Alison Bechdel And ‘Act Of Killing’ Director Josh Oppenheimer Won MacArthur Genius Grants

Senior Editor
09.17.14 5 Comments

Day in day out for the last seven years I’ve been churning out only the finest in food puns, celebrity impressions, and sex humor, and yet again I’ve been passed over for a MacArthur Genius Grant, the MacArthur Foundation’s yearly award for “20-40 individuals who show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work and are citizens or residents of the United States.”

Jesus, what do I have to do to please these people, work past 3 pm? I take a little solace in knowing that it’s not as if they gave one to Pete Hammond, or someone in Salon’s thinkpiece department. In fact, one of this year’s recipients will be the very deserving documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer (above left, with Look of Silence star Adi Rikun), director of Act Of Killing, probably the best documentary of the last decade. The 39-year-old director, who lives in Copenhagen, will receive the MacArthur award of $650,000 over five years. His Act of Killing follow up, The Look of Silence, is currently making the festival rounds.

In handing him the award, the MacArthur Foundation noted Oppenheimer’s flair for “illuminating the social, psychological, and emotional dimensions of controversial subjects, such as state-sponsored violence, in works that challenge the modern aesthetic of contemporary documentary cinema in both intimacy of focus and visual construct.”

Oppenheimer is best known for “Killing,” a 10-year project that examines the purge of an estimated 500,000 suspected Communists by the so-called Pancasila Youth paramilitary movement in 1965-66 Indonesia, an event that preceded the long reign of the controversial Suharto. [LA Times]

Oppenheimer told me when I interviewed him that he had interviewed 40 other former paramilitary members before finding his perfect protagonist, Anwar Congo. Which I guess is slightly more work for a documentary than, say, showing up to a musical festival and filming it. Pf, whatever, friggin apple polisher.

Another grantee you may have heard of is Alison Bechdel, who in addition to being constantly name-dropped because of “The Bechdel Test,” published a graphic memoir, Fun Home (which is great, seriously) in 2006, which was staged as a play last year and is expected to hit Broadway next April.

The MacArthur Foundation praises Bechdel’s work: “With storytelling that is striking for its conceptual depth and complexity in structure as well as for the deft use of allusion and reference, Bechdel is changing our notions of the contemporary memoir and expanding the expressive potential of the graphic form.”

Bechdel said she plans to use some of the MacArthur fellowship money to pay for retirement and get out of debt.

Bechdel’s name is also associated with an idea in film criticism called the “Bechdel Test.” Inspired by one of her comic strips from 1985, the test is as follows: Movies that make the grade have two female characters who speak to each another about something other than a man. [BurlingtonFreePress]

And I’m sure no internet commenters will have sh*tty things to say about this at all.

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