The truth of reenactments: reliving, reconstructing, and contesting history in documentaries on genocide

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This article seeks to renegotiate the relationship between reenactment, truth, history, and the archive in documentaries on genocide. It moves away from the common binaries surrounding the supposed creativity and fictionality of reenactments as opposed to the evidentiary and static archive, and instead reads reenactments as facilitating access to truth. Through four case studies of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), Laurence Rees’s Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’ (2005), Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture (2013), and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012), it contends that reenactments in documentaries on genocide problematize the associations of an image’s supposed indexical link to a past event with truth. Instead, reenactments confront us with the constructed nature of historical narrative and enable us to see affective, factual, and ethical truths of the past unavailable through the archive.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in Documentary Film
Pages (from-to)1-18
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Julian Johannes Immanuel Koch is a Marie Curie postdoctoral research fellow at the Department for Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies. His project examines the representation of perpetration and perpetrators in documentaries on genocide. His previous research focused on the poetics of the image in the twentieth-century German-Jewish poet Paul Celan and French-Jewish poet André du Bouchet. He has also published on philosophies of the imagination and the image.

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - Reenactment, Documentary, Truth, Archive, Genocide, Historical narratives

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