Alan Sondheim on Tue, 19 Apr 2005 19:02:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> reviews +interview (fwd) - Julian Samuel

I've followed Julian's work for years and this video - on libraries and the 
politics of libraries - is both troubling and incredible. If you have a chance 
to see the work, do! You can contact Julian at the email address below; he 
lives in Montreal.

- Alan

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005 01:48:19 -0400
From: juliansamuel <>
Subject: reviews +interview - Julian Samuels

To be published, online, Serai Magazine, 2005

  "Save and Burn" 80:34, NTSC, 2004.  A documentary by Julian Samuel.

Reviewed by Maya Khankhoje.

[Maya Khankhoje, when not busy exploring the world out there, can be found deep 
in contemplation in a library.]

             Save and Burn is a compelling commentary on the world of libraries 
as well as a  compressed history of their importance from the days of the 
ancient Sumerians -credited with inventing writing to save administrative 
records- to current day Iraq, where people, along with libraries, are the 
victims of  massive burning and destruction.  It is also a dispassionate 
analysis of  the role of  libraries as repositories of  historical notions of 
the self and a passionate  cri de coeur  against the  systematic annihilation 
of such notions, such as the gradual strangulation of  Palestinian identity. 
If the juxtaposition of placid images of libraries where silence reigns with 
images of armed conflict in Israel/Palestine and Iraq strikes the viewer as 
jarring at first, upon reflection, one realizes that it is not the images that 
jar, but reality itself. Why burn books ?longside countless human beings ?if 
not to reduce the truth to ashes? Moreover, such contrasting imagery speaks to 
the need for librarians to take to the streets to defend their privilege to 
continue to house the patrimony of humanity.

             The film opens up with the following quote from Carl Sagan 

             Only once before in our history was there the promise of a 
brilliant scientific civilization. Beneficiary of the Ionian Awakening it had 
its citadel at the Library of Alexandria, where 2,000 years ago the best minds 
of antiquity established the foundations for the systematic study of 
mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, literature, geography and medicine. 
We build on that foundation still."

             Who would want to destroy such a foundation? The culprits, say 
multiple voices,   are the forces that would replace civilization with 
barbarism. Take the wanton destruction inflicted on Palestinian libraries and 
cultural centres by the Israeli government.  Or the fire set to the United 
Talmud Torah Library in Montreal in 2004.  Or the appropriation, by the Israeli 
government, of  books ordered by Palestinians, and their subsequent delivery to 
the Hebrew University library, proving that the powers that be fear, not 
knowledge per se, but knowledge in the ?rong? hands, that is, in the hands of 

             Such destruction is not achieved by means of brimstone and fire 
alone. The closure of libraries due to ?ack of funding?is an obvious device. 
Legislation is another powerful weapon for  the mass destruction of knowledge. 
For example, the USA Patriot Act of  2001, allows the government to peer over 
the shoulders of its citizens as they read while increasingly denying them the 
information they  seek. The gradual disappearance of library catalogues is a 
stratagem to control what people read. The digitalization of knowledge, while 
contributing to its speedy dissemination over the ether, is also contributing 
to its ethereal and ephemeral nature. The privatization of human knowledge, of 
course, is the most insidious version of this onslaught.

             Libraries, says Irish author Declan Kiberd, are utopian spaces for 
the disenfranchised Irish,  and hence promote democracy, but they can also be 
used for state control. Libraries, says Julian Samuel? off-camera voice, 
produce knowledge about democracy at home and export terror abroad.  Libraries 
are also beautiful, says the director? camera.  Samuel, a painter,  filmmaker 
and  writer, lets our eyes lovingly linger over the long hall of Trinity 
College Library. He also treats us to a panoramic view of  The Bibliotheca 
Alexandrina, arisen from the ashes of  its illustrious predecessor.  Its 
director, Ambassador Taher Khalifa, tells us that this library, partially 
funded by several Arab countries, is shaped like an incomplete sun disk 
symbolizing  the incomplete nature of knowledge ?and presumably its 
illuminating attributes.

             Save and Burn is a follow-up on The Library in Crisis,  2002 (cf.  in which the author 
traces the history of libraries and libricides while allowing us a glimpse into 
the multicultural world of libraries in 5th century India. It is also a fervent 
plea for us, as free and independent thinkers, to unite in defence of our right 
of access to the knowledge that we have accumulated as a species. Most 
importantly, it is an aesthetically pleasing and lyrical reminder  of the links 
between the contemplative space of reading rooms and the hustle and bustle of 
life out there.

for more  information on ?urn and Save? please contact:


18th Singapore International Film Festival, 2005

( )

March 20, 2005 - Vinita Ramani and Julian Samuel discuss Save and Burn.

