Christoph Draeger b. 1965
HELENÉS (Apparition of Freedom) (Redux) (2005)
In 1998, I shoot a film in Hungary in a former civil protection/disaster prevention camp at the border to Romania. In mist the ruins (the camp was build as if it was destroyed by an atomic bomb) I found a storage room with some TV and editing equipment, and shelves with dozens of 16 mm film rolls. I asked permission to borrow some rolls and review them, but the camp’s guardian denied permission. So I decided to smuggle at least one roll out. This can contained the 16mm film JELENÉS*, an dramatic and apocalyptic rendering of one of the exercises they performed during the cold war in anticipation of the nuclear holocaust of World War III.

Unsure what to do with this Tarkowsky-influenced masterpiece, I let it sit on my shelf for 6 years, until George W.Bush held the inaugural address for his 2nd term on Jan 20 2005. This speech was highly ideological, indeed it contained the neo conservative manifesto – in style and content reminiscent of cold war rhetoric.

One of the striking things about JELENÉS is the very monotonous Hungarian narration, which to us is incomprehensible- containing a very technical account of the apocalyptic consequences of a nuclear strike.

I decided to subtitle the narrator’s voice with Bush’s speech, which was slightly shortened for this purpose. The image and sound of the original film form a new symbiosis with the text, one that reveals indeed the subtext in Bush’s words: the ideal of American hegemony and world domination through the mission of bringing Freedom even to “the darkest corners of this world”.

The philosophy of the last administration was highly influenced by a former soviet dissident and former prisoner of the Gulag, Natan Scharanski, author of “The Case for Democracy”. With Scharanski’s ideas, the cold war connects to the war on terror, the empire of evil (the former soviet union) shifts to the Islamic world. Scharanski describes the Soviet union as a “black and white world, a unique laboratory to find out where the borders between good and evil are situated". The Bush administartion enthusiastically inherited these ideas, a black and white philosophy that proclaims the victory and triumph of freedom.

In JELENÉS, the protagonists go home happily after the exercise: it had been just a simulation. When we already think the film is over, the sound changes to a single heartbeat and a barking dog, and finally, the epilogue: atomic explosion after atomic explosion.

(*The title of the video changed from Jelenés, the original film title, to Helenés because of my reading mistake. Jelenés translates as "Apparition" in Hungarian)