Director: Valerio Ciriaci
United States, 2022, 70 min
Shooting Format:DCI 4K
Genres:Social Issues, Current Events
Crew:Producers: Isaak Liptzin, Curtis Caesar John.
“Stonebreakers” chronicles the conflicts around monuments that arose in the United States during the George Floyd protests and the 2020 presidential election. As statues of Columbus, Confederates and Founding Fathers fall from their pedestals, the nation’s triumphalist myths are called into question. By exploring the shifting landscapes of American monumentality, the film interrogates the link between history and political action in a nation that must confront its past now more urgently than ever.
About the director
Originally from Rome, in 2013 Valerio co-founded Awen Films, a New York production house with which he has directed independent documentaries, news and editorial videos, and other projects. Filmography highlights include “If Only I Were That Warrior” (Globo d’Oro 2016); “Mister Wonderland” (‘Il Cinemino’ prize at Festival dei Popoli); and “Stonebreakers” (Honorable Mention and Audience Award at Festival dei Popoli), which will have a USA premiere at IFFBoston in April 2023.
When a wave of uprisings for racial justice swept across the U.S. in 2020, we had been working for some time on a film about the contested myth of Christopher Columbus in America. The pandemic had forced us to put the project on hold – but suddenly, in city after city, Columbus statues began to fall. People protesting the murder of George Floyd were directing their actions not only towards immediate political demands, but also towards historical monuments, identifying a common thread between Columbus, Confederates, Founding Fathers and other eminent figures of the mainstream national narrative.
To unravel that thread, it became clear that we had to widen the scope of the film and look at the question of memorialization in America as a whole. Beginning in the summer, we filmed rallies and statue removals across the country. Along the way, we spoke with historians, educators and artists working around sites of memory that had also become sites of conflict. In a nation divided, some claimed a dangerous “erasing of history” was taking place – what we witnessed instead was an eruption of the past into the present, an unprecedented opportunity to scrutinize our national myths with a new clarity.
In his 1940 essay “On the Concept of History,” Walter Benjamin wrote that “there has never been a document of civilization which is not simultaneously a document of barbarism.” In the summer of 2020, this dual nature revealed itself clearly in our public monuments: the protests seemed to bring time to a standstill, allowing for their aura of untouchability and grandeur to be shattered. Through the cracks in the stone, a different truth becomes visible: an American history of brutality and exploitation, long obscured behind images of triumphalism. But with it, the stories of those who resisted also reemerge. In reclaiming these legacies, today’s stone breakers find the ground on which to demand present-day change. As Benjamin wrote, “a revolutionary chance in the struggle for the oppressed past.”
“Stonebreakers” is a testament to the events of an exceptional year, but also a contribution to a conversation on public history that must continue. Reckoning with the past does not mean fixing it in a monument, but taking on the continuous work of challenging, reclaiming, and actualizing it. We trust the film can push its audience to take on this shared responsibility and begin to imagine a public square that doesn’t revolve around powerful men on pedestals, but is built instead on a vision of history from the ground up, in which we are both spectators and critical participants