The Act of Killing
DENMARK, INDONESIA, NORWAY, UK / 2012 / Indonesian / Color / Blu-ray / 159 min
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Co-directors: Christine Cynn, Anonymous
Photography: Carlos Mariano Arango de Montis, Lars Skree
Editing: Niels Pagh Andersen, Janus Billeskov Jansen, Mariko Montpetit, Charlotte Munch Bengtsen, Ariadna Fatjó-Vilas Mestre
Sound: Gunn Tove Grønsberg, Henrik Gugge Garnov
Producer: Signe Byrge Sørensen
Production Company: Final Cut for Real
World Sales: Cinephil (Philippa Kowarsky) cinephil.co.il
Upon meeting leaders of a death squad who hold no regret for their actions, the director proposes they reenact their roles in mass killings, to make a film of the murders they have committed. What emerges in this nightmare-like production process is a fanatical cinematic dream, a disturbing journey into the imaginary world of these mass-murderers, as well as the society they live in—a regime where corruption and legal immunity thrive and are almost shockingly commonplace. The weakness and sinfulness of men overwhelm the viewer throughout 159 minutes of vivid images.
[Director’s Statement] Cinema has traditionally been dominated by films about good versus evil, “good guys” fighting “bad guys.” But good guys and bad guys only exist in stories. In reality, every act of evil in history has been committed by human beings like ourselves. When we make the leap from “a human being who commits evil” to “an evil human being,” we denounce an entire life, a whole person. I think we take pleasure in denouncing people. This is perhaps because, in feeling entitled to make that denunciation, we reassure ourselves that we are different, that we are good.
In The Act of Killing, I ask you to see a part of yourself in Anwar, a man who has killed perhaps 1,000 people. Empathizing with a killer does not mean to empathize any less with the victims. In fact, the contrary is true. Empathy is not a zero-sum game. Empathy is the beginning of love—and I think we can never have too much of it.
The moment you identify, however fleetingly, with Anwar, you will feel, viscerally, that the world is not divided into good guys and bad guys—and, more troublingly, that we are all much closer to the perpetrators than