Engaging Killer Performances. Strategies for Affective Engagement in Genocide Documentaries

Term Paper, 2016

92 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction

2.0 Film Descriptions and Global Resonance

3.0 The Taxonomy of Modes
3.1 Cursory overview of the Main Documentary Modes
3.2 TAoK and TLoS classified as Performative Documentaries
3.3 The Performative Mode and Fiction

4.0 Empathy, Identification and Appraisal in Films
4.1 The Outline of a Model
4.2 Methodical Procedure/ Approach

5.0 Developing Schemata for an Intended Reception
5.1 Schemata for an Intended Reception of TAoK
5.2 Schemata for an Intended Reception of TLoS

6.0 Getting Access to the Film Protagonists
6.1 Getting an understanding of the Perpetrators in TAoK
6.2 Getting an understanding of the Perpetrators in TLoS
6.3 Getting an understanding of the Victims in TLoS

7.0 The films’ goals and conflicts
7.1 Pointing Viewers towards the Concealed Remorse in TAoK
7.2 Pointing viewers towards the Concealed Remorse in TLoS

8.0 Preparing the ground for confrontations
8.1 Decreasing fear in TAoK
8.2 Enforcing fear in TLoS
8.3 Involvement in the Killings Explained in TAoK
8.4 Individualisation versus Stereotyping

9.0 Confrontation in TAoK/ Fishing for Testimony
9.1 The Politics of Friendship
9.2 Suryono’s Interogation
9.3 Confronting the Perpetrators in TLoS

10.0 Working towards the films’ climaxes
10.1 Experiencing Anwar’s Nightmare
10.2 Reaching the Emotional Climax of TAoK
10.3 Heightening viewers’ understanding of Adi’s Predicament
10.4 Reaching the emotional Climax of TLoS

11.0 Summary and Outlook

12.0 Bibliography

13.0 List of Films mentioned

Sequence Protocol TAoK - Theatrical Release
Sequence Protocol TLoS

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Viewers observe Adi as he watches video footage about the killings on TV

Figure 2: Anwar and Herman indulge in memories

Figure 3: Adi’s mother washes her husband and mourns her dead son

Figure 4: Anwar and Herman pose in front of the waterfall

Figure 5: Impression of physical closeness with Adi in TLoS

Figure 6: Impression of physical distance with a perpetrator in TLoS

Figure 7: Anwar with wire around his neck in front of a steel barrier

Figure 8: Anwar and his grandsons feed ducklings

Figure 9: Anwar and his grandsons watch the last re-enactment

Figure 10: Kemat, Adi and son at the former place of deportation

Figure 11: Close-up from the left of Anwar’s hands playing with the fishing line

Figure 12: Viewers observe Adi and Anwar from a fishing spot on their left

Figure 13: Suryono’s face during the enactment of his interrogation

Figure 14: Reaction shot of Anwar during Suryono’s interrogation

Figure 15: Adi and Inong move close to each other during the eye exam

Figure 16: Anwar half-awake in bed

Figure 17: Anwar behind smoke during the re-enactment of the raid on a village

Figure 18: Herman comforts Anwar after the re-enactment

Figure 19: The empty chair as Anwar goes to get his grandchildren

Figure 20: Adi’s uncle wearing the test glasses

Figure 21: Oppenheimer uses the video footage as evidence

1.0 Introduction

“Then don't you see, my friend that we must look for some other principle of correctness in images and in names, of which we were speaking, and must not insist that they are no longer images if anything be wanting or be added? Do you not perceive how far images are from possessing the same qualities as the originals which they imitate?”

(Plato Cratylus 432 C-D)

The discourse of accurate and objective representation of reality through media is more than 2000 years old, and yet many questions still remain under discussion in various fields of science. In his dialogue with Cratylus, Plato argues that images cannot aspire to being perfect encapsulations of their objects’ essence. In other words, it is impossible to capture reality in its natural form through any kind of representation. However, a true/real representation of reality has traditionally been posed as a central expectation of documentary film in contrast to fictional films (Lammer 2002, 82). While fiction has often been described as dream-like and inherently fabricated, documentary was long regarded as an “objective science” (Lammer 2002, ibid.). Yet, one of the essential differences between science and documentary is that scientific research is expected to make visible the ways in which knowledge is acquired, whereas in documentary the vast part of the production context gets lost behind the screen. Lammer (2002) therefore described the screen as a kind of “medial skin” that covers the processes and relationships underneath it (ibid.). Bill Nichols (1991) termed documentary a “discourse of sobriety” (3-4). Similar to education, economics and warfare etc., documentary aims to “effect action and entail consequences” in the real world (Nichols 1991, ibid.; Smaill 2010, 18). In addition, Nichols (1991) suggests that what conventionally defines documentaries is their relation to the “historical world” (14-25). More specifically they make arguments about the historical world, based on the subjective understanding and from the point of view of the filmmaker (Eitzen 1995, 84). An analysis of these arguments helps not only to understand a society’s self-perception but can also shed light on the processes that take place underneath the screen or the medial skin.

The documentary genre and its conventions have changed since their beginnings in the 1920s. Scholars such as John Corner (2002) or Jeffrey Geiger (2011) have argued that the documentary genre has recently been going through challenging times as the 21st century and its culture are characterised as both “postmodern” and “post-documentary” (Corner 2002, 55). Postmodern can be described as an “attitude towards knowledge that rejects both modernity’s belief in universal truths and its privileging of techno-scientific modes of discovery” - such as documentary film (Edney-Browne 2015, 47).

Furthermore, postmodernism is the cultural realisation that an “ethics that is uni- versal and objectively founded is a practical impossibility” (Bauman 1993, 10). Belinda Smaill (2010) therefore rightly asks how political documentaries are able to voice social critique and enact change in this new context (132). The answers that scholars have provided so far are that filmmakers have been able to adapt to the “post-documentary culture”, by finding new ways of representation in order to maintain interest and trust on the viewers’ side (Corner 2002, 269). Rangan (2014) writes that documentary film was liberated from being seen as predominantly educational, expository and informative -“the anti-aesthetic domain of denotation” (2). Furthermore, pleasure as the original “nemesis of sobriety” was now embraced in the form of “the emotional, the performative, the erotic and the personal” (Rangan 2014, ibid.) Geiger (2011) even takes it a step further by saying that post-modern filmmakers are now “playing with instability, irony and outright manipulation” and in that way they are “disrupting traditional assumptions of authority and immediacy” (191).

