Unknown Ravens has been nominated for two categories at the Oxford International Short Film Festival (OXISFF) – Best Oxfordshire Film 2020 and the Audience Choice Award. The documentary centres around an Oxfordshire family who are objectors to World War II. Director Sema Basharan tells us about her inspiration to tell her family’s story on screen. Links to the trailer for the film and full film (available to view until end of July) are below.
“Unknown Ravens began in 2018, when I came across a photo book in my parents’ house with the title ‘The Kjeldsen Family, 1940-1947’. Recognising my grandmother in her youth, I was fascinated by the images of my family with German prisoners of war – a part of our family history I had never known. Asking my mum for more details of the story, she dug out a printed and bound booklet sent to her by her aunt Betty years before. With it was a letter – Betty had written everything down ‘so that we have some sort of a record of our parents’ lives and how we all lived when we were young.’ I had known that my grandparents were conscientious objectors during the Second World War, but in making Unknown Ravens I discovered so much more about my family’s story.
“The thing I love about oral histories is that they help us understand the experiences of ordinary citizens and how they felt. The Second World War has been told from a single perspective for a long time – the story of good versus evil; a glory-filled, black and white story of a so-called ‘just war’. But not everyone felt that way. The conscientious objectors in my family felt it was not ok to kill – in any circumstance. That was a black and white issue to them. There are millions of individual stories relating to the war and each is unique. What’s important is that these stories are told because the more angles we see, the more clear a picture of history we have.
“There’s a quote by Alice Walker that I love. She says, ‘I believe that the truth of any subject comes out when all sides of the story are put together, and all their different meanings make one new one. Each writer writes the missing parts of the other writer’s story. And the whole story is what I’m after’ (In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens).
“Hearing the whole story is vital because our understanding of the past influences our actions in the present. It’s not an accident that only one side of the story has been told. There are people who are set to gain from us believing that narrative. My hope for Unknown Ravens is that it will fill in a missing part of a story that has been neglected, and that those who watch it will question some of the things they’ve been led to believe about war – that perhaps there’s another way to go about things.
“One of the beautiful things that came out of making this film was realising just how common a story it is. So many people have since shared with me their own family’s friendship with German prisoners, or sending of food parcels to Germany. That probably shouldn’t be surprising. Humanity is capable of great kindness and empathy, but these small acts of kindness can easily be downplayed or go unnoticed as louder narratives drown them out. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.
“I’m a person who carries a lot of hope, and for me hope is the biggest theme of the film. I believe hope and resistance go hand in hand, that one produces the other, and I’m grateful for those who have acted on their hope to resist the status quo and show us an alternative. I’m grateful to objectors all around the world, ordinary people in various walks of life; and I’m grateful to my family on that farm in Oxfordshire, going about their life with small acts of resistance that inspires me to hope and act too. For anyone thinking of digging into your family history to tell their story, please do it. We need your stories to fill in the missing parts of our history, to help us understand the whole story.”
The OXISFF awards ceremony takes place on Saturday 25th July.
Unknown Ravens Trailer: https://vimeo.com/286545008
Unknown Ravens full film: https://vimeo.com/285284344