VR: Broadly-speaking, 'The Library in Crisis' dealt with bibliocide (a term 
used by Ian McLachlan) and the increasing digitisation of texts - in a sense, 
the "crises" referred to in the title. 'Save and Burn' has honed in on a more 
specific issue: the systematic preservation and destruction of knowledge/texts. 
What do you see as the trajectory from the first documentary to the second?

JS: I didn't plan a trajectory, but there is a trajectory which I'll tell you 
about a few lines down...I write a documentary treatment after reading many 
books on a particular subject and then approach funders. After a few rejections 
I get a tiny budget on which to live and produce.

VR: So then do you at see documentary films having some effect on our 
understanding of history and politics?

JS: Documentaries, on their own, accomplish nothing politically; they record 
symptoms. If they could change an understanding of reality, and how to act, 
then why haven't they had any large-scale progressive effect on society? 
Despite the making of many critical documentaries, the economic right and the 
religious right are hitting us in coercive ways. Rent control and the Magna 
Carta all down the drain, and it's all Michael Moore's fault.

VR: There's an intellectual density in both your documentaries that is quite 
different or lacking in the new wave of "activist" films that have emerged 
off-late (since 2000 and the WTO protests, in particular).

JS: Someone has to make dense documentaries - otherwise we'd all be making 
documentaries like The Corporation, Bowling for Columbine et al ad naseum which 
are visually fun, easy and comic, but analytically as deep as a fried Mars Bar. 
The directors offers no criticism of Caterpillar Corp and its support of 
Israel, for instance.

VR: While you hint at the great intellectual traditions of Asia and Africa, the 
documentary is very much focused on libraries in Europe, or the "west".

JS: Sadly, much is missing from Save and Burn (2004). My excuse is that they 
didn't give me much money. It would have been useful to have included in-depth 
discussions from other parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, libraries in 
the Arctic and Antarctica. This would have filled in all the geo-bibliographic 
holes. And, it would have been great to shoot all the pretty books in 
grain-less 35mm. A visual exploration (in IMAX) of the 13th century wood 
printing blocks at the The Temple of Haeinsa would have been enriching.

However, I think that with Save and Burn I have provided classical linkages 
between the master races and the others: England and Ireland; Palestine and 
America; America and Iraq. I have not explored the role between libraries in 
the Mediterranean region and their impact on the development of this one-sided 
democracy in Europe. The documentary makes the links between empire and 
knowledge institutions apparent. The trajectory from Save and Burn is now a 
documentary on Atheism. Will George Soras please help me? I only want a 
millionth of his wealth.

VR: Alistair Black (Leeds Metropolitan University) and John Feather identify 
the specific relationship between libraries and the advent of modernity, in how 
the growth of the individual or "self" was integral to the Enlightenment 
project. But Black identifies the controlling aspects of libraries as well: 
they are bureaucracies par excellence. This is a tension present throughout the 
film (freedom and control in relation to knowledge). Is this a specifically 
western experience?

JS: Modernity? What's that? Save and Burn's slowly leads us to the following 
kinds of question: Is western democracy falling apart in the eyes of everyone 
else? Western democracy - with its legal trade rules and legally sanctioned 
moral values in place - is transparently terrorizing resources out of vast 
areas of the world.

Lefty documentary film-makers try to get answers from experts in order to 
produce an abridged yet wide version of history and politics. And, 
unfortunately, documentaries produce culturalists who know the world's problems 
but can only vote in a certain way; go to demonstrations; have political 
discussions at supper time, and buy samosas on solidarity nights. I won't put 
you in a cultural studies coma by doing a Chomskian repetition of what's wrong 
with the world, don't worry.

VR: Save and Burn also touches upon contrasts/tensions in relation to 
perceptions of class and access to knowledge. Alistair Black is sceptical of 
the claim that the working classes benefited from libraries: he says they were 
rarely the constituency that used libraries. You juxtapose this with Irish 
author Declan Kiberd's resoundingly positive perception that libraries for the 
Irish, were and are almost utopian spaces, following the 19th century reading 
room tradition, where issues in the community can be debated, read about, 
shared. What is the intention of these juxtapositions?

JS: It would appear that I have a sociological reflex - inducted during 

VR: Nevertheless, the humour aside, you are suggesting something with these 
recurring discussions on freedom, democracy and accesss to knowledge.

