There are a wide array of films being shown at the Traverse City Film Festival this year and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephen Bennett, filmmaker of Eminent Monsters as well as Mark Fallon, author of a book closely related in nature to Stephen’s film called Unjustifiable Means. Audience members will have their spines thoroughly chilled after watching Eminent Monsters, a documentary about how Scottish born Dr. Ewen Cameron performed a horrific range of torture tactics on his “patients” in the 1950s. These life changing torture tactics affect the people that survive them for the rest of their lives, as well as the family members of victims.
Can torture ever be justified as humane? That’s not a question many of us think about, and Stephen Bennett is asking people to subject themselves to understanding the damaging consequences that torture has on the human life. The scenes will be shocking to watch, and that’s what Stephen wants from his audience members. He wants them to be able to envision the terror and helplessness that accompanies waterboarding, among other sensory deprivation torture techniques. A dark piece of fabric is wrapped around a torture victims head and neck so water can be poured through on to their nose and mouth, making the victim feel as if they’re drowning or choking. Stephen has created scenes where audience members will be able to see what the victim experiences through their perspective.
“I want to get people as close to under the hood as I can,” Stephen said.
Stephen has been wanting to do this project for years now. He was struck with the inspiration when he read a book about Dr. Ewen Cameron called Shock Doctrine in 2007.
“I remember sitting in bed, 10:00 at night, my wife’s in bed it’s that stereotypical suburban lifestyle we’re both reading. I couldn’t stop reading. I spent the rest of the night on Google trying to get through all the smoke and mirrors of what’s true and not true. I remember my wife waking up at 6:30 and I was still in our little study, and I was obsessed.”
Stephen was met with resistance on getting his project off the ground. He believed that people weren’t ready to face something so controversial in such a bold, in-your-face way. It’s hard to have a thought provoking conversation about something that most of us haven’t experienced, and something like torture isn’t a warm and fuzzy movie that could be not given a second thought, it’s something that will make its viewers question the morality and the humanity of putting people through physical and mental hell. Viewers will ask themselves, is torture ever warranted?
There are many chilling aspects to Eminent Monsters, but what is particularly chilling is the fact that Dr. Cameron’s torture techniques had permanent damage to the people they were performed on. These techniques that Cameron began testing spread throughout the world and have been utilized in prisons, war and government interrogation techniques across the globe.
The film is shot beautifully and Stephen has done an excellent job of getting shocking and moving testimonies from victims and family members of victims. The film is engaging to watch throughout its entirety. Re-enactments of the torturous practices are shown during a victims account, and Stephen is true to his word about making the viewer feel as though they are seeing and hearing the experience through their own perspective.
Documentary’s like Eminent Monsters are popular on Netflix. The horror based documentaries that draw millennials are the same demographic that would enjoy Eminent Monsters, and Stephen wants as many people to consider the message of his documentary as possible.
“How do we get people to care, you know? It’s something that people need to be aware of. It’s something that changes people.”
Check out Eminent Monsters at TCFF today at noon at Bijou By The Bay.