True/False Conversations
12:09 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

Killing Time: A 'bare film' documenting the day of a Texas execution

Killing Time
Credit Still from the film / Jaap Van Hoewijk

KBIA's Ryan Famuliner interviews "Killing Time" Director Jaap Van Hoewijk

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Festival.  Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.

“Killing Time” may be the best way to describe how the family of Elroy Chester spends their day waiting at a hospitality house, as Chester is executed just a few blocks away. The film Killing Time documents the day Chester, a convicted rapist and murder, is executed in Texas… following the family and the action outside the jail. We also learn the details of the crime that put Chester away, through an interview with one of Chester’s victims.

Director Jaap van Hoewijk, who is from the Netherlands, says it was very difficult finding a family that would trust him enough to make the film. KBIA’s Ryan Famuliner spoke van Hoewijk via Skype about the film.

“Well I’m not a preacher; the film doesn’t have a message or anything. The only thing that strikes me, really strikes me, is the ugliness of the whole procedure. When you look at the yellow tape that they use to block off the streets, they re-use it again. They need it next week and so they just dump it alongside the road and next week they unroll it again and it breaks and they put a knot in it. So it’s this ugliness I hope that people see this.”

You decided to show the body of Elroy Chester after the execution. What went into that decision?

“I wanted to see everything. And they said, ‘sure you can come with us.’ I felt a bit embarrassed to be there and I found it beautiful what we saw, but I thought well, maybe it’s too much for a film. But in the editing I decided well, this is what actually happens. This is the result of all the effort, this is the result. A dead man on a gurney. So I decided to show it, and we tried to do it as discreet as possible.... And again, there’s no judgment from my side, not at all, but this is what’s happening. So I decided this should be in the film. I realize it’s very shocking but people do react on it in a very positive way. They are shocked, of course, but of course it is shocking. Killing a man is shocking. Whether you’re for or against the death penalty, it doesn’t matter, killing a man is shocking.”

The moment you see the body for the first time there is the moment of shock, but I think you kept us there for a while, too…

“That was very difficult. The length of that shot. We have tried to do it, make it shorter, make it longer. And it needs a certain length. If it’s too long it becomes, like, exploiting. If it’s too short it’s even more exploiting.”

You’ve mentioned this has shown at a festival outside the US. How did audiences there receive it? I think there will be a different perspective based on where your audience is.

“I’ve only shown it here in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, it premiered in December. The response was very very positive. They see it as an anti-death penalty film. Which is OK, I don’t mind. But it’s not made as an anti-death penalty film, not at all… you know and I have my opinion on the death penalty, of course, but who am I to make a film and say, ‘look US, this is wrong what you’re doing.’ That’s why I made a film as objective and as boring as I could. Without music, without nothing, just a bare film.”

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