When history comes alive

The British Broadcasting Corporation have this uncanny knack of developing documentaries that leave an indelible mark on your psyche well after the last scenes. Two documentaries I watched this week definitely were in this league as this channel outdid itself in producing a couple of thought provoking pieces.

I have always been a fan of the BBC documentaries considering their wonderfully researched pieces along with archival footage that is rarest of the rare among montages. Coupled with my interest in history, these two videos were a potent mixture of politics, religion and the wars that followed this deadly combination.

birth of israel
Jerusalem burns during the Arab-Israeli wars

The Birth of Israel – Journalist Jeremy Evans has long been known to be a fair interviewer and in this documentary he clearly chronicles the origins of the struggle in the Middle East for a small strip of land and a city that speaks for three faiths or rather three faiths that speak about this city. The rise of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organisation, in the midst of a migration wave into Palestine following World War II and its consequences speak volumes of the botched efforts of the erstwhile British Empire’s leaders to come to diplomatic resolutions. There are echoes of this crisis in partition era India. The hurry with which the Empire dismantled itself, left a lot of regions in shambles.

It is truly admirable how the Israel state was built, based on strong leadership and foresight. However, the displacement of the Palestinians is a sad spectacle in itself. Without taking sides, the wars that define Israel’s existence are a result of ego’s, broken promises, internal bickerings, and super powers that have thrived on the region’s instability.

From prominent Arab diplomats to Israeli intelligence officers, this documentary provides a critical, factual and emotional representation of what Israeli’s and Palestinians went through during the 1940s. In the midst of the state’s formation, the media had an equally important role to play as radio broadcasting networks sensationalised stories related to the war that resulted in more confusion that contributed to the crisis. Nothing different from what we see nowadays. In the documentary you will see both sides still blaming the other for what happened. Blood runs grey here.

While bloody, the history of the region is fascinating and this documentary captures the essence of the times and its repercussions in modern Middle East. Carefully researched, considering the sensitivities involved, this feature is a BBC hallmark that is a fair account from a third person’s perspective. Is there a lot more hidden behind the politics and the regions complexities? I suspect yes, but the truth can be harsh and violent and that’s the last thing Israel and Palestine can afford at this point.

Vatican: The Hidden World – Another BBC feature that I watched was on the workings of the Vatican along with entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the holiest places for the world’s Roman Catholics. While a pilgrimage to the Vatican is on my list, I doubt that I will be given access to what was shown in this documentary. From St. Peter’s tomb to the original transcript of Galileo‘s deposition to the Church, the Vatican archives and catacombs are host to unbelievable treasures and secrets.

While the word ‘secret’ lends a sense of mystery to the Vatican archives, as explained by the official archivist, there is nothing ‘secret’ about this. The term ‘secret’ lent itself here as in the mid-ages anything related to the kings, queens and princes was termed ‘secret’. It was not hidden, it was just an affiliation of royalty and this extended to the Pope who was considered the ‘Prince of Princes’. So there you go, the Secret Vatican Archives are just that – related to the Pope. And while I am sure the minute number of archivists who have access to this library would not divulge all the scrolls and scriptures, there is room for outsiders to come and study the carefully preserved documents.vatican

From temperature controlled tombs to hi-tech security wizardry from one of the world’s most efficient protection agencies – The Swiss Guard, the Vatican has come a long way to usher in modernity into an edifice that no too long ago faced challenges and does continue to take them on. While Galileo Galilee was forced to retract his statement on the Earth not being the centre of the universe, the Vatican Observatory now actually searches for other life forms through the worlds most powerful telescope located close to Castel Gandolfo (the Pope’s summer retreat). Retracing the year’s of wrong committed in debunking authentic scientists, the Church plays as important role in merging scientific temper with its teachings while retaining the exclusivity of each of these topics. Complicates yes, but the Cardinals weigh their words carefully when it comes to science.

While a lot of aspects in this documentary are common knowledge, it is the way various angles are met, from the point of view to the most powerful man in the Vatican to the altar boys, that makes this feature fascinating.