This development paved the way for a “new age of documentary” that is marked by entertainment, exhibitionism, intimacy, and play and it is in this era that Joshua Oppenheimer’s films The Act of Killing (DK/N/UK 2012) and The Look of Silence (DK/N/UK 2014) evolved, and precisely in this context they need to be analyzed1. What Oppenheimer’s films offer are micro- social narratives that focus on only a small number of perpetrators and victims of the 1965 killings in Indonesia. Furthermore, the films are “new” in some ways as, for example, never before TAoK have mass murderers been recorded on camera while making a film about their murders. Nor has there ever been a documentary where a victim confronts perpetrators while the perpetrators are still in power as in TLoS. The films use investigative strategies such as re- enactment and the examination of media affect to unveil the consequences of the genocide on Indonesia today. Yet, this is done in an unusual way. Instead of using re-enactments to reconstruct historical events that could not be filmed, it uses them to reveal information about the skewed social reality of the perpetrators (Nichols 2013, 25). All this makes the two films extraordinary film documents that pose new challenges to the analysis of reception-potentials in documentary films.

If we grant belief to Bauman’s (1993) and Corner’s (2002) assumptions regarding the critical attitude that has evolved in the postmodern era, coupled with the success of the films, Oppenheimer must have found an authentic and credible way to tell documentary truth in the post-documentary age. As the genre is starting to “shed the shackles of sobriety” and objectivity, questions arise as to whether media analysis also needs to take on new perspectives for the analysis of such documentaries (Rangan 2014, 3).

Instead of focussing on whether documentary is the “other” of fiction or on what moral/ethical consequences arise if non-fiction blurs into fiction, it might be fruitful to carry out textual analyses of postmodern documentaries and ask how they work on audiences’ understanding of reality in this new context? One way to enter a textual analysis is by looking at the intended emotional cues that the films offer because emotions and affects are the foundations of any discourse of sobriety (Nichols 2010, 88). As documentary films aim to make change in the real world, it is vital for them to be affective in order to be effective. Therefore, this work will focus on the investigative strategies and image operations that are employed to elicit emotional responses in audiences in order to overcome the postmodern scepticism about macro-social truth-claims or “grand narratives” about political ideology (Lyotard et al. 1984, xxiii). Herein, the focus lies on the specific construction mechanisms that work in postmodern documentaries in order to implicitly move viewers to a certain perception of elements in the historical world. Oppenheimer’s films are especially significant for such an undertaking as they depict one event in the historical world (the mass killings in Indonesia) from two different perspectives (perpetrator/victim). In the first film the events are shown from the perpetrator’s perspective, Anwar Congo, whereas the second film follows Adi Rukun, a victim on his journey to reconciliation.

Bill Nichols (1991) discussed perspective in documentary film as follows: “perspective is the view of the world implied by the selection and arrangement of evidence” (126). Moreover, perspective always influences a documentary’s argument about the historical world (ibid). Given the two different perspectives, according to Nichols (1991) the two films’ arguments about the historical world are likely to differ. Therefore, the films pose an ideal example in order to analyze and compare which factors influence the creation and mediation of documentary truths in these contemporary genocide documentaries. In the process of this thesis I will show that the two films can be classified as performative documentaries according to Bill Nichols’ (2001) taxonomy of documentary modes (138). An essential characteristic of such films is that they invite viewers to derive meaning through the empathic engagement with their characters so that viewers can emotionally experience another person’s life. That is why this analysis will be focussed on the potentials that the films have for empathic engagement with their characters in order to reveal insights on how political documentaries are constructed on the micro level to engage viewers affectively.

Therefore the research question shall be:

What strategies for affective engagement do The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence employ and respectively which reception potentials result from the figurative depiction of the films’ main protagonists?

In doing so this work will:

1. contribute to the conceptualisation of performative documentaries
2. reveal insights into how documentary style affects the elicitation of emotions
3. analyze the ways in which viewers build up emotional relationships with protagonists in micro-social narratives
4. shed light on the success of the films TAoK and TLoS and the ways they can be received

In the following I am going to briefly describe the plot of the two films and segue into the global resonance that TAoK and TLoS have caused (chapter 2). This is done in order to provide the necessary contextual knowledge for the analysis as well as to explain why these films are relevant for a textual analysis. Furthermore, in order to understand around which tropes the films are organized and to be able to choose the right instruments for analysis I will classify the films into Bill Nichols’ (1991) “taxonomy of modes” as predominantly performative cinema verité films (chapter 3). An essential feature of such films is that they mix “techniques that give texture and density to fiction” in order to create potentials for viewers to immerse themselves in the reality of the documentary actors. In fact, TAoK and TLoS are centred on two different main protagonists and throughout the films, their feelings and states of mind are used to offer ways for audiences to be emotionally close to the characters. This intimacy, in combination with the performative nature of the films, blurs the line between fictional character and documentary “social actor” (Nichols 2010, 46). This allows for the use of concepts which are normally applied to analyses of fictional characters in feature films as will be shown. Therefore, I will choose Murray Smith’s (1995) and Jens Eder’s (2006) concept of empathy with fictional characters as means to work out the films’ reception potentials as well as their strategies for affective engagement (chapter 4) (Nichols 2010, 206). From there I segue into the method that was used for the analysis - namely Kristin Thomson’s (1995) neo-formalist approach to films. For the analysis that will follow I identified a common structure in both films according to which I am going to compare them.

At this point the films will be analyzed regarding their schemata for an intended reception (chapter 5), the ways they are constructed to give viewers access to the films’ protagonists (chapter 6), the ways they put forward their goals and conflicts (chapter 7), the potentials for affects resulting from the different means of confrontation (chapter 8, 9) and finally how the films work to reach their individual emotional climaxes (chapter 10). Finally, I will provide a summary and critical review of the findings as well as an outlook for future research regarding affective engagement in genocide documentaries (chapter 11).