JS: What's the conclusion? Libraries actually produce a knowledge of how to 
practice democracy at home and export terror abroad; this is one obvious, 
preliminary conclusion. The current-day British labour party members all have a 
knowledge of social democracy because of the libraries they used - packed to 
the gills with English Marxism and even more flashy Euro-Marxism. Many of them 
were arrested for protesting during the last century.

The center of the documentary are the comments on the catalogue. The library 
catalogue controls access to sections of knowledge. The techno-culturalist and 
historical discussion in the beginning of Save and Burn takes us to the 
destruction of the library catalogue in Palestine. Here, western democracy 
falls to bits. The, Palestinians, as people everywhere, see through western 
democracy's terror-laden values.

VR: Save and Burn also reveals a strong relationship between history and 
libraries. Alarmingly, we can no longer speak of historiography if, as Tom 
Twiss (Govt. Information Librarian, Pittsburgh), Isam al Khafaji (ex-advisor to 
US forces in Iraq) and Erling Bergan collectively identify how Iraqi 
libraries/museums are being systematically burnt and destroyed, books are not 
reaching Palestinian libraries. History is being altered by what is saved and 
what is burnt. What is the future then, from your perspective? How does one 
respond to these "cultural war crimes" as Ross Shimmon points out?

JS: The future? Most documentary film-makers are non-experts who are in one way 
or another looking for answers to advance a general knowledge which will lead 
to criticism, action, Eden. Viewers should understand that film-makers put 
viewers in the precarious position of trusting the film-maker who usually are 
non-experts in the areas they are documenting. The questions encompassed by 
Save and Burn are posed by a non-expert. I have tried to offer in-depth 
knowledge of libraries across many voices.

The conclusion of the documentary asks: Western democracies are encouraging 
Israel and other places (via innocent tax payers in Austin, Warlingham, and 
Canberra) to do one illegal thing after the next. The mad search for weapons of 
mass hypnosis is like the search for God itself. Many people at the other end 
of American foreign policy see nothing "western" nor "democratic" but see 
hypocrisy personified in various heads of states. You should have heard the 
analysis the shoe-shine man in Cairo gave me about 911.

So what political models can 'they' out there look for? Can they make an 
economically competitive state via an investment in Islamic or non-western 
values? More questions for an expert. The idea of investing in western 
democratic values is exhausted, not simply because western democracy is so easy 
to see through but because democracy, give or take a Patriot Act or two, is 
structured fundamentally to supply a bit of democracy at home while fully 
financing dictators and their armies the world over.


Save and Burn ?a documentary by Julian Samuel (2004)

A film review by Steve Fesenmaier


There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document 
of barbarism.And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism 
taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another.

Walter Benjamin

Theses on the Philosophy of History, 1940

?eber den Begriff der Geschichte? used at the beginning of this film

Julian Samuel, a Montreal-based filmmaker born in Pakistan, continues his 
exploration of the contemporary world of libraries in this 80-minute 
documentary. He first investigated libraries in his instant library classic, 
?he Library in Crisis.?Here is the description from the distributor? website 
?Filmakers Library ?

Dense with the informed commentary of notable scholars, this documentary in 
effect traces the history of civilization through the phenomenon of the 
library. From ancient China, India, Islam, and the Graeco Roman world, we see 
how the library radiated knowledge and spiritual values, and facilitated the 
cross fertilization of ideas from one culture to another.

?risis?was made before 9/11 and focuses on the hottest crises at that time ? 
the effects the WTO may have on libraries, the commercialization of libraries, 
mindless weeding and closing of libraries, expansion of copyright by computer 
corporations, and much more. No film I have ever seen on libraries comes close 
in exploring so much in such a short period of time ?46 minutes.

I contacted the filmmaker in Canada, and sent him videotapes of interviews with 
leading American library activist Sanford Berman. Originally, he was going to 
interview Sandy and other American library leaders, but after the draconian war 
against people from Pakistan and other East Asian countries by the Bush 
Administration after 9/11, Samuel took the official Canadian advice to NOT 
cross the border. Thus this film did not include these voices ?but rather 
focused on Irish and English libraries plus the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Unlike ?he Library in Crisis,?this film looks at race and class. Various 
library historians including John Feather, Professor of Library & Information 
Studies, Loughborough University, author of ?he Information Society,?Royal 
Society of Arts, London and Alistair Black, Professor of Library History, Leeds 
Metropolitan University, London discuss how public libraries were used both to 
stop the locals from contemplating revolution a la Russian Communism during and 
after WWI and to serve as a place for debate. By cutting back and forth from 
Irish and English library events to the history of the Library of Alexandria, 
Egyptian public libraries, and current programs in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 
like one on unemployment and youth, the viewer is counter-conditioned to reject 
Western racism. Samuel wants to show the West that we are the inheritors of the 
great Arab-Asian tradition of libraries going back thousands of years ?not its 

The facts are piled on, not using the standard Ken Burns-style of slow 
discourse, but rather throwing the facts at us, using optical printing, aiming 
to create a much more complicated GESTALT in our minds. This is extremely 
refreshing to someone who has watched a thousand such films, and found them 
boring. His style is more like the Hong Kong master Wong Kar-wai or Godard, 
demanding that the viewer has a universe of images already in his mind, waiting 
for someone to link them together in new ways.

