Let Me Stand Alone: Tribute to slain US activist
London - Rachel Corrie’s activism against injustice led to her losing her life at a young age. Lebanese film director Rouba Atiyeh sought to celebrate Corrie’s short life by profiling her through an amazing compilation of her own writings, sound bites from her family and friends and images that create a penetrating insight into the activist’s thoughts and emotions.
Corrie, from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death at the age of 23 by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16th, 2003, while undertaking nonviolent action to stop the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home.
Atiyeh’s 45-minute documentary Let Me Stand Alone borrows its title from a book of Corrie’s writings published after her death. The documentary moves between Corrie’s home in the United States and the Gaza Strip, showing the two contrasting worlds in which she lived.
It begins with a speech Corrie made at the age of 10 at a conference on world hunger: “I’m here for other children. I’m here because children everywhere are suffering and because 40,000 people die each day from hunger.”
We then see Corrie with a microphone in her hand standing in front of a bulldozer about to demolish a Palestinian home. The bulldozer comes closer and closer. It is a frightening image. The screen is black for a second and the documentary moves to Corrie’s reflections on American society: “Why was I born in a country so terrifying? Supermodels and daytime talk shows. They convey our emptiness. How we have forgotten or never learned our own history?”
There are no interviews in the documentary. Corrie’s friends and family simply speak about her. Reflecting on her death, one friend says: “It is tragic. We were aware of what she was doing. I thought good for her. She is doing what she is passionate about. I just admired her for being that brave.”
In a tribute to his daughter, her father says: “We need to do something better. We need to create a better world and it is up to each of us to do that. That was what Rachel tried to do and I am proud of her.”
A number of Corrie’s moving, insightful poems are read as the documentary moves to scenes that deal with the poems’ subjects. Especially moving is her poem on homelessness. “These are the hollow souls. We love them when they are far away but when they are close to us and we look into their sunken eyes we choke with fear and distaste,” it reads.
There are frequent references to her e-mail messages to her family while she was in Gaza.
She asked: “What kind of a writer would I be, what kind of a seer would I be if I stayed in the prism of my home?
“I feel like I’m witnessing the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive… Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realise there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I’m having dinner with,” she said.
On February 7th, 2003, she wrote: “No amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here (in Gaza).
“When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business and whether I can get home again when I’m done. So, if I feel outrage at arriving and entering briefly and incompletely into the world in which these children exist, I wonder conversely about how it would be for them to arrive in my world.”
Atiyeh emphasised that she wanted to portray Corrie through her own voice. “She had a problem with the system in the USA. She had a problem with the whole globalised system and her work in Gaza was a translation of that,” Atiyeh said.
“The essence of Rachel was to be true to yourself and stop being fearful. She always had a focus on the people she cared about. In her e-mails to her mother she always spoke about the people she was working with. She was a very honest person. She could see the world beyond the borders of her own self,” Atiyeh said.
This film, Atiyeh explained, is not just talking about Gaza.
“We see so much about it along with what is happening in Syria and Iraq and we become a bit neutralised. We stop reacting as strongly. My film will raise questions about the whole system,” Atiyeh said.
“Israel was the baby of that system and that is how Rachel viewed it. She was aware. She was mature in her way of thinking and she could link things together. She could see that the whole system needed to change, not just Gaza and Palestine but world order, which has taken a brutal form.”