2.0 Film Descriptions and Global Resonance

TAoK is an Oscar-nominated documentary about a perpetrator who was involved in the mass- killings in Indonesia which happened between 1965-1966. The story develops around the life of Anwar Congo who is considered one of the founding fathers of the paramilitary groups that supported Suharto’s dictatorship in Indonesia in the late 1960’s. In less than one year these groups assassinated more than a million people who were regarded as part of the regime’s opposition or who were simply not in favour with the paramilitaries, including communists, intellectuals, artists and Chinese immigrants. Oppenheimer invited former executioners to re- enact their deeds however they wanted and gave them all the materials necessary to recapture their memories in various scenes of diverse genre. He then recorded the perpetrators’ performances and the creative processes behind them and merged the two into a documentary in which killers serve both as on and off-screen contributors. TAoK depicts a bizarre brotherly affinity between murderers and their rise to fame as they work towards a cinematic biopic. Another sensation of the film comes from watching the former death squad leader, Anwar Congo who now appears to be nothing more than a dapper, a white-haired, perpetually smiling senior citizen on his way to remorse.

In his second film TLoS which came out two years after TAoK, Oppenheimer takes on the perspective of a victim and his family. The film follows an optician called Adi Rukun. He is the younger brother of Ramli, a man whose death has become a code symbol for the genocide among the still suppressed victims in North Sumatra. This is because Ramli’s murder was unusually witnessed as he managed to escape during his deportation but was later captured and executed by the perpetrators “starring” in TLoS. In TLoS his brother Adi begins a process of confronting his murderers in order to reconcile with the perpetrators. However, Adi fails to do so because the divide within the Indonesian society is still very deep and the perpetrators are celebrated as national heroes in Indonesia. TLoS is a complementary companion piece to TAoK and Oppenheimer described the relationship between the films as the following: "The Act of Killing exposed the consequences for all of us when we build our everyday reality on terror and lies. The Look of Silence explores what it is like to be a survivor in such a reality” (TLoS Director’s Notes 2015). This statement shows that the films concentrate on different aspects of the genocide and the kinship between both films calls for a joint analysis regarding media affect and respectively how the two films construct documentary reality. Finally, the films initiated an international discourse about the 1965 killings inside and outside of Indonesia with yet unpredictable consequences.

TAoK was released in Indonesia on 10 December 2012, coinciding with the Human Rights Day. Since then it has been screened and acclaimed in many countries around the world. According to the International Movie Database (IMDb), TAoK received 51 wins and 41 nominations and TLoS won 46 awards and 37 nominations at several international film festivals (IMDB 2016). TAoK’s 2014 Oscar nomination also provoked a reaction in China, where the Indonesian genocide is little publicised despite the fact that many of the victims were ethnic Chinese. According to the South China Morning Post, bloggers were “startled by the atrocities the film revealed” and “demanded that the Chinese government take a tougher stance against Indonesia” (Li 2014). Both films have helped catalyse a wide-ranging discourse about how Indonesia understands its past and present as the media and public alike have finally begun to investigate the events in 1965 as genocide. In October 2012, one of Indonesia's biggest news platforms, Tempo Magazine, published a special double edition dedicated to TAoK. The issue confirmed what the film shows, the fact that this kind of criminality and gangsterism are widespread in Indonesia and that the perpetrators depicted in the film are not in any way unique or special for that country. According to Oppenheimer, these reports broke “a 47-year silence about the genocide in the mainstream media” (TLoS UK Press Notes 2015).

The change that TAoK initiated inside Indonesia is shown by the fact that the screenings of the second film, TLoS were sponsored by two official state bodies namely the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia and the Jakarta Arts Council whereas the majority of screenings of the first film had to be held in secret. Oppenheimer made TLoS after editing but before releasing TAoK because he feared that he could not return to Indonesia after TAoK was released. The wide-ranging political consequences add to the films’ relevance for analysis and attest to the films’ international impact.

Nevertheless, Jill Godmillow (2014), among other scholars, has criticised TAoK for its failure to “educate” viewers about the historical context, writing normatively “don’t make history without facts” (2). In addition, the film received global media attention and debate over its belittling depiction of the perpetrators (cf. Frazer 2014). Oppenheimer rejected these reactions by saying that TAoK is a new form of documentary - “it might not be a documentary in the conventional sense but it is a non-fictional film” (cited in Bradshaw 2013). In order to evaluate the films purported filmic innovation, I am going to situate it within the canon of documentary cinema. The question of genre is crucial both to how Oppenheimer’s films can be understood and to the tropes around which they are organized.

3.0 Taxonomy of Modes

In the following I am going to give a cursory overview of Nichols’ taxonomy of modes and segue into a classification of the Oppenheimer films as performative documentaries.

In 1983 Bill Nichols introduced the idea of a taxonomy of modes in documentary, which included the expository, observational, interactive and reflexive mode (Nichols 1983, 17-30). Later he redefined the interactive mode as participatory mode and added the performative and the poetic mode (Nichols 2001, 138). The modes classify major historical and formal divisions in documentary film with regards to style and material practices. Therefore, modes can be seen as similar to genres but instead of “coexisting as different types of imaginary worlds” (horror, science fiction, comedy, western), these modes “represent different concepts of historical representation” (Nichols 1991, 23). Furthermore, Nichols (2010) argues that the modes evolved from each other and that following modes try to address a previous mode’s deficiency (ibid.). Nevertheless, the evolution of modes is not supposed to imply a normative hierarchy in which the last is better than the first. On the contrary, most films incorporate more than one mode, even though some modes are more prominent at one time or place than others (Nichols 2010, 143). The modes serve as a “skeletal framework that individual filmmakers flesh out according to their own creative disposition” (Nichols 2010, ibid). Herein, different modes may stress specific conventions but remain flexible enough for a high degree of individual, stylistic variations. Different to approaches that adopt a single, hermetic approach to dissecting documentary film2, Nichols’ taxonomy of modes allows for multiple dimensions within one documentary.

This way of mapping documentary has been criticised by scholars for being too reductive and sometimes inconsistent. Stella Bruzzi (2002), for example referred to the taxonomy of modes as “Nichols’ family tree”, and described it as “breathtakingly simplistic” (3). In addition, Bruzzi (2002) finds that documentaries are too experimental and “heterogeneous” to be assigned to one mode and combining the modes would question the overall usefulness of the concept (ibid). However, in this thesis I argue that the taxonomy of modes is a comprehensive organizing principle that does not only illustrate the evolution of documentary conventions and styles, but can also serve as a handy instrument to analyze individual films on the micro level, as will be done in the main body of this work. Yet, regarding the scope of this thesis it is not necessary to explain the taxonomies in too great a depth.

