Searching for the Fourth Nail
By DAMIAN LE BAS
Our darkest hour: 'Searching for the 4th Nail' reminds us that, alongside the Jews,the Romanies were specifically targeted as a race for extermination by the Nazis, according to the perverted racial science of the Nuremberg laws. Picture: screengrab from SearchingForThe4thNail.com
A FILM BY American Romani filmmaker George Eli looks at the real lives of Romani people in modern day America, against the backdrop of the age-old Gypsy stereotypes which continue to make them so misunderstood.
'Searching for the 4th Nail' takes its title from the story that there were originally four nails forged to be used in Jesus's crucifixion: two to be driven through his hands, one for both his feet, and a fourth nail, which would be driven through his heart.
Legend has it that the ancestors of the Romanies stole this fourth nail, and that for sparing Jesus's heart, God granted them the right to take what they needed on their journeys around the world. So says the narrator at the opening of the film, against a suitably dark and mysterious backdrop of tarot cards, wizened hands and dark, mysterious eyes.
Above: 'Searching for the 4th Nail' has made the official selection at the Balkin Film Festival, New York Gypsy Film Festival and others. Picture: Screengrab from SearchingForThe4thNail.com
In some ways, this story works as a symbol for just how misunderstood the Romani people are. Another version of the story says that the first Romanies actually forged the nail themselves, and that it still glows red hot and pursues their cursed descendants around the globe. In reality, both stories are equally absurd, since Jesus was crucified long before the ancestors of today's Romanies ever left India. But the facts have done little to sap the legends' power.
The same strange relationship between truths and myths permeates the whole of Romani life. In 'Searching for the 4th Nail', George Eli talks to a wide range of people in contexts ranging from the historian's study to the wedding hall dancefloor in an exploration of what makes Romani people who they are, and how they fit in to today's world.
Today, the offspring of the first Romanies to travel out of India can be found in hundreds of cities across the United States, as they can across almost every other continent on earth. But being present everywhere does not always mean being recognised as a real people, much less being fully understood.
"There are probably a lot of things about you and me that are the same," says director Eli in the film's narration. "You may even have stood next to me in somewhere like a movie theater or a restaurant, and you didn't even notice me. The Gypsy."
"A lot of people ask me, "Who am I?", and sometimes I'm not even sure myself. That's why I want to tell this story: because the Gypsy's secrets aren't just secrets to you. They're secrets to us," he says.
The film features renowned Romani historian, linguist and academic Ian Hancock.
"The problem we have [is that] we're not recognised as a people, more as characters in storybooks," says Hancock.
'Searching for the 4th Nail' takes us bursting from the old tarot-dealing stereotypes to the technicolour reality of actual Romani life, with its guitar-players and flamenco dancers, but equally with its educated scholars and well integrated professionals; from the frantic fun of the Romani wedding, to the harrowing darkness of the Porrajmos, the Romani Holocaust. It's an eye-opening film for anyone who is curious about Romani life in general, and in the United States in particular.
The 4th Nail Productions company mission statement consists of three goals:
•To improve the social status of Roma all over the world through positive portrayal in the media and to instill pride in the Romani people.
•To create quality works of art in mediums such as music, literature, cinema and television.
•To inspire Roma to take more active and productive roles in the arts and as members of their communities.
They have several ongoing projects planned, including their newly released travel show "The Travelling Gypsy" which can be found on the 4th Nail YouTube channel.
To order a copy of 'Searching for the 4th Nail', or to watch it via pay-per-view on Vimeo, visit the website of the 'Searching for the 4th Nail' film via this link.