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Film profiles world’s leading expert on nonviolent revolution

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The second film in the series sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, located at Bethel College, will screen Nov. 2.

The 85-minute documentary How to Start a Revolution tells the largely unknown story of Gene Sharp, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the world’s leading expert on nonviolent revolution.

The film will show at 3 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Bethel’s Fine Arts Center. The event is free, with donations accepted to support the film series and the work of KIPCOR.

How to Start a Revolution profiles Sharp, along with U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Robert Helvey, who has used Sharp’s methods to train activists from Burma to Venezuela to Belgrade.

First-time director Ruaridh Arrow also talks to a number of the key leaders of nonviolent revolutions around the world who testify to the power of Sharp’s words put into practice.

The film concludes with the recent insurrection in Egypt, illustrated with footage from the streets of Cairo. There is also user-generated content (filmed on mobile phones) throughout, from protesters and activists in Tunisia, Iran, Serbia and elsewhere in the world.

Few outside academia recognize the name of Gene Sharp. Now in his late 80s and living in Boston, he is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the study of nonviolent action.

Sharp is best known for his writings on nonviolent revolution, which have influenced numerous anti-government resistance movements around the world.

Most notable is From Dictatorship to Democracy, a 93-page, 198-step guide to toppling dictators, available free for download in 40 languages.

Sharp has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2009, 2012 and 2013. (He was widely considered a favorite for the 2012 award, which ultimately went to the European Union.)

Sharp has a direct Bethel connection – he gave a series of three lectures there in early 1976.

His topics were “The American Revolution: Won by 1775?,” “Defense Without the Military?” and “The Future of Nonviolent Civilian Defense.”

Following the film’s screening, there will be a talkback session with Duane Friesen, North Newton, Bethel professor emeritus of Bible and religion and holder of the Edmund G. Kaufman Chair in Religion.

“He is particularly qualified, given his career-long specialization in the theory and practice of nonviolence,” said Kirsten Zerger, KIPCOR director of education and training and film series organizer.

Friesen taught the class Nonviolence Theory and Practice at Bethel for many years and said “Gene Sharp’s books were always primary reading material” for that class.

Friesen also remembers Sharp’s lectures at Bethel in 1976.

“I recall him saying that when the American colonists took up arms against the British, it actually set back their cause, and he had evidence to support that,” Friesen said. “The American Revolution started out largely nonviolent, with such actions as the Boston Tea Party.

“It was ‘withdrawal of consent,’ the colonies’ assertion of their capacity to act independently. When you do the opposite of what your enemy or your opponent expects, that’s the power of people, the power of nonviolence.”

How to Start a Revolution ends with the “Arab Spring,” the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt that began in late 2010 and later proved to be less than successful.

“One thing I’ve asked [Duane] to be prepared to talk about is the complex issue of what happened and why, after the nonviolent Arab Spring events,” Zerger said. “What does it mean that Egypt ended up with another military coup and that there has been so little real political or economic change in many of the other countries that experienced the Arab Spring?”

How to Start a Revolution was released in 2011 and won a number of prizes at independent film festivals that year, including several “Best Documentary” awards.

The film paints “a portrait of how one man’s thinking has contributed to the liberation of … people living under some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, and how his work in direct action and civil disobedience continues to be used today to topple dictators [with] nonviolent people power.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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