NOTE: As part of our post-comedy festival programming this week, the State is showing four documentary favorites of Michael Moore’s from the last year daily now through Thursday. “Outrage,” “Defamation,” “Rachel” and “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” will each play once a day this week. The following post is a reprint of an interview with Craig & Cindy Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie, who is the subject of the documentary “Rachel.” The interview originally appeared on this blog on July 20, 2009.
“Rachel,” showing at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival, is a powerful, emotionally and politically devastating documentary by director Simone Bitton that tells the story of Rachel Corrie, a 22-year-old American activist who was run over and killed while trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Rachel’s parents, Craig & Cindy Corrie, will accompany the film to the festival and attend its screenings, as well as sit on the “Palestine and Vine” panel on Thursday, July 30. We spoke to Craig & Cindy about their daughter’s life and work, the circumstances surrounding her death, and the documentary that is shining a renewed spotlight on her story.
Traverse City Film Festival: Rachel’s story and the details of her death were well-documented in the American media, and in many ways came to symbolize the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and America’s role in that struggle. For those who may not have heard Rachel’s story, can you share what motivated her to become a peace activist in the Middle East and what the circumstances were surrounding her death in 2003?
Cindy Corrie: Rachel was interested in social justice issues from a very young age. At the time 9/11 happened, she was a college student and was taking a class called Local Knowledge, which focused on how events on the local level fit into the global scale. 9/11 shifted what every student in that class was doing. When it became apparent that our response to the attack was going to be retaliation in Afghanistan and possibly Iraq, the peace movement resurfaced in a big way. 9/11 sent Rachel on a search to figure out why that attack happened, which led her to studying the Middle East and the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Still from “Rachel”
That summer, many of the students traveled with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to the Middle East. ISM has two mandates: Freedom for Palestinian people, and the use of non-violent forms of resistance. One of Rachel’s friends returned from that trip and talked to her about Gaza and the great need for people from ISM to be there. Rachel studied Gaza, and it became her view that it was the most forsaken of the occupied territories. She felt she needed to be there. Like many families, ours was pretty removed from this issue – we didn’t know what was going on there. But she studied Arabic, she bought us books so we could learn about the conflict. Then, in early 2003, she finally traveled there.
Craig Corrie: We didn’t financially support her going. I spent 1970 in the military in Vietnam, and I learned from that experience, you don’t volunteer to go. I didn’t give her money, because I didn’t want to facilitate her leaving. [Pauses] I wish I had. Because I wanted her to know – and by the end, she knew – how proud I was of her. But we were afraid. The scene she was describing, based on my experience, was a military out of control.
Cindy: We would have preferred she didn’t go. But I knew how important it was for her to define her own path. She thought and felt very deeply; she needed to do something meaningful with her life. My approach was to listen and become informed and support her the best I could.
TCFF: Since Rachel’s death, there has been a steadily increasing movement to share her words and experiences with a broader audience, including her published emails, a play, the Rachel Corrie Foundation website and now this film. What was your reaction to this film being made, and to the final product?
Craig: Simone (Bitton)’s film may be the closest thing we ever get to an investigation into Rachel’s death. We are still seeking accountability for what happened to our daughter. [Note: The Corries have filed a civil lawsuit against Israel over Rachel's killing, with a court date set for March of 2010 - the seventh anniversary of her death.] It’s not completely comprehensive – no film could be – but it does focus on important issues around Rachel’s case.
Cindy: The film provides a wonderful window into the human experience of the impact of her death and how that affected people. It’s also a heartfelt expression of why and how people resist when they believe their government is doing something wrong. Anyone who has experienced a loss like we have will know what I mean when I say we live with it every day of our lives.
Vigil in Olympia, Wash.
Craig: We are pro-human rights on this issue. The week after Rachel was killed, we received over 10,000 emails from around the world. A stranger named Bernie, who was Jewish, wrote us to say that he had a half-sister named Rachel who was killed in the Holocaust. He wrote, “Now I will live my life for two Rachels.” [Voice cracks] You can’t get an email from a stranger like that and confuse a military out of control with the Jewish people. It’s not good guys and bad guys. It’s bad actions, and also, extraordinarily generous actions.
Cindy: We’re pro-people, but we’re very against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It’s a humbling experience as an American to visit the Middle East and see the destruction there and know the role our country is playing in that. The question at the time of Rachel’s death shouldn’t have been, “What was Rachel doing there?” It should’ve been, “What were the bulldozers doing there? What is our money doing there?” Our view is, our tax dollars helped pay for the bulldozer that killed our daughter. The task Rachel left us with is to try and help Americans realize our responsibility in what’s happening over there, as well as our ability to change the situation.
TCFF: “Rachel” had its U.S. premiere at Tribeca earlier this year. What has the reaction to the film been like so far? How does its message fit into the message of Rachel’s work and life?
Cindy: We weren’t sure what to expect initially, but the reception has been wonderful. The film seems to really have a strong impact on audiences. In the movie, it shows how justice can be held hostage by politics, but also demonstrates how people who witness injustice can carry on and maintain their heart in spite of tremendous obstacles. Rachel refused to ignore marginalized people. Whether it was the homeless, the mentally ill, or the oppressed…she cared for them.
Craig: What I think Rachel demonstrated is that you have to act on your values. Without action, what you believe doesn’t mean a thing. Values are not something to be discussed with friends over wine. They’re meant to be acted upon. That’s what Rachel did.
“Rachel” plays Wednesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse and Thursday, July 30 at noon at the State Theatre during the Traverse City Film Festival. For ticket information, click here.