3.1 Overview of the Main Documentary Modes

A cursory overview of the four classic modes could look like this:

In expository documentaries the logic of the argument is given precedence whereas spatial and temporal continuity between shots are only secondary. Herein, the emphasis is on the rhetorical content in order to disseminate information and persuade audiences. Editing is a device used to establish and maintain rhetorical continuity more than for achieving spatial or temporal effects. Nichols (2001) referred to it as “evidentiary editing”, a practice in which expositional images, “evoke or act in counterpoint to what is said” (107).

Observational documentaries then rejected the argumentative tendency and didactic of the expository mode and attempted to “document” reality without influencing it. The observational mode is congruent with the notion of film as sheer record as filmmakers tried to treat documentary as a purely representational mode of filmmaking (Bruzzi 2002, 11). What evolved was a form of cinema that was called “direct cinema” where non-interference during shooting was emphasised in order to capture the events in the most immediate way (Nichols 1991, 23). Observational documentaries were, however too tied to the present and as a reaction the following mode - the participatory mode tried to break out of these “present tense limitations” through interaction between filmmaker and film subject (Nichols 1991, ibid).3 In most participatory documentaries, the focus is on interaction as a means of solving social/political issues. The filmmaker or the interviewer is visible but his or her words and gestures are subordinate to that of the interviewees. During the 1980s the desire arose to challenge the impression of reality which the other modes conveyed as unproblematic. Documentaries became more reflexive, as filmmakers started to reference the things that happened behind the camera and thereby questioned assumptions common to all three of the other modes (Nichols 1991, 57- 60). However, highly reflexive documentaries didn’t dominate for too long because many films got caught up with the issue of representing itself and failed to capture complex social issues (Nichols 1991, ibid).

What followed was the performative mode. The difference to the other modes is that performative films are less tied to an intended form; instead they freely mix and subvert elements of previous forms in order to establish the film viewer connection (Nichols 2010, 206). In the following I am going to explain why a classification of the Oppenheimer films as predominantly performative cinema verité films is most plausible. This will be done by looking at form features of the films that fit Nichols’ definition of this mode.

3.2 TAoK and TLoS classified as Performative Documentaries

The goal of performative documentaries is to avoid the conventional, diachronistic and causal, “here’s the problem and here is the solution”; unlike many of the previous modes, they do not contrast error with fact, misinformation with information (Natusch and Hawkins 2014, 21-23). Therefore performative films require a different form of engagement when it comes to gaining knowledge and getting access to the presented documentary reality. They show a small group of people and encourage viewers to ask how it would feel to undergo the same experience (Nichols 2010, 206). In so doing, the historical world is represented in evocative and expressive ways which remind us that the world we see is a partial fabrication and “more than the sum of visible evidence we derive from it” (Nichols 2010, ibid). What is significant is that performative films embrace the findings of previous modes (expository, participatory) because it seems that performative filmmakers have started to acknowledge that in order for a film to initiate change in the real world it needs to put forward arguments even if they are based on the subjective world view of the filmmaker. Bruzzi (2000) writes that documentary is a performative act and has to be seen as expressive; therefore it is to assume that especially political documentaries are not to be seen as arbitrary but as an “outcome of intentions” (133). Furthermore, Oppenheimer’s films are performative in the way that they combine, reformulate and subvert stylistic devices of a variety of previous modes. In the following I will illustrate that by pointing out the main investigative features. This in itself demands a cursory analysis.

For instance, in TLoS archival historical material was used e.g. footage of a Goodyear documentary about communist prison labour, which is conventionally used to strengthen expository arguments (00:11:07). However, in TLoS, viewers watch Adi as he watches the Goodyear footage so that attention is drawn to Adi and how he engages with the tape. The screening becomes an emotional performance because viewers are cued to imagine Adi’s perspective and how he, as a victim of this propaganda, is affected by it. In this way, the effect is that not only the original meaning of the tape gets subverted but also that viewers build up empathy with Adi. This gives the scene a performative element that has the power to stimulate individual viewers’ imagination and thereby implicitly moves them to a certain perception of the world. This use of archival historical material also bears a reflexive element because it draws attention to the subjective-nature and ´constructedness` of film in general. As all of the films within TAoK and TLoS are documentaries that quite frankly skew reality in order to reach political goals, viewers are reminded of the constructedness of documentary in general including that of TAoK and TLoS.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Viewers observe Adi as he watches video footage about the killings on TV

Furthermore, the film uses interviews but transgresses their conventional use in participatory films. They are not fact finding operations “grounded in professionalized knowledge and expertise”; instead they provide access to the socio-political relationship between filmmaker, victim and perpetrator and document the development of this relationship (Moore 2016, 209). In fact, the interview situation, non-verbal gestures, tone and atmosphere are more important than the actual word spoken during the interviews (Moore 2016, ibid.). Finally, historical recreation is used in the form of “fantasmatic” re-enactments (Nichols 2013, 25). Oppenheimer termed these re-imagined acts “counter-performances” (TAoK Background 2012). They are a mixture of historical re-enactment and mere fantasy of the perpetrators. In doing this, the aim is not primarily to create an authentic representation of what happened in the historical past, but to show how Anwar Congo unconsciously betrays himself in order to avoid facing the moral consequences of his crimes. As a matter of fact, the re-enactments are a crucial part when it comes to the figurative representation of the perpetrators in both films. They add to the films’ performative nature and bring a number of fictive elements to the film as will be shown in the analysis. The conscious mixing of previous modes and styles with subversive effects is a central aspect of performative films (Nichols 2010, 206-209).

