Can you be an executioner and a victim at the same time? This bold question is the one Theatre of Violence tries to answer outside the obvious means of an unprecedented court case, and outsiders with their own views on the matter.
Ugandan Dominic Ongwen is the first former child soldier ever to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. When he was nine years old, his parents were murdered and he was tortured, brainwashed, and forced to join the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Chief counsel on his case is Krispus Ayena, a top-notch lawyer and former parliamentarian who had four brothers of his own fall victim to the LRA. Theatre of Violence follows Ayena as he prepares Ongwen’s defence and asks murky, irreconcilable questions about international law, colonialism and perspective.
There’s so much to unpack in this documentary, but filmmakers Emil Langballe and Lukasz Konopa surprisingly achieve to perfectly package conflicting issues in their well-directed, beautifully shot, and thought provoking documentary. They don’t shy away from capturing the POV from those who’ve witnessed firsthand the effects of colonialism had on the African continent, leaving many countries in shambles, raising important questions on prosecuting those who’ve caused harm to the native communities. With Ongwen being put on trial, many Ugandans didn’t understand why he and not any other child soldiers are being accused of the many despicable wrongdoings.
Throughout the film a burning bush is a recurring motif, containing religious meanings. Spiritualism becomes an important factor during the ICC hearings, worrying Ugandans they’re being judged without any real context on their cultural beliefs. So many questions are being raised, which makes you wonder if it really is so easy to judge someone who’s been abducted as a child and forced to kill people to survive. But then again, where does one draw the line?
Theatre of Violence is a surprisingly thrilling and moving documentary that has to be on everyone’s radar this year.
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Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), May 5, 2023. Running time: 104 min.
PRODUCTION: A Made in Copenhagen and Corso Film production, with support from Det Danske Filminstitut. Producers: Heidi Kim Andersen & Helle Faber. Executive producer: Oli Harbottle.
CREW: Directors/writers: Lukasz Konopa & Emil Langballe. Cinematography: Kacper Czubak. Editing: Rasmus Stensgaard Madsen. Music: Markus Aust.