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Watching the Unwatchable: Films Confront Torture

November 1, 2009 - February 7, 2010

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Archeology of Memory: Villa Grimaldi, February 7
© Adam Kufeld

To accompany the presentation of Fernando Botero’s paintings and drawings in response to the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, now on view in the BAM galleries, we have selected a number of films that also address torture. Directors as varied as Alain Resnais, Otto Preminger, Rithy Panh, Andy Warhol, and Errol Morris have taken up this challenge, drawing on narrative imaginings and historical research. Some of their films are concerned with issues of justice and accountability, while others explore the psychological ramifications of torture for victims or perpetrators. Many of the films are damning documents—revealing specific historical instances of abuse, or political positions and power relationships that lead to torture. Only occasionally in these films is torture graphically depicted; rather, it is recalled, suggested stylistically, or reenacted from a distance, yet the memory of abuses and humiliations haunts both fictional characters and actual survivors. Forcefully and skillfully, these films encourage us to think and feel deeply about a dark subject. When the unthinkable happens, we must watch the unwatchable.

Kathy Geritz
Film Curator

Sunday, November 1, 2009
3:00 p.m. Standard Operating Procedure
Errol Morris (U.S., 2008). Introduced by Laurel Fletcher. Seeking to understand the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs, Errol Morris looks outside the frame. “As a human document of what people are capable of in wartime, it’s indispensable.”—Christian Science Monitor (117 mins)

Sunday, November 1, 2009
5:30 p.m. Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment
Ken Musen (U.S., 1988). A documentary on the notorious 1971 psychological experiment that transformed college students into “prisoners” and “guards.” With Vinyl, Andy Warhol’s very loose adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. (114 mins)

Sunday, November 1, 2009
5:30 p.m. Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment


Thursday, November 5, 2009
8:15 p.m. S-21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
Rithy Panh (Cambodia, 2002). Victims and perpetrators of state violence in Cambodia together confront the atrocities of the 1970s in Rithy Panh’s moving documentary. “Unforgettable . . . as horrific an exposure to evil as Shoah.”—Village Voice (105 mins)

Sunday, December 6, 2009
3:00 p.m. The Underground Orchestra
Heddy Honigmann (The Netherlands, 1997). A portrait of the buskers of the Paris Métro—a Venezuelan harpist, an Algerian singer, a violinist from Sarajevo—becomes a document of survival in exile. “A splendid example of how illuminating and entertaining a documentary can be.”—L.A. Times (108 mins)

Thursday, January 21, 2010
7:00 p.m. Confortorio
Paolo Benvenuti (Italy, 1992). A group of Catholic high priests attempt to convert two Jewish thieves to Christianity before their execution in this baroque, Caravaggesque Italian thriller, recently spotlighted at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. (85 mins)

Thursday, January 21, 2010
8:45 p.m. Le petit soldat
Jean-Luc Godard (France, 1960). A disillusioned French counter-agent in Geneva becomes embroiled with Algerian separatists, Parisian torturers, and Anna Karina in Godard’s second film, banned for three years in France. (88 mins)

Saturday, January 23, 2010
8:30 p.m. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy, 1975). Pasolini’s most controversial film—a graphic adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s famous work, adapted to an Italian Fascist milieu—“has not been tamed by the passage of years.”—L.A. Times. Adults only. (117 mins)

Thursday, January 28, 2010
8:35 p.m. Open City
Roberto Rossellini (Italy, 1945). A group of women and children try to shelter resistance forces from the Nazis in this landmark work of Italian neorealism. (102 mins)

Sunday, January 31, 2010
6:00 p.m. The Wall
Yilmaz Güney (France, 1983). The great Turkish filmmaker Güney, jailed for years as a political prisoner, delivers an astonishing portrait of life in a Turkish jail, where violent felons, government critics, teenage thieves, and abusive guards are all behind the walls. (117 mins)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
7:30 p.m. How Nice to See You Alive
Lúcia Murat (Brazil, 1989). Documentary interviews are interspersed with fictional monologues in this heartbreaking Brazilian essay-film, based on the accounts of eight women held as political prisoners under the Brazilian dictatorship. (100 mins)

Thursday, February 4, 2010
8:30 p.m. Seven Moments
Diana Cardozo (Mexico, 2008). The little-known story of the Tupamaros, a radical urban guerilla group in Uruguay, is recounted in this intriguing Mexican documentary, which focuses on seven women who took a major role in the group. (90 mins)

Sunday, February 7, 2010
5:30 p.m. Archeology of Memory: Villa Grimaldi
Quique Cruz, Marilyn Mulford (U.S./Chile, 2008). Musical performance by Quijeremá. Cruz, a Chilean composer/musician/poet now living in the Bay Area, converts his memories of imprisonment in Pinochet’s notorious torture center Villa Grimaldi into art in this touching documentary on the power of remembrance and healing. (88 mins)

Series curated by Kathy Geritz. Presented in conjunction with UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and Center for Latin American Studies, with the support of the Mellon Foundation through its Distinguished Achievement Award to Thomas Laqueur, Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor, UC Berkeley Department of History. We wish to extend our thanks to Jean-Pierre Gorin, Barbara Grob, Edith Kramer, Beth Perry, James Quandt, and Erik Ulman for their suggestions, assistance, and advice.