The HUMAN Face of Translation

Within the first 35 seconds of the trailer for HUMAN by Yann Arthus-Bertrand I was hooked. National Geographic meets Michael Moore with an Amelie meets Lords of the Ring soundtrack? Yes, yes.

HUMAN still trailer

It was so much more.

Spinning coffee table book shots of places on this planet we didn’t know existed. Mesmerized by the beauty of our earth that we treat so poorly.

Staring into the eyes—black, brown, albino, blind—of strangers as they bare their souls. Captivated by their stories that touch each of us on some level.

“HUMAN” asked: What makes us human? Why do we struggle against injustice, corruption, war, abuse, ignorance, poverty in our lives on this earth?

*spoiler alert*

The purpose of life is to create meaning, to make an impact, to touch others, to love.

Translators brought meaning to these sentiments.

We could all cry along with the speakers, thanks first to the tears of the translators as they worked through those choked-up words.

As I sunk into the depths of the worry lines crisscrossing the faces of the mistreated and suffering narrators, I traced the same creases—of concentration, of compassion—on the face of the interpreter standing in the shadows next to the camera.

Words of perseverance, tranquility, and love lit a sparkle in their eyes that reflected back onto our own joys.

We were interwoven in this beautiful tangled spiderweb of human lives through the invisible, isolated translator.

Translation made this film possible.

It is a modern film, released in the age of computer assisted translations and internet giants like Google Translate.

But it is HUMAN. Only another human can faithfully express those feelings that are sometimes so vast, so complex, so incomprehensible, that they’re beyond words. Yet there they are, in black and white subtitles.

Machine translations are speedy but flawed. Human translators are painstakingly deliberate in their search for the precise nuance.

Swept away by a churning rage against corrupt politicians, greedy corporations, violence and the military, my eyes were clouded with a film of tears through most of the film. Yet my editor’s eye remained sharp as ever.

To be human is also to err.

There were some fumbles even in different accents of English, like saying “hiding” instead of “hitting” in a domestic violence account.

The only Spanish to English translation error I can’t get over is on minute 43 of the 3rd volume. A humble peasant is saying he works his small plot of land for food.

 “Tengo una finquita que me da comida.”

“I have a small farm that gives me food” is translated into “my wife gives me food”. Huh?

That mistranslation brought clarity to my mission in life, what gives me purpose in my short time on this planet:

Accurate translations: to be the bridge for communications between Spanish and English and avoid misunderstandings.

Organic agriculture: to derive our food directly from the land, no petrochemicals, scant processing, minimal transportation.

Loving family: to love the wife (and/or husband) for giving food, to love the earth from which it came, to share this love and harvest with family, friends, neighbors.

What was your takeaway from the movie?

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