In several interviews Oppenheimer drew inter-textual comparisons between his and Jean Rouch’s cinema-verité films e.g. Moi, Un Noir (France 1958) or Chronicles of a Summer (France 1961). Oppenheimer borrows heavily from Rouch’s cinema verité style, where the idea was to use the camera and the presence of the filmmaker to create conditions that make it possible to explore the imaginations and psyche of characters (Hohenberger 1988, 228). Even though Oppenheimer draws from Jean Rouch, he did not copy his style. For instance, unlike Moi, Un Noir the Oppenheimer films do not employ voice-over commentary. Bill Nichols (2013) argues that the blurring of fantasy and reality in Moi, Un Noir is still “interpreted by Rouch’s voice-over commentary”, which is “the very device Oppenheimer refuses to employ” (29). He goes on to say that Oppenheimer’s presence as auteur is nearly invisible, which means that audiences have to make their own interpretations, “much to our initial distress” (Nichols 2013, ibid.). Furthermore, voice-over commentary is not typical for performative documentaries and in this case it would also be “dishonest” and “irresponsible journalism” to provide an interpretation for the re-enactments as that would imply “directorial control over the stillpowerful perpetrators and an unresolved national trauma” (Edney-Brown 2015, 51). Oppenheimer’s own approach to documentary film becomes apparent in the following statement: “it is our obligation as filmmakers, as people investigating the world, to create the reality that is most insightful to the issues at hand” (IMDb 2016).

In actual fact, Oppenheimer’s idea of “creating reality” implies that reality itself is a construct, “the product of signifying systems, like the documentary film itself” (Nichols 1991, 107). Oppenheimer’s statement about filmmaking is quite similar to that of one of the founders of the genre, John Grierson who said in a review about Flaherty’s film Moana (USA 1926) for the New York Sun that documentary is “the creative treatment of actuality” (Grierson and Hardy 1981, 23). Grierson, Flaherty, Vertov and other early documentarists brought fictional elements into their films in order to increase their entertainment value. Similar to early documentaries like Nanook of the North (USA 1922), contemporary performative documentaries invoke affect over effect and emotion over reason. Yet, today this is done in a more self-aware and authentic manner than the documentaries of the 1920s that intentionally mislead viewers perception of reality for entertainment purposes. Nowadays, their power lies in the ability to couple evidence and emotion (Nichols 2010, 88). Nonetheless, due to the assumption that the performative mode remixes a wide variety of styles and conventions of other modes and is also starting to embrace fiction film techniques again, the idea is raised that the documentary genre has gone through a kind of hermeneutical process or development over the past century.

In the following I am going to explain that the boundaries between fiction and especially the performative documentary mode blur. The idea is to show that certain tools of analysis for engagement with imaginary characters can also be applied to performative documentary films.

3.3 The Performative Mode and Fiction

Nichols (1991) wrote that documentary is a “fiction (un)like any other” (108). He argues that the construction processes in documentary are quite similar to that in fiction and that the idea that documentary has privileged access to reality is merely an “ideological effect” (Nichols 1991, ibid.) Performative documentaries of today “freely mix the expressive techniques that give texture and density to fiction (point-of view shots, musical scores, renderings of subjective states of mind, flashbacks and freeze frames etc.) with oratorical techniques for addressing social issues that neither science nor reason can resolve” (Nichols 2010, 206).

In the following, there are three main aspects that I will use to illustrate how postmodern performative documentaries make use of fiction-film style/techniques. The factors where fiction and non-fiction blur are when it comes to:

1) the depiction of the diegetic world
2) the narrative structure and
3) the performance of the protagonists.

As described earlier, performative documentaries do not address viewers with commands or imperatives. Instead they bear a lot of potential for empathetic engagement similar to fictional films. Herein, it seems that the empathetic engagement overshadows the documentary’s reference to the historical world. TAoK is a prime example of this, as the strange and bizarre re- enactments create a highly surreal atmosphere. This carefully constructed world takes priority over the film’s relation to and argument about the historical world. The created world in TAoK is more of a unique imaginary domain of Anwar Congo, than it is a shared historical construct between him and viewers (cf. Eitzen 1995, 86). The idea is to give viewers the opportunity to immerse themselves in a strange and foreign historical world. This allows individuals to uniquely derive meaning from the film text that may entertain, raise awareness or call people to action (Smaill 2010, 115-116). In order to create such a world, a variety of techniques are employed by the filmmaker such as flashbacks, visualized memories, and visual representations of altered states of mind such as nightmares all of which can be found in the Oppenheimer films as will be shown.

Another aspect is that in order for a performative documentary to appeal, it is necessary that it incorporates social actors who can “be themselves” in front of the camera but in an emotionally revealing manner (Nichols 1991, 120). Smaill (2010) makes a further distinc- tion as she suggests that in “victim documentaries” the social actors are more to be seen as “historical agents” than “imaginary characters” (56). However, not every historical agent is automatically “entitled to a role” in a performative documentary. Arguably, this is because even the protagonists of victim documentaries need to be good at giving “virtual performances” (Nichols 1991, 121-122). Nichols (1991) writes that “virtual performance presents the logic of actual performance without signs of conscious awareness that this presentation is an act” (ibid). He (1991) states that the “everyday presentation of self has an expressive capacity” in the sense that we derive meaning from facial expressions, vocal tone or body posture (ibid). Good virtual performers show these communicative signs in a highly expressive way but without crossing the border to acting out of one’s character. Herein, it is important for filmmakers to find a persona that bears an “interior dimensionality” but without evoking the feeling that the persona “inherits a role” radically different from the person’s character in real life (Nichols 1991, 121). In the case of TAoK it took Oppenheimer 41 tries until he found a person that fitted that role and he argued that he decided to film with Anwar because “his pain was close to the surface” which can be seen as a reference to Anwar’s interior dimensionality (cited in Kitamura 2013). Despite Anwar’s real existence as a perpetrator, he is one out of many in North-Sumatra and his selection for the film bears similarities with the auditioning process used for fiction films.

Finally, the narrative structure of contemporary documentaries is often protagonist- driven and resembles that of fictional films (Edney-Brown 2015, 47). Recent documentaries such as Man on the Wire (UK 2008) and Making a Murderer (USA 2015) are prime examples of that but the Oppenheimer films also employ a dramatic structure where the development of the story bears similarities with a three-act-structure, commonly used in feature films. For instance, in TAoK and TLoS at first the main protagonists Anwar Congo and Adi Rukun are introduced (setup). Then the films use different strategies to confront the perpetrators with their moral responsibility (confrontation) and finally this conflict finds its climax (conclusion). In TAoK that climax happens when Anwar cries on the balcony where he executed people and in TLoS it is when Adi’s mother releases her pain about the loss of her son at the end of the film. This kind of narrative structure is strikingly different to that of expository films which are grounded in a series of claims that are then backed up by visual evidence (Nichols 2010, 168). This convergence between documentary and fiction film lets the documentary experience expand. Instead of a “desire to know”, documentaries become increasingly able to also fulfil the desire to feel like fiction films do (Renov 1993, 5)4.