Like all serious intellectuals, Samuel begins with Walter Benjamin, the 
cornerstone of post-WWII global analysis. By doing this he shows right from the 
beginning that he is not guilty of anti-Semitism and Arab fanaticism. He shows 
that he really wants truth and justice, at whatever cost. He wants to show that 
libraries have been one of the few places of truth and justice for a long time, 
and that there are really only two kinds of people ?those who respect such 
sacred places and those who do not.

The visual images of the libraries he shows are exquisite, lingering on the 
walls, the books, the people, and the spaces that libraries have used over the 
centuries. He is a painter, an artist ?as well as a philosopher, historian, and 
freedom fighter. Ambassador Taher Khalifa, Director of The Bibliotheca 
Alexandrina talks about the shapes of the library ?using an incomplete sun 
disk, the earth, a moon, the sea, and alphabets from all over the world, none 
making a single sentence.

I found one scene particularly positive, given the ocean of negative images 
flooding us now. A young Arab man reads from ?ubliners?in front of the James 
Joyce Wall in Dublin -in his native tongue. This brief scene may be the 
clearest direct message Samuel is trying to make ?we are all one people, 
friends, not enemies.

This film notes a key historical possibility that I very much believe in ?and 
that is that if the great world of the original Alexandrine Library had been 
allowed to continue, our world would have been much better, and mankind would 
have landed on the moon by 1000 AD. There is a new field of alternative 
histories, including Philip Roth? new book, ?he Plot Against America," about a 
US with a Nazi Charles Lindbergh as president. Samuel has a text crawl that 
states that there was one other time when there was a possibility of a 
?rilliant scientific civilization??the 700 years of the first Alexandrine 
Library under the Greeks, and he notes that most of the Old Testament comes to 
us from items once found in that library. Apparently he believes, as I do, that 
if mankind had channeled its energy into the arts and sciences rather than war 
at the time of the world? greatest library, our world would now be a humanistic 
paradise rather than a toxic corporate American hell.

During the last half of the film he interviews Tom Twiss, Government 
Information Librarian, University of Pittsburgh, who has flown to Canada for 
the interview. During the next 30 minutes Twiss discusses the war against 
people? access to federal government information, pointing out that as our 
government has limited our access to them, they have increased their access to 
us ?library patrons- under the Patriot Act. Twiss is also an expert on the 
destruction of Palestinian libraries. He talks about what happened to 
Palestinian libraries during an Israeli invasion of the West Bank. He points 
out that Lutheran libraries were also attacked without any reaction worldwide ? 
but that there is ample proof of the events. He notes that some Israeli 
newspapers even ran editorials about the ?ultural cleansing?but many Israelis 
deny it even happened. One gruesome story he gives is about the Israelis taking 
books ordered by Palestinian libraries being shipped to Palestinian libraries 
being seized and shipped to Israeli libraries instead.

Another expert on the reality of libraries in Palestine is Erling Bergan, 
Editor, Librarians Union of Norway, Oslo, who talks about the destruction of 
their libraries, and a tour by international librarians to these libraries, 
seeing first hand how much the children use them. He discusses one particular 
act of destruction involving The Orient House. Bergan is like one of the 
thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors one has seen in films about Nazi 
Germany. (I have programmed the local Jewish film series for 25 years), shaking 
his head in disbelief. Sanford Berman is the inventor of a word that should 
have been uttered ?bibliocide. ( Ian McLachlan uses this word in Samuel? 
earlier film, ?he Library in Crisis.) Some librarians even use the term 
?iblio-holocaust?for the destruction of books in our modern age.

Finally, the destruction of Iraqi libraries is discussed, mainly by Ross 
Shimmon, Secretary General, International Federation of Library Associations 
and Institutions and Isam al Khafaji, ex-advisor to USA forces in Iraq. Khafaji 
discusses who destroyed the books, and how important they still are in the life 
of war-worn Iraqis. Shimmon talks about writing letters to Saddam and Blair 
requesting that they protect Iraqi libraries during the coming war.

