Genocide and Genre

Performing mass-violence and its histories - filmmaking with perpetrators and survivors of genocide

The three years project , supported by an AHRC £400,000 award develops innovative filmmaking methods to explore people’s memory, narratives and performance of acts of genocidal violence.

Cinema is often directly implicated in the imagination and machinery of this genocide. In the analysed territory, not only did some death squads emerge from gangs controlling black markets in movie tickets, some executioners explicitly fashioned themselves after Hollywood stars who were projected on the screens that provided their livelihood.

Working with perpetrators and survivors, this project uses cinema to access and present details of the genocide's history, while exploring how cinema is an actor in this history.

Drawing on the cinematic fantasies of perpetrators, the project creates a unique opportunity to explore both the routines of violence and the rhetoric and imagination of the killing machine. Perpetrators dramatise their roles in the killings, suggesting genres and directing scenes. The project documents these efforts, emphasising the tension between accuracy and perpetrators' desire to stylise, to be seen as gangster or generalissimo, as the case may be. This disturbing dramatic space is used to explore how the killings became daily routine, and this, in turn, will provide insight into why violence we would hope to be unimaginable is not only imagined, but also routinely performed.

The project explores how the violence was originally staged as a spectacle, one whose 'theatre of operations' was to be symbolically rehearsed again and again both in official histories and in the lurid boasting of the 'heroes', carrying a charge of terror across generations. 

In response to perpetrators' performances, we will develop creative filmmaking forums for survivors to act out memories of genocide that would otherwise remain repressed, giving voice and vision to the experiences of a community who share a history they can never forget, but were forbidden to remember.

While perpetrators are keen to celebrate the killings through a musical film--a chilling and revealing artefact of a genocidal imagination flourishing in impunity--survivors explore their own memories of the massacres through improvisational Javanese opera and the calling of ghosts. The result is a cinematic record of how victims and perpetrators are in contest for control over their history.

This project will result in two full length films, DVD-ROM, a book and a series of public discussions. But perhaps as importantly, where families and friends of victims live alongside the genocide's administrators, this project recovers crucial historical detail, offers insight into the dynamics of a precarious coexistence, and opens possibilities for dialogue and resolution.