Smith (1995) argues that our experience of fiction is “comprised of acts of imagination prompted by fictional texts” (77). That separates fiction from dreaming, for example because our dreams are not directly guided by texts. In the case of performative documentaries and especially in the Oppenheimer films that concept can be transferred. The two films might not be fictional texts because they deal with actual people and their lives in the real world, however, the texts also attempt to create acts of imagination in viewers that alter their perception of reality. That also explains why Oppenheimer describes TAoK as a “documentary of the imagination” (cited in Bradshaw 2013).

Among a variety of elements that stimulate our imagination in these films, a central one comes from imagining the situation of the perpetrators and the victims by means of empathy. However, the term is rather complex and its kinship to other terms such as sympathy and identification can cause ambiguities. Therefore, I am going to operationalise the different terms first so that they can be used for the analysis of the two documentaries.

4.0 Empathy, Identification and Appraisal in Films

Film scholars like Hans Wulff (1999) describe empathy with film characters as a “participatory observation” where the film viewer takes on the role of a “lay sociologist” who gets his competence to understand the situation and actions of a character from personal experiences in everyday-life (256). In that way the viewer builds up an affective relationship with the character on-screen and enters into a para-social interaction (PSI) with him or her (Wulff 1999, ibid.)5. The initial idea of PSI was to explain the loyalty of fans to television presenters but since then PSI has become “a generic term covering all kinds of engagement with media personae“ (Eder 2006, 4). Eder (2006) criticizes that many definitions of PSI are too broad because they “blur the differences between observation, simulation, and interaction” (ibid.). To this extent, I am going to share Eder’s (2006) account of PSI. Eder (2006) refers to PSI only if a direct interaction between viewer and media persona takes place that is, “if viewers either actively fantasize about interacting with a character (e.g. during erotic scenes, about having sex with him) or automatically react to behavioral cues in face-to-face situations (e.g., actors speaking directly into the camera)” (ibid.)6.

Moving on, Murray Smith’s (1995) approach delivers a theoretic concept that can explain how it comes to empathic engagement with characters. The foundation of his approach is made up of two distinct perceptions of how affects work. Smith (1995) divides affective engagement into two parts namely sympathy/antipathy and empathy. Sympathy or antipathy means that spectators cognitively recognize the narrative context and the emotion that a character feels and that they can react to the presented situation with a different but appropriate emotion based on the evaluation of the character [acentral imagination] (Smith 1995,102). Empathetic responses are somewhat different to sympathetic responses in the sense that it is not necessary for a viewer to comprehend the situation, rather viewers feel the same emotion from the ego-perspective either voluntarily in the form of simulation or involuntarily in the form of mimicry [central imagination] (Smith 1995,105).

Furthermore, Smith (1995) divides sympathy/antipathy into three different levels of engagement that he calls the structure of sympathy (110). The precondition for such an engagement is that viewers mentally construct an image of a character. The perception of a set of textual elements, Smith (1995) calls recognition; it is a part of a threefold process that together comprises the structure of sympathy (ibid). The second component that is necessary for feeling sympathy is alignment and it concerns the way a film gives us access to the actions, thoughts and feelings of a character (142).

The final step after recognition and alignment is allegiance meaning the way a film “attempts to marshal our sympathies for or against various characters” (Smith 1995, 187). After a spectator has understood the context of a character and after he or she has had reliable access to the character’s state of mind, a spectator can morally evaluate a character on the basis of this knowledge. Herein, recognition and alignment are based on the cognitive ability of a spectator to understand the traits and mental states that make up a character. Allegiance goes beyond cognitive understanding as it means “evaluating and responding emotionally to the traits and emotions of the character in the context of the narrative situation” (Smith 1995, 85). Furthermore, based on these moral evaluations spectators construct moral structures in which they organize characters and rank them according to their preference (Smith 1995, 84). What is special about Smith’s (1995) concept is that it allows for a film to “align” us with an unsympathetic character, “a concept that is occluded by an undifferentiated concept of identification” (ibid). In actual fact, this approach is in some ways complementary to other approaches such as that of Grodal’s (2001) simulation theory (115-128). According to Grodal (2001) there are numerous ways of how viewers may relate to characters based on different imaginative positions: merely watching them as distant observers, taking their perspective as immersed simulators or actively interacting with them e.g. in the form of mimicry (ibid). This means that it is possible to share the emotion and goal of a character but at the same time viewers are able to distance themselves from the character and its actions and reject any “invitation to feel” (cf. G. Smith 2003, 3).

Murray Smith’s (1995) idea of empathy stands in contrast to a number of other approaches. One of them is Noël Carroll’s (2001) theory of emotions. According to Carroll (2001) viewers will rarely share the goals, emotions and perspectives of the characters on screen. Carroll states that “we do not become the character or acquire her goals. The character’s emotion does not transmigrate to us. Rather, our pre-existing dispositions to certain values and preferences are mobilized by the text’s providing an affective cement that fixes our attention to the text and shapes our attention to ongoing situations” (Caroll 2001, 231). Yet, the counterargument against observer-view-approaches like that of Carroll (2001) is that they are not able to provide an explanation for our experience of fictitious events and their emotional impact on us. Herein, the argument is that if viewers can not share a character’s goal and merely observe them without getting emotionally involved, why films can have such a strong emotional impact on viewers (Grodal 2001, 128; Smith 1995, 79).

Eder (2006) tries to initiate an exchange between the different theoretical positions and manages to avoid some of the connotative jungle of terminologies by asking about the ways in which viewers can “be close” to characters (135-160). He acknowledges the ambiguity of the term “being close” but at the same time he argues that the ambiguity leaves the necessary space to connect the different forms of character engagement and the approaches to it (Eder 2006, 135). Herein, Eder (2006) states that sympathy and empathy also depend on interactional and social closeness to characters. He creates an integrative model that can serve to examine how viewers build up relationships to characters (or distance themselves from them) as well as how social factors such as familiarity or the impression of physical closeness influence affective closeness discussed by Murray Smith (1995).

