Controversial helmer Theo van Gogh, the enfant terrible of the Dutch film industry who was notorious for his anti-Islamic views, was shot and stabbed to death near the Oosterpark in Amsterdam on Tuesday morning. He was 47.
The killer, a man dressed in traditional Moroccan garb, waited several minutes to check that his victim was dead after the attack and attached a note to van Gogh’s chest, according to an eyewitness.
He then fled into the nearby park and was arrested after a fierce gun battle in which both he and a police officer were injured.
Dutch chief prosecutor Leo de Wit said the suspect was a 26-year-old man with dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende condemned the attack. He called Van Gogh “a champion of freedom”.
The helmer was notorious for his anti-Islamic views. After the screening on Dutch TV in August of his film “Submission”, which focused on violence against women within Islamic society, Van Gogh received numerous death threats. The film caused uproar among the Dutch Muslim community. It featured four women talking about the abuse they suffered and contained images of women wearing see-through robes, their naked bodies daubed with texts from the Koran.
Van Gogh had been a close friend of Pim Fortuyn, the right-wing Dutch politician murdered on May 6, 2002, and was in post-production on a movie about the flamboyant demagogue. The film, titled “May 6th”, was to argue that the assassination was orchestrated by shadowy figures within the Dutch government and secret service.
The movie, which was fully financed by internet service provider Tiscali, was set to premiere on the web on December 12, before its theatrical release.
Van Gogh’s great-great-grandfather was the brother of painter Vincent van Gogh.
The helmer liked to provoke. His colleague Ate de Jong said: “Van Gogh had a TV show called ‘A Pleasant Conversation With,’ and it always ended with Theo handing his guest a cactus, which the guest was supposed to kiss. It was a good symbol of the kind of interview he conducted.
“And one year at the Netherlands Film Festival, he handed out flyers attacking an actress he didn’t like.
“He did make anti-Islamic statements in the press, but he was always making controversial statements. He spoke his mind.
“One thing I admired him for was his ability to make film after film. He was a real independent and he put his money where his mouth was.
“The Tiscali deal was typical, with its groundbreaking use of internet financing. It was typical of him because he was always finding money in unusual places. He was in the middle of finding finance in India to remake one of his films on a low budget. He was a real maverick.”
Van Gogh’s last film “Cool”, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival, is being sold by High Point Films and Television at the American Film Market this week. It follows the antics of a gang of juvenile delinquents, mostly of Moroccan descent, in a reform school. Van Gogh used the film to explore the problems of ethnic marginalization, lack of opportunity and cultural assimilation. It has been banned by Pathe Cinemas in the Netherlands, according to High Point.
“I am deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” said High Point’s Ronald de Neef. “Theo van Gogh was a one in a million maverick director, the like of which Holland has never seen before. My thoughts are with his family at this tragic time.”
Report by Leo Barraclough in London. Steven Gaydos in London and Richard Smoorenburg in Amsterdam contributed to this article. Additional material from the BBC and AFP.