Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
September 18
November 2, 2004
Theo van Gogh murdered

On an early Tuesday morning in the fall of 2004, filmmaker/political activist Theo Van Gogh was riding his bike to work when shots rang out. Mohammed Bouyeri, who'd been waiting for him, shot Van Gogh 8 times, killing him on the street. Bouyeri then deeply and savagely cut  open his throat, and stabbed him in the chest, leaving the knife there with a long, rambling note attached. The violent death was not only the tragic end to an original filmmaker, but became the centerpiece in a debate about immigration policies in the otherwise open and tolerant Netherlands. His namesake, his great grandfather Theo Van Gogh, was the brother of the artist Vincent, a fact that gave Theo a heavy artistic legacy. After making a few independent films––his 1996 Blind Date was recently remade––Van Gogh turned to writing polemics, often supporting any number of unpopular causes, and drawing to him lawsuits and threats. In 2004, he and Islamic artist Ayaan Hirsi Ali made Submission, a ten-minute film that used passages from the Qur’an to highlight Islam’s oppression of women.  After the film appeared on Dutch TV, both filmmakers were publicly attack and threatened. While Van Gogh was murdered, the note was primarily aimed against Ayaan Hirsi Ali. After Van Gogh’s death, Hirsi Ali went into hiding, issuing a  commentary on her friend and collaborator: "I am sad because Holland has lost its innocence…Theo's naiveté wasn't that it [murder] couldn't happen here, but that it couldn't happen to him. He said: 'I am the village idiot, they won't hurt me.'"


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