4.1 The Outline of a Model

I shall now concentrate on manifest categories of being close to characters that Eder (2006) established and modify them so that they can be applied to documentary film. In his model Eder (2006) identifies three major ways of how people can be close to each other in real life and transfers this to ways of being close to fictional characters. The first sense of “being close” that the model captures is based on two assumptions about closeness to real people. Firstly, the most literal sense of closeness namely to be physically near to another person in space and time (spatio-temporal proximity and para-proxemics) and secondly on a sense of closeness that concerns intimate, close relationships with other people that are linked to experiencing emotions and involve “interacting regularly in ways not open to others” (Eder 2006, 136).

On the basis of these preconditions, Eder (2006) derives four aspects of our relations to film characters that are analogue to feelings of closeness in space and time that we can feel to real people7. Yet, for my analysis I will mainly look at the aspect of spatio-temporal attachment. This is a more dynamic sense of being close and it is founded on Murray Smith’s (1995) concept of alignment, which I explained earlier. Eder (2006) defines it as “the extent to which a film enacts external experiences of its character and lets the viewer accompany them through time and space” (143). If we share intimate experiences with a character it will increase our knowledge of the character and it may already foster sympathy (Eder 2006, ibid). Furthermore, it is to assume that in (performative) documentaries the degree of spatio-temporal attachment that viewers can develop depends on the relationship between the filmmaker and the protagonist in real life. If a protagonist trusts or likes the filmmaker (and the other way around) he or she will be more likely to let the filmmaker accompany him or her in private situations. Moreover, the closer the relationship between filmmaker and subject, the higher the chances for viewers to share intimate experiences with a character and to feel close to him or her. This means e.g. that the personal preferences of the filmmaker regarding the film subjects in real life can have an ideological effect on the viewer. The second category that Eder’s (2006) model points out is based on another form of closeness to real people which is mental closeness.

Closeness of the minds means for instance knowing someone very well, liking them and or having certain cognitive attitudes towards them. Upon this form of closeness Eder (2006) builds his second category which he calls understanding and perspective-taking (144). In this category, understanding means that a viewer knows a character’s personality and traits and is able to construct a consistent mental model of the character in the sense of Smith’s (1995) recognition. Perspective-taking is a more complex category and it is based on the idea that at a certain time of a film viewers, characters and narrators can be ascribed a range of mental experiences. Eder (2006) calls “the relation of actual or fictional minds to intentional objects mental perspective” (145). This mental perspective is characterised by what a viewer (or character) perceives e.g. sees, hears and dreams and how that influences his or her knowledge and believes, which again has an effect on the evaluation of characters and can lead to certain affects and emotions. The mental perspectives of viewer, narrator and character can be compared to each other on each of these levels to see in what respects they are similar and in what they diverge (Eder 2008, 595)8. This is important for the analysis because whether a viewer feels close with the perpetrators in an empathic sense largely depends on the question whether at some point in the film viewers can understand or even share the mental perspective of the perpetrators or not.

In real life as well as in films, understanding a character’s traits and attitudes is connected to feeling similar to them. As soon as we have created a mental model of a character it is possible to relate the character to ourselves and the people we know (Eder 2006, 149). This third category Eder (2006) calls familiarity and similarity; viewers can find a character familiar because he or she seems to share the same values and ethics or he or she might have the same “social identity” in terms of age, gender, class and ethnic background (149). If that is not the case, we might find the character strange or bizarre, but at the same time it is possible that viewers might be intrigued and fascinated by his or her differences. Drawing from the works of different social psychologists, Eder (2006) explains that perceived similarity usually has the following effects (a) it contributes to sympathy (b) it makes understanding the character easier and (c) it tends to confirm the viewer’s world views (150). Another important side aspect to this is that viewer’s often compare their status and abilities to that of a character. This can lead to positive feelings in the form of admiration or pity or negative feelings in the form of fear or disdain (Eder 2006, ibid).

In continuation, the three senses of being close that I have outlined based on Eder’s (2006) model play an important role when it comes to the emotional responses of audiences. Smith’s (1995) approach can now be better specified by these additional parameters.

Even though Eder’s (2006) approach was originally designed for fiction film characters, it is a good starting point for the analysis of viewer’s engagement with documentary characters because its categories work independent from film’s narrative structure and dramaturgy. Several other approaches concentrate on how character engagement depends on a film’s ability to create suspense and release9. Yet, this is not an essential characteristic of documentaries and therefore these approaches would be more difficult to apply and less reliable. Moreover, the present model is to be seen on a continuum between identification and appraisal theories because it does not favour one reception attitude. Rather it seeks to decide what processes are more likely to happen at specific moments by looking at the film content and making interpretations about it that allow inter-subjective understanding. This seems to be especially important in the context of genocide, where it is to assume that both identification and appraisal processes are likely to take place. This assumption is founded on the idea that the performative nature of the film creates identification potentials, but at the same time the morally complex topic of genocide is likely to generate moments of appraisal in viewers.

4.2 Methodical Procedure/Approach

This works seeks to analyse how performative documentaries work to build up affective relationships between viewers and characters and what effect this has on the mediation of documentary truth. Herein, the aim is to make a film analysis in order to look at the ways the documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence offer viewers to feel close or distant to their main protagonists. Based on that, assertions can be made about how the performative documentaries mediate the genocide in Indonesia.

This analysis is founded on Kristin Thompson’s (1995) neo-formalist approach to films. Its aim is to make assumptions about: the ways viewers understand a film as an artwork, the relationship between art and society and about aspects that different films have in common with each other (23). In so doing, the idea is to find individual approaches to films in order to work out the most interesting and insightful elements of a film (Thompson 1995, 24). Thompson (1995) consciously uses the term approach instead of method because she finds that if one applies one hermetic method to different films (e.g. psychoanalytical methods), the analysis is likely to ignore elements that are particular to a specific film and therefore the interpretation gets distorted (ibid). Complementary to Thompson’s neo-formalist approach, I am going to share some of Knut Hickethier’s (2001) ideas of film analysis. Hickethier (2001) emphasises the importance of getting hermeneutical access to films and “televisual works” in order to make sense of them (32). This goes beyond merely understanding the plot of the films, as through interpretations the unobvious, and subtle meanings and “sense potentials” can be revealed (Hickethier 2001, ibid). In this regard, Bordwell and Thomson (2013) differentiate between four levels of meaning: spectators construct,

