This morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2014 class of fellows, colloquially known as “genius grants.” Each grant amounts to $625,000, paid out over five years with no strings attached. The 21 recipients range from mathematicians to artists to labor organizers, but two notable members of this year’s class are cartoonist Alison Bechdel and filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer.
Bechdel is probably most widely known for the Bechdel test, a benchmark for films determined by three criteria: 1. [The film] has to have at least two named women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something other than a man. The test first appeared in Bechdel’s long-running comic Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985; she’s since written a number of graphic memoirs, including Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama.
Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing, which The A.V. Club’s own Ignatiy Vishnevetsky called “a stomach churner,” redefines the notion of what a documentary film can be. It starts with an offer to ex-gangster/death-squad leader Anwar Congo: Oppenheimer will direct a movie about Congo’s killings in Indonesia in the ‘60s and cast Congo and his henchmen in the lead roles. The genocide that Congo participated in resulted in the deaths of between 500,000 and 2.5 million people; in the forthcoming The Look Of Silence, which recently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Oppenheimer tackles the same subject from the other side. The film follows the younger brother of one of the victims as he questions former soldiers about their role in the mass killings; after seeing it at TIFF, Vishnevetsky called it “a work of participatory fiction” that “packs a queasy wallop.” In his MacArthur Foundation video, Oppenheimer says he “uses the camera to explore how people want to be seen and how they see themselves.”
Other 2014 MacArthur fellows include playwright Samuel D. Hunter, jazz composer and saxophonist Steve Coleman, and poet Terrance Hayes.