The Death of Klinghoffer

Director: Penny Woolcock
Screenwriters: Penny Woolcock

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


When The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams's opera based on the 1985 Palestinian hijacking of a cruise ship, premiered in the United States in 1991, it generated tremendous controversy. At one extreme, it was called a Zionist plot. At the other, the creators were denounced as unabashedly pro-Palestinian for humanizing the terrorists. In actual fact, the libretto gives voice to heartbreaking sufferings by both Israelis and Palestinians. A decade later, in the wake of unrelenting Middle East conflict, many see the opera's passionate exploration of terrorism from all viewpoints as more important than ever in stimulating dialogue about an intractable situation.

Fueled by this idea, director Penny Woolcock created a consummate screen adaptation that imaginatively infuses the opera narrative with realism and dimensionality and makes a highbrow form accessible. Rather than simply record static stagings, she breaks down the proscenium arch, goes on location, and invites the camera into the heart of the action. To flesh out characters and context, she artfully layers in fictional narratives, archival footage, and flash forwards. With music by the London Symphony Orchestra as conducted by John Adams and opera singers delivering emotionally genuine, naturalistic performances, the film transcends opera-on-film to reach new cinematic heights. And no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, The Death of Klinghoffer will elicit heated discussion—and, quite possibly, tears.

— Caroline Libresco

Screening Details

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