1) referential meanings with regard to the manifest content of the film and its depictions
2) explicit meanings that emerge from the obvious messages that the film conveys
3) implicit meanings concerning the abstract and indirect messages of the film and
4) symptomatic meanings

that are based on inferences that spectators make with regard to production contexts and societal impact of a film (58-60). Herein, for fiction films as well as for documentaries interpretations are necessary in order to deconstruct the possible implicit and symptomatic meanings of a film. However, despite the ambiguity of texts that may lead to different analyses, interpretations are not to be seen as random or arbitrary. The analyst needs to approach the text in a circular procedure by constantly asking renewed questions to raise awareness of different interpretations so that the least likely ones can be dismissed (Hickethier 2001, 32). The individual steps of this process cannot be reproduced in writing in the scope of this work, but the results and the procedures will be presented. Furthermore, the theoretical background provides insight into the contextual knowledge that was used for the interpretations as well as the perspective from which the films were looked at (mainly based on psychological, sociological and philosophical approaches). Another important question is which audience model the analysis is grounded on and which reception phenomenon it concentrates on. The results of this analysis refer mainly to the indented reception, meaning the ways in which filmmakers want their text to be “apprehended and experienced” (Eder 2008, 113). According to Nichols (1991), most socio-political documentaries are tailored towards a special kind of avant-garde audience that over time develops procedural skills of comprehension and interpretation (23)10.

In order to get a better orientation within the content, sequence analyses of the two films were carried out. Due to the fact that in TAoK, Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry are the perpetrators that take up the vast majority of screen time, I will focus my analysis of that film on them. In TLoS several perpetrators appear and a selection of the most meaningful appearances will be analyzed. Furthermore, I identified a common structure of the two films. This common structure is based on the similar kind of conflict that the films put forward. The conflict of the two films can be derived from a statement that Oppenheimer gave at the Toronto Film Festival.

There, Oppenheimer said about TLoS that: “Adi is correcting the vision, both literally and metaphorically, of people who are wilfully blind” (cited in Movshovitz 2015). In fact, that is something that the two films have in common because TAoK is also about correcting the vision of a perpetrator, namely that of Anwar Congo. The idea that the perpetrators are wilfully blind implies that secretly the perpetrators know that what they did was wrong. In that way, one could rephrase Oppenheimer’s statement and relate it to both films by saying TAoK and TLoS attempt to reveal the concealed consciousness of the perpetrators. In order to bring to the surface the concealed consciousness of the perpetrators the films employ strategies that can be compared regarding their potential for eliciting feelings of closeness with the perpetrators.

Therefore, I am going to look at what potentials for closeness and distance result from

1) the schemata that viewers are likely to develop for an intended reception regarding moral,
2) the ways the films inform viewers about the fact that the boastful perpetrators feel regret about what they have done,
3) the different strategies that the films employ to confront the perpetrators and
4) how this conflict is settled over the course of the film and the resulting climaxes.

In the following the films will be analyzed and a synopsis of the findings will follow in the final section.

5.0 Developing Schemata for an Intended Reception

According to Bordwell (1985) every artwork is constructed in a way that it asks viewers to use certain schemata for its reception even if these schemata have to be rejected during the reception process (32)11. Furthermore, artworks provide cues that may direct viewers towards distinct denotative and connotative meanings (Thompson 1995, 32.). In the following I want to look at what schemata the different films cue viewers to take regarding moral. This is done because moral behaviour of characters is one of the “central movens” of affective engagement (Eder 2006, 136).

5.1 Schemata for an Intended Reception of TAoK

The schema that TAoK suggests is extraordinary because it asks viewers to abandon the distant normative moral stance that one is likely to take when being confronted with murderers that live in impunity. In TAoK our main anchor is a mass-murderer which means that viewers are confronted with the perspective of the “bad guy”.


1 In the following I am going to use the abbreviations TAoK for The Act of Killing and TLoS for The Look of Silence 2

2 For example, Michael Renov’s (1993) four tendencies of documentaries - to record, persuade, analyse or express or Paul Rotha’s (1953) model of naturalist, realist, newsreel and propagandist traditions (Natusch and Hawkins 2014, 2)

3 Especially the turn to observational filmmaking can also be explained with technological innovations as the invention of more mobile, synchronous sound recording equipment allowed to spontaneously record things as they happen (Nichols 1991, 33).

4 cf. Nichols (1991) concept of “Epistephilia - a desire for and pleasure in knowledge” (178). 13

5 The concept of PSI was first introduced by the sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in the American magazine called Psychiatry under the title “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction” (Wulff 1992, 279).

6 Yet, in the analysis of the two films, PSI does not play a major role and that is why it is not necessary to go further into detail at this point.

7 1) geographical and temporal proximity, 2) spatio-temporal attachment, 3) physical closeness 4) subjective time/synchronicity (Eder 2006, 143)

8 1) perceptual and imaginative, 2) epistemic and doxastic, 3) evaluative and conative, 4) affective (Eder 2006, 147) 17

9 cf. Gregg Smith’s (2003) mood-cue approach in Film Structure and the Emotion System. 18

10 Gregg Smith (2003) uses the term “educated viewers”; the term assumes an audience that is familiar with the necessary basic conventions for making sense of films (11).

11 The idea is that organized clusters of knowledge (schemata) guide viewers’ process of making hypothesis about a film.

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Engaging Killer Performances. Strategies for Affective Engagement in Genocide Documentaries
University of Mannheim  (MKW)
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How are political documentaries able to bring about social change without getting accused of outright manipulation? This question is more relevant than ever, as the postmordern culture is marked by an attitude towards knowledge that rejectes modernity's belief in universal truth claims and its privileging of techno-scientific modes of discovery – such as documentary film Therefore, this work looks at the potentials for feelings of closeness with the protagonists of documentaries that recently had a phenomenal societal impact - Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.
Aesthetics, The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence, Emotions, Affect, Manipulation, Performative, Bill Nichols, Documentary, Genocide, Indonesia, Genre, Belinda Smail, Murray Smith, Affect Analysis, Joshua Oppenheimer, Taxonomy of Modes, Fiction, Reality, New Documentary, Film, Cinematography
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John Nicolas Helferich (Author), 2016, Engaging Killer Performances. Strategies for Affective Engagement in Genocide Documentaries, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/340334


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