International Journal of Cultural Studies

Provocative engagement: Documentary audiences and performances in /The Act of Killing/ and /The Look of Silence/

by Annette Hill, Tina Askanius, Koko Kondo, & Jose Luis Urueta (2019)

- THE ACT OF KILLING (UK/DK/NO 2012, Joshua Oppenheimer, 1974-, Christine Cynn, N.N.).
- THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Im Angesicht der Stille, DK/ID/FI/NO/UK/IL/FR/US/DE/NL 2014, Joshua Oppenheimer, 1974-).

Through an analysis of The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014), this article explores the idea of provocative engagement as a way of extending our understanding of the affective dimensions of documentary and its role in civic engagement. The study draws on qualitative research, based on interviews with the filmmaker, and interviews with 52 viewers in Denmark, Sweden, Japan and Colombia. This data is used to explore the idea of subjectivity in documentary through the performance of memory, power and impunity in both films concerning the perpetrators and victims of the Indonesian genocide of 1965. Overall, our analysis highlights how performance documentary challenges the affective relationships between filmmakers and their audiences, and in this particular case we see a type of raw, provocative engagement with the act of documenting genocide, the act of watching, and what this means to people in the context of their political and lived realities.

documentary audiences, audience studies, documentary ethics, performance of memory, political and cultural engagement, qualitative research

Researching documentary audiences
Provocative engagement
Scandinavian audiences: self-critical engagement
Japanese audiences: morally ambiguous engagement
Colombian audiences: raw engagement
Reflections on performance and engagement
Research note

(Corresponding Author: Annette Hill, Department of Communication and Media, SOL, Lund University, Box 201, 221 00 Lund, Sweden. Email:

Author biographies
- Annette Hill is a Professor of Media and Communication at Lund University, Sweden, and visiting professor at King’s College London. Her research focuses on audiences and popular culture, with interests in media engagement, everyday life, genres, production studies and cultures of viewing. She is the author of eight books, and many articles and book chapters in journals and edited collections. She led the project Media Experiences, funded by the Wallenberg Foundation (2013–16). Her latest book is Media Experiences (Routledge 2018).
- Tina Askanius is an Assistant Professor in Malmo University, Sweden. Her research interests and expertise are in media, civic cultures and political engagement. As a post-doctoral researcher working on the international research project Media Experiences, her work related to media fandom, political documentary audiences and the interplay between television entertainment and cultural citizenship.
- Koko Kondo is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Westminster Business School. She was a researcher on the Media Experiences project where her work related to media audiences for reality entertainment, Nordic noir, and documentary. Her area of study is media audiences, global media, and digital culture in everyday life.
- Jose Luis Urueta was a research Assistant for the Media Experiences project where his work related to media audiences for television drama and documentary. He holds an MA in Public and International Affairs from the University of Ottawa.


Hill, Annette / Askanius, Tina / Kondo, Koko / Urueta, Jose Luis
Provocative engagement: Documentary audiences and performances in /The Act of Killing/ and /The Look of Silence/.
In: International Journal of Cultural Studies 22,5 (2019), pp. 662-677.