The final comments in the film are by  Khafaji. Earlier in the film pictures of 
Iraqi libraries that have been burned are shown, giving the viewer the reason 
why this film is called ?ave and Burn.?It? horrific to see the rooms of ashes, 
and reflect on the eternal loss the millions of Iraqis have endured as pawns in 
the game between the Arab fanatics and the America extremists ?now in control. 
I had to recall the ashes from ?he Day After,?showing a world incinerated by 
men of equal sadism.

Samuel has again created a masterpiece about the contemporary library. I 
suggest that it be included with the many Arab Film Festivals that have been 
created by thoughtful people around the world since 9/11. As always, non-Arabs 
and Arabs will discover that they have much more in common than they realize ? 
and that they are brothers and sisters, not enemies. All librarians should see 
this film, and I am sure they will feel like I do that librarians must leave 
their beautiful houses of culture, and join the fight to protect them from the 
despots East and West who will eventually destroy them. One librarian talks 
about how the Book of Kells was protected from the invading English, being 
moved from site to site, even in a building used by the invaders as a 

A very good companion book to read is Matthew Battles recent, ?ibraries -An 
Unquiet History.?I read it two summers ago on a porch near Wilmington, North 
Carolina, smoking and sitting under a semi-functioning ceiling fan with my dog. 
I took my time and savored the amazing history Mr. Battles has written, taking 
a global perspective somewhat akin to Mr. Samuel?. I was very impressed with 
his brief history of libraries in China and England, and consider his account 
of the war against my friend Sanford Berman to be the best in any book I have 
read so far.

There is a brief discussion of ?ibricide?in this film ?and now there is an 
excellent book on the subject ?and now there is an excellent book on the 
subject ??ibricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in 
the Twentieth Century?by Rebecca Knuth. It looks at five particular cases - 
Germany, Bosnia, Kuwait, China and Tibet. Of course it doesn? mention the 
uncontrolled ?eeding?of American libraries during the last decade, most 
famously in San Francisco where thousands of books were buried in a landfill.

Read together, ?n Unquiet History?and ?ibricide,? along with ?ave and 
Burn?would make an excellent introduction for beginning MLS students anywhere 
in the world. Or as a ?ontinuing Education?course for working MLS librarians. 
Hopefully I will be able to show ?ave and Burn?at the spring West Virginia 
Library Association conference in April 2005.

To obtain a copy of ?urn and Save,?e-mail the director, Julian Samuel, at -

Save and Burn; 80:34, NTSC; 2004

The Library in Crisis; 46:41; NTSC; 2002.

List of people interviewed ?

Ross Shimmon, Secretary General, International Federation of Library 
Associations and Institutions;

Isam al Khafaji, ex-advisor to USA forces in Iraq; (Holland); Ambassador Taher 
Khalifa, Director, Bibliotheca Alexandrina; Alexandria; Dr Youseff Zeidan, Head 
of manuscripts department, Alexandria;

Dr Hesham Abd El Moshen, Head of architectual department, Alexandria; Robin 
Adams, Librarian and College Archivist, Trinity College, Dublin; Bernard 
Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts, Trinity College;

Charles Benson, Keeper of Early Printed Books and Special Collections, Trinity 
College; Michael Ryan, Director, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; Declan Kiberd, 
author, Inventing Ireland, University of Dublin; David Grattan, Manager, 
Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa; Paul B?an, Conservation Scientist, 
Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa; John Feather, Professor of Library & 
Information Studies, Loughborough University, author of The Information 
Society, Royal Society of Arts, Alistair Black, Professor of Library History, 
Leeds Metropolitan University; Erling Bergan, Editor, Librarians Union of 
Norway, Olso; Peter Hoare, library historian and adviser on historic libraries, 
Bromley House Library, Nottingham; and, Tom Twiss, Government Information 
Librarian, University of Pittsburgh.

Steve Fesenmaier is the film reviewer for Graffiti magazine, the largest 
monthly in West Virginia. He was director of The West Virginia Library 
Commission Film Services 1978-1999, receiving his Masters of Library Science in 
1979. He was previously the chairman of the University Film Society, University 
of Minnesota, 1972-78. He is the co-founder of the West Virginia International 
Film Festival (1984), The West Virginia Filmmakers Film Festival, (2001) and 
the WV Filmmakers Guild (1979). He has worked on many films including John 
Sayles??atewan?1987) and presented a week of films made in WV in March 2004 at 
the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in NYC. He is the associate producer of an indie 
feature film, ?orrect Change?2002) and the executive producer for ?reen Bank 
?The Center of the Universe.?He provided research information for Mr. Samuel.

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