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Fact or Fiction? When History Becomes a Filmmaker's Playground

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Historians will be rubbing their hands with glee - a film due to hit cinemas this week is centred around one of the most famous names in modern history: Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America.

Screenwriters and researchers have rolled up their filmmaking sleeves to delve 150 years into the past to tell the story of the man who led the US through the constitutional and military crisis that was the American Civil War.

But wait, what's the full title of this big budget production? Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Oh.

I may not have a degree in American Studies, but I don't recall being taught that Lincoln dabbled in the extermination of fanged blood suckers. Is it all a terribly clever metaphor? Lincoln's fight against slave masters of the era? No, it really is about Abraham Lincoln discovering that "vampires are planning to take over the United States... he makes it his mission to eliminate them."

What harm can be done by including the legendary president in an imaginary crusade against vampires?

One word: erosion.

As we recreate, change and play with the details of the past, all in the name of poetic licence, we erode the facts and lose sight of the truth.

This may not be a problem now, but who is to say that future generations will be able to accurately disentangle fact from fiction when studying our current books and films?

To be fair, I do agree it would be hard to convince a future student from the year 2212 that Abraham Lincoln was mixed up in vampire shenanigans - but other more subtle blurs between fact and fiction are not so easy to spot.

A literary example is the award-winning novel The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. The book follows the friendship between the young son of a Nazi Concentration Camp Commandant and a Jewish boy who is a prisoner in the camp.

Though well received by the majority of readers, the novel was met with some criticism for trivialising the holocaust. Perhaps the most obvious and startling inaccuracy of the novel is that in reality there were no children in Auschwitz; the Nazis gassed them as soon as they stepped off of the trains.

This popular novel may well be the first and only holocaust book that young people read. When delving into history, authors have a sacred responsibility to convey the truth, however unpleasant or horrifying.

Another cinematic culprit lurking on the horizon is the forthcoming release Chernobyl Diaries.

The title itself sounds like an in-depth documentary of the shocking Chernobyl disaster that changed the way the world viewed nuclear power forever.

But no, Chernobyl Diaries is about a group of American 20-somethings who fancy some 'extreme tourism', only to discover that the Chernobyl complex is inhabited with what appear to be flesh-eating nuclear mutants.

The Chernobyl disaster was devastating - the explosion in 1986 released 100 times more radiation that the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, more than 350,000 people resettled away from the affected areas and the total death toll through cancer and related illnesses is around the 200,000 mark.

The explosion is still making headlines to this day - radioactive particles became accumulated in grazing sheep in England and Wales - restrictions covering sheep movements have only just been lifted this month, 26 years after the disaster.

To make a horror movie that completely distorts the truth of Chernobyl into the realms of fiction is irresponsible filmmaking. Yes, we make films about disasters - World War I and II, Titanic, Pompeii - but giving the same treatment to such a recent disaster is disrespectful to those still living the nightmare.

However, having not seen the film, I could be accused of ignorant condemnation. The trailer is below - I'll let you decide for yourself.

For those of you still reeling from the historical vandalism of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, fear not, Steven Spielberg is in the midst of making a more accurate account of the President's life and times.

Chernobyl Diaries trailer:

Around the Web

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) - IMDb

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - YouTube

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Rotten Tomatoes

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter': Fake history, but an honest Abe ...