Issue 61, Spring 1996
A judicial hearing officer ruled in March that Denver-area high school teacher Alfred Wilder cannot be fired for showing Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 to a senior class studying logic and debate. While the epic film on the rise and fall of Fascism is over 4 hours long, officials of the high school created a 24-minute videotape of strung-together excerpts taken out of context to discredit the film and the teacher. Curiously, however, under Colorado law, the ruling is only advisory — the school board now has twenty days to decide whether to accept her ruling.
NCAC has brought nationwide attention to the case by organizing a protest by eighteen prominent filmmakers, scholars, writers and others including Martin Scorsese, Tony Kushner, James Ivory, Milos Forman, Susan Isaacs, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Many NCAC Friends as well as national organizations have written local authorities on behalf of Wilder and his students.
Bernardo Bertolucci testified at the hearing by phone from Rome. Here is part of his powerful statement on the case:
“….Like all Europeans of my generation, I grew up in the shadow of the second world war. Like every Italian, I was also, directly, thinking of the Mussolini years—that totalitarian dream, in which the voice of established authority denounced criticism or debate, and used the high school classroom to silence other voices, including the voice of history. That is the raison d’etre of 1900 (and of The Conformist): to speak of the past and the future; to mark some pages of history for my own and succeeding generations; to debate what we were in order to think what we may become.
“Now, is it not strange — when we see the totalitarian dream reemerging, from Chechnya to Oklahoma — that a teacher should face reprimand and the loss of his livelihood for debating this history, this collective memory, in a classroom dedicated to the study of logic and debate? There are too many ironies here, and they are all dark.
“The puritanical urge to divorce the sexual material in my film from its context is only a prelude to a similar desire to cut politics and history from the context in which they are embedded — and that way lies the real politics of totalitarianism. Wilder, I believe, was attempting to show his students that context: the context of Italian fascism, which was itself a seed-bed for the second World War, in which America lost so many of her children. For me it is this element of understanding which remains paramount: how will future generations of children grapple with their present if they cannot be allowed to bear witness and debate the past?”