Show of force : film, ghosts and genres of historical performance in the Indonesian genocide
This thesis is a critical reflection on Vision Machine's North Sumatran film project, articulating a cinema practice that seeks to address a genocide that has barely been investigated. The primary footage comprises extensive interviews, re-enactments and dramatisations of the various practices and procedures that constituted the core of the 1965-66 Indonesian genocide in Sumatra's plantation belt. The participants in these dramatisations and enactments are, for the most part, death squad leaders and members who participated in the killing. This data, comprising over 100 hours of video, constitute revelatory primary research into the history and operation of the Indonesian genocide. This research forms the historical context for the project, and is therefore summarised in the thesis. The reflection on the epistemological, cultural and historical status of these re-enactments constitutes the basis for the core argument of this thesis. To this day, in North Sumatra, the genocidaires remain largely in power. This fact transforms our film project into a unique laboratory for exploring the cultural politics of film, media and history within a context of victory and impunity. Specifically, the project examines the ways in which historical narrative - inevitably told by victors - becomes an instrument of terror within a spectral economy of terror. This project is both an intervention into this economy, as well as an analysis of its mechanisms and protocols. As such, the thesis comprises both completed films, extracts from works-in-progress and this writing, and lies at the intersection of the disparate fields of cinema studies, Indonesian area studies, trauma studies and film practice. This thesis proposes a theory of performativity, spectrality and genres of historical performance; specifically, it is argues that spectres are performatively conjured as the obscene to any symbolic performance - including both historical acts as well as their rehearsal and restaging in re-enactment, testimony, or dramatisation; such spectres constitute a power that may be claimed by the performer. This power interacts with actual structures of power, as well as processes that seek to record, circulate or excavate such historical performances, including our filmmaking process. In the case of this film project, perpetrators are lured by the apparatus of filmmaking into naming names and revealing routines of mass murder hitherto obscene to official histories, and they do so through dramatisations and re-enactments manifestly conditioned by the codes of film and television genres. This latter point reveals the complex ways in which remembrance is always already well-rehearsed, scripted and generic. Thus does the research excavate (by catalysing) perpetrators' performative use of film genres to conjure as a spectral force that which must remain obscene to the codes of genre. And thus does the research excavate (by miming) the way genre fashions historical narratives into instruments of terror. As perpetrators of the genocide name names and reveal secrets, the process by which they seek to claim and manifest their spectral power is short-circuited by the filmmaking process, which condenses a miasmic spectral into specific ghosts. By shorting one circuit, the filmmaking closes another through which the process of remembrance, working through and redemption may begin for survivors. From this emerges an understanding of both the filmmaking process and its products (i.e., the completed films) as filmic interventions into a spectral economy of terror. This thesis describes a film practice that is necessarily a social practice, at once producing works and doing work. Building on models of collective filmmaking developed by Jean Rouch and George Stoney, we incorporate experimental production techniques including spirit possession, re-narration, infiltration, and genre-based fiction filmmaking in order to define a new model for film production that the author has termed "archaeological performance". Moving beyond the interview-based approaches of Lanzmann and Ophüls, archaeological performance suggests a hybrid and interventionist form of cinema adequate to addressing a history whose very incoherence has served as an instrument of terror.