Material Witness is an experimental documentary that investigates the question of political violence by asking how we might access grave events when evidence of their histories slowly disappears into the past or is forcefully repressed. It explores this condition through an analysis of two massacre videos produced during the final days of ethnic conflict: one shot in Izbica Kosovo in 1999 and the other, an anonymous execution video captured by mobile phone in northern Sri Lanka sometime in 2009. In the case of the conflict in the Balkans, the camcorder tape was entered into legal proceedings against Slobodan Milošević where it functioned to provide crucial evidence of war crimes. With respect to the Sri Lankan context, the mobile phone footage video, which surfaced in the UK, has only circulated within the courts of public opinion. Despite two UN technical enquiries, the Sri Lankan state continues to dispute the authenticity of the video and the heinous crimes depicted have therefore gone unpunished, as indeed have most others. Material Witness explores the various contexts in which these two videos eventually appeared and were made to “speak” as technical witnesses to a crime. Its does so by probing the ways in which non-human entities—media materials—register trace effects of the violence out of which they emerged as well as the ways in which they disclose the partisan practices and institutional protocols that enable their histories to be rendered intelligible and thus to become legally consequential.
Description: HD video, colour with stereo sound, 33:30 mins., 2014-15
Full-length preview copy of this video for public screening & exhibition is available upon request
Material Witness was supported by Forensic Architecture & HKW