Memory, witnessing, and reenactment: The Look of Silence, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Cinematic Ethics

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Contemporary cinema is rife with films dealing with ethical issues, moral problems or cultural-political concerns. This is evident in the rise of new ethically and politically engaged cinema, particularly within diverse cultural traditions and social contexts, amidst the dissemination of what is loosely called ‘world cinemas’ (see Nagib 2011; Chaudhuri 2014; Martin-Jones 2011, 2019). Contemporary documentary, moreover, is where many socially charged ethical problems and cultural-moral debates today are vigorously examined and creatively explored. It is where cultures across the globe can find cinematic ways to address, reflect upon, question, and explore some of the most important moral-ethical and cultural-political issues of our times. Most discussion of the ethical dimensions of documentary, however, has focused on the question of truth and objectivity in relation to documentary presentation (the ethics of representation), or on the question of ethical practices of informed consent and transparent communication in the treatment of documentary subjects (the ethics of production). What of the ethical dimensions of spectatorial experience, the way documentary film can evoke emotional engagement, critical reflection, even social action? How might the medium of documentary be used to solicit ethical experiences in viewers as part of making arguments, presenting claims, or exposing problems? As I explore in what follows, such questions raise the question of documentary cinema’s ethical potential, a question I propose to address via the notion of a cinematic ethics: the idea of cinema as a medium of ethical experience (see Sinnerbrink 2016: 3–24).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary screen ethics
Subtitle of host publicationabsences, identities, belonging, looking anew
EditorsLucy Bolton, David Martin-Jones, Robert Sinnerbrink
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781474447607, 9781474447591
ISBN (Print)9781474447584
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • documentary
  • film ethics
  • film-philosophy


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