Joshua Oppenheimer

Two-time Academy Award nominee, BAFTA winner and MacArthur Fellow Joshua Oppenheimer has redefined the possibilities of documentary cinema. He has developed innovative filmmaking methods in which participants stage themselves in whatever ways they wish, dramatising their memories, dreams and made-up stories, reflecting on the resulting footage, and then devising new scenes in response to the last. Oppenheimer’s research has explored how such methods, loosely termed ‘documentary of the imagination’, offer insight into cognitive dissonance, repression, haunting, mass political violence and impunity. Oppenheimer is interested in co-creation and intimacy in filmmaking processes, naturalism and authenticity in performance, hybrid fiction/nonfiction filmmaking forms, the oneiric in cinema, radical optimism and quests for physical transcendence. Oppenheimer is currently working with the musical genre to discover how collaborative processes of screenwriting, songwriting, acting and film direction may offer tools to make visible relationships between guilt and self-deception. Other research interests include radical life extension, the transformation of the arctic and Indonesian history, politics and culture.

Oppenheimer’s debut feature film, The Act of Killing (2014 Oscar® Nominee for Best Documentary), was named Film of the Year in 2013 by the Guardian and the Sight and Sound Film Poll, and won over 70 awards, including a European Film Award, a BAFTA, an Asia Pacific Screen Award, a Berlinale Audience Award, and the Guardian Film Award for Best Film. His second film, The Look of Silence (2016 Oscar® Nominee for Best Documentary), premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it won five awards, including the Grand Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize. Since then, The Look of Silence has also received over 70 awards, including the Independent Spirit, International Documentary Association and Gotham Awards. The two films have helped transform Indonesia’s understanding of the most important event in its modern history – the 1965-66 genocide – inspiring a movement for truth, reconciliation and justice. Beyond Indonesia, public discussion around the films prompted the US government to declassify 30,000 previously secret files detailing America’s complicity in the massacres. Cinema Eye Honors named Joshua Oppenheimer a decade-defining filmmaker in 2016, and both his films as decade-defining films. Joshua Oppenheimer was the 2017 Guest Director of the Telluride Film Festival, won of the City of Cologne’s Phoenix Prize in 2016, and served on the jury of the 2016 Venice Film Festival. Oppenheimer is Principal Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Documentary of the Imagination research project, with Co-Investigator Professor Rosie Thomas.

For further information about Joshua’s research, supervision and teaching experience also see:

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Research Areas

Film and Media

Film and media research is a long standing area of excellence at CREAM, and leads the field for interdisciplinary approaches to moving image practices and their discourses. CREAM research ranges from experimental documentary to moving image installations of international renown.