There are so many ways to interpret the concept of REUNION. Often it is associated with a traumatic event and its aftermath. How long does it take for the trauma to recede enough for a sense of normalcy to return? Maybe there will be a new normal, a coming together. But one where the initial event will never, can never be forgotten.
There are many variations to the concept of REUNION as well. Often, it’s generational. The death of President Kennedy was one such event in my life. But for my children that event is ancient history. For young people today, their trauma is the almost daily occurrence of school shootings. Something that one never dreamed could happen when I was in school.
There are also geographical factors. The trauma of war can scar a nation forever, while 100 miles away, life simply goes on as before. Currently in Syria, Aleppo has been nearly destroyed, while outdoor cafes remain open in Damascus. In Ukraine, Mariupol has been raised to the ground while people in Kiev still sleep in their own beds and go to work in the morning.
This bifurcation may indeed characterize the “new normal” of the 21st Century. We learn to live with, in fact we adapt to things that 5, 10 or 15 years ago we would have thought unimaginable. Then you have events that span the generations and make location meaningless. Covid created one such event. The spread of the Covid virus created perhaps the world’s first truly global crisis. World wars are global but they can be contained. A pandemic can’t be, and while Covid is not the world’s first pandemic, it is the first of the 21st Century.
Unlike other pandemics, the outbreak of Covid 19 (2019) coincided with the emergence of a truly global society, where borders crumble and intercontinental travel accelerates. To some degree, everyone, everywhere has been touched by Covid. The topic of this year’s Fulbright conference REUNION is a perfect snapshot of where we are today. We are trying to come together, slowly and after much trauma. But it is a trauma that we may never fully recover from.
My submission to this year’s conference deals with an event of similar magnitude and trauma, the events of 9/11. My film, Images of Goodbye was inspired by the work of Mark Knopfler who wrote the song If This is Goodbye. His song is based on messages left between people on the planes traveling to the intended targets, and their loved ones. For those passengers who could not actually speak with the person they were calling, they left behind voicemail messages. The words of those last desperate attempts to reach out and express their love are truly haunting and heartbreaking.
My reason for selecting Images of Goodbye for this conference is the focus on REUNION. First, I created the film in 9/11/21, exactly 20 years after the events of that terrible day. So, my homage to the people involved is a REUNION with the events in the form of an anniversary film. But a deeper meaning may be more abstract. Those voicemail messages represent the thinnest of threads between the living and those who’s lives are near the very end. Between those communications is the hope, the prayer that they will be united one day. That a REUNION will be possible if not in the present, then somewhere, somehow in the future beyond the grave.
Rita M. Csapó-Sweet, received master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. She has been teaching at the University of Missouri St. Louis since 1991, in Media Studies and the Honors College (since 2019). She has published numerous articles and book chapters on cinema; arts and the culture of Eastern Europe; propaganda; cultural/educational foreign exchange; and photography. Her work is at the nexus of history, abstraction and propaganda, inspired by images of conflicting political and societal ideologies.
Csapó-Sweet was a Fulbright Fellow to Hungary in 2002, working with producer Judit Kopper at Hungarian Television. In 2010, she joined her husband, Dr. Frederick Sweet on a Fulbright grant studying the role of medical doctors on the Bosnian genocide in the 1990s.
Csapó-Sweet is a documentary filmmaker and has co-produced programs on media analysis and criticism, with Hungarian TV since 1993. Recently, she co-produced Made in Auschwitz: the Untold Story of Block 10. It was broadcast on television in Israel, France, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union, and is currently on the international film festival circuit.
The film being submitted today Images of Goodbye for the Fulbright Association 45th Annual Conference, is a tribute to the events of 9/11, on the 20th anniversary of that fateful day. The film’s score is the song If This is Goodbye by Mark Knopfler, performed with Emmylou Harris. All lyrics are from messages left between people on the planes hijacked on 9/11 and their loved ones left behind.
Title: Images of Goodbye
Producer, Director, Photographer: Rita Csapo-Sweet
Editor: Hari Secic
Date of Production: 9/11/21
Medium: High Def, 4K Video
Caption: New York City, Ground Zero Memorial Museum, Queens