Next Sunday, April 26, Williams College will host acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong for a special screening of Licensed to Kill, his award-winning documentary. Dong will also discuss his film after the screening.
Dong received the prestigious Best Documentary Director Award and the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival for License to Kill. Publicized as “a riveting journey into the minds of men whose contempt for homosexuals led them to murder,” the film accrued international acclaim and was selected for the 1997 Berlin International Film Festival.
The film consists of probing on-camera interviews, confessions of the killers, court room scenes and photos. The commentary on these gay-bashing crimes does not answer questions, but instead asks why they happen at all. Dong himself was attacked 20 years ago by gay bashers in San Francisco, and his film has allowed him to confront the past.
The complex portrayal of the murderers reveals many things about the roots of anti-gay violence. By exposing their pasts and their motives for hating homosexuals, Dong probes the idea that society gives these criminals a “license to kill.”
Dong conducted all of the interviews himself, going into prisons with his camera. By attempting to understand the violence that ensues from homophobia, Dong attempts to come to grips with the pointlessness of the murders. In his words, the interviews provided a means “to at least try to get to the core” of the crimes.
Although the murderers come from all different backgrounds, the commonality of their crimes and sentences reinforces the fact that anti-gay sentiments permeate our society. Dong was looking for a variety of personalities in his selection process. In the remembering their crimes, the criminals interviewed in the documentary range in emotion from violent remorselessness to listless regret .
Dong, who received a Rockefeller grant to help make this film, is a Peabody Award winner and was nominated by both the Oscars and Emmys for his independent films. The discussion and screening of this thought-provoking film by this extremely courageous filmmaker proves to be an elucidating experience. The event will take place in Bronfman Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.