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Creating the Witness

Documenting Genocide on Film, Video, and the Internet

2012
Author:

Leshu Torchin

Creating the Witness

How film and media inspire a response to genocide as an international crime

Creating the Witness examines the role of film and the Internet in creating virtual witnesses to genocide over the past one hundred years. Leshu Torchin’s broad survey of media and the social practices around it investigates the development of popular understandings of genocide to achieve recognition and response, ultimately calling on viewers to act on behalf of human rights.

Stunning, urgent, forceful, and necessary, Creating the Witness exorcises the ghostly and ghastly representations of genocide and pushes them beyond the graveyards and the archives of trauma. This magnificent, grounded, and rigorously researched book boldly probes a century of imaging genocides in Armenia, Germany, Rwanda, the Balkans, the Philippines, the United States, and Darfur across photography, documentary, popular culture narrative films, user-generated media, and gaming. Leshu Torchin guts how we see and think about genocide: no longer spectres or spectacles, those images of the dead from across the globe animate dynamic ethical engagements, converting horrified reactions into collective action.

Patricia R. Zimmermann, author of States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2003, more than 300,000 lives have been lost in Darfur. Players of the video game Darfur Is Dying learn this sobering fact and more as they endeavor to ensure the survival of a virtual refugee camp. The video game not only puts players in the position of a struggling refugee, it shows them how they can take action in the real world.

Creating the Witness examines the role of film and the Internet in creating virtual witnesses to genocide over the past one hundred years. The book asks, how do visual media work to produce witnesses—audiences who are drawn into action? The argument is a detailed critique of the notion that there is a seamless trajectory from observing an atrocity to acting in order to intervene. According to Leshu Torchin, it is not enough to have a camera; images of genocide require an ideological framework to reinforce the messages the images are meant to convey. Torchin presents wide-ranging examples of witnessing and genocide, including the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust (engaging film as witness in the context of the Nuremburg trials), and the international human rights organization WITNESS and its sustained efforts to use video to publicize human rights advocacy and compel action.

From a historical and comparative approach, Torchin’s broad survey of media and the social practices around it investigates the development of popular understandings of genocide to achieve recognition and response—both political and judicial—ultimately calling on viewers to act on behalf of human rights.


Creating the Witness

Leshu Torchin is lecturer in film studies at the University of St. Andrews.

Creating the Witness

Stunning, urgent, forceful, and necessary, Creating the Witness exorcises the ghostly and ghastly representations of genocide and pushes them beyond the graveyards and the archives of trauma. This magnificent, grounded, and rigorously researched book boldly probes a century of imaging genocides in Armenia, Germany, Rwanda, the Balkans, the Philippines, the United States, and Darfur across photography, documentary, popular culture narrative films, user-generated media, and gaming. Leshu Torchin guts how we see and think about genocide: no longer spectres or spectacles, those images of the dead from across the globe animate dynamic ethical engagements, converting horrified reactions into collective action.

Patricia R. Zimmermann, author of States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies

Torchin’s concise, informative, and thought-provoking book is an excellent resource for both genocide studies and film studies.

CHOICE

This book fills a valuable space in the literature that addresses how the idea of genocide is utilized by the cinematic story-telling. I recommend this book for those interested in the subject of video advocacy and the use of film for the raising of awareness of genocidal atrocities.

Anthropology Review Database

Creating the Witness

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Screen Media and Witnessing Publics
1. To Acquaint America with Ravished Armenia
2. Witness for the Prosecution: Films at Nuremberg
3. Reflections on the World Stage: Imagining Fields of Witnessing for Rwanda and the Balkans
4. The Work of WITNESS: Negotiating the Challenges of Video Advocacy
5. iWitnesses and Citizentube: Focus on Darfur
Conclusion: Testimonial Encounters and Tempering the Celebratory Narrative

Notes
Index