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Life of slain Dutch filmmaker

Nov. 2, 2004 • Tuesday November 2, 2004

The murder of Dutch movie director Theo van Gogh comes two months after his highly controversial film, Submission – about the abuse of Muslim women – was shown on national TV in Holland.

Theo van Gogh’s name was better-known around the world because he shared it with his great-great-grandfather, the brother of artist Vincent van Gogh.

But in the Dutch film community, he was a well-known figure and has been described as the Netherlands’ Michael Moore.

Submission may have only been a 10-minute English-language short, but it caused uproar in his home country when it was broadcast at the end of August.

The outcry centred on the stories of four Muslim women who were beaten, raped and forced into marriage, and were asking for Allah’s help.

It becomes apparent that their chadors and gowns are transparent and their half-naked bodies are visible through their dress.

On their bodies are written Koranic verses describing the permitted physical punishments for women who “misbehave”.

Van Gogh spent 18,000 euros ( £12,500) of his own money making the film in secret – and it was to be the first instalment of a three-part series.

The second part was due to look at the issue from Muslim men’s points of view.

The film was written by Somali-born Dutch member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has been a strong opponent of Islam’s treatment of women.

Hirsi Ali has said she wanted to draw attention to the hidden violence of Muslim women, describing some practices as “savage Medieval customs”, and show Muslims are the same as everyone when stripped bare.

Muslim commentators in the country accused Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali – who both got death threats – of courting controversy and said the nudity was confrontational and blasphemous.

But Van Gogh said he was deliberately cautious, and would have made the film differently if he really wanted to shock.

The fall-out has also included heated media debate, denouncement in internet chat rooms and a rap song calling for Hirsi Ali’s death.

Van Gogh, 47, made his first feature film more than 20 years ago and mixed directing with acting and writing.

He used his famous name in 2002 when he appeared alongside Kill Bill star David Carradine in Wheatfield with Crows – which brought Vincent Van Gogh into the modern music industry.


But his directing was more successful than his acting and his films were regularly nominated at the Nederlands Film Festival, where he won five awards, dating from 1981.

A movie called 06, about a young woman who advertises her services for phone sex, was made in 1994 and became one of his best-known works. It was renamed 1-900 for the US market.

Blind Date, two years later, featured a bartender listening to two customers talk and 2004′s Cool! was about the rehabilitation of a gang of young criminals.

Van Gogh also found success making TV programmes.

Among his highlights was Najib en Julia, a modern reworking of Romeo and Juliet that saw a Dutch girl fall in love with a Moroccan pizza delivery boy.

The director’s most recent project was 06-05, a movie about Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who was also assassinated in 2002.

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