falklands War, Child Abuse, suicide bombers (the fictional “Britz”, Channel 4, 2007) and aspects of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ (“Shoot to Kill” 1990), he is now working on a feature on Palestine. In his discussions with Melvyn Bragg, Kosminsky said he wanted to illustrate the history of the conflicts in the region and especially the actions of Britain in shaping the Middle East. By implication, he will no doubt wish to illustrate how our conflicted – and, at times, duplicitous – policies following both the First and Second World Wars help to create the nightmare that exists today.

This is a subject which I think a British audience is quietly interested in – we want to understand the real reasons for the ‘Middle East’ and possibly we shrink from it for 2 reasons: the news media is not interested in providing us background – just soundbites and action – and we subconsciously know that somehow we have a responsibility for it but there is already enough to feel bad about at the moment. It is almost like our imperial activities of the last 100 years have become the ‘history that dare not speak its name’. Yet, we also want desperately to understand the reasons behind the rage of Muslims towards the West. Why do they want to hurt us – we are the good guys, aren’t we ?

His work on Palestine may even help us to consider solutions but I suspect that is not Kosminsky’s aim. A historical refresher but more to shame the nation’s consciousness into understanding our responsibilities for the age of terrorism in the 70s and now. (For a light introduction, check out Christopher Catherwood’s book, “A Brief History of the Middle East” – not the sharpest writing but an excellent introduction to the political and religious history of the area and, for the uninitiated like me, presents some startling insights. It covers semi-familiar subjects like the Crusades and other perceived horrors in the collective memories of the affected peoples.)

So in tackling Palestine – and one wonders how he will approach the subject – Kosminsky selects a worthy objective and an important history lesson. Nowhere in Bragg’s interview did I detect that Kosminsky was looking to present solutions. Not even that, in forcing the viewer to confront uncomfortable realities, there might be some realisation or acceptance that would force change. No. More some arrogant delight in pulling the wings off our comfortable view of our role (Britain’s) in the world. Certainly his films represent an important first step on tricky subjects but there is a danger of his work being reduced to scab-picking. Regardless, I look forwards to the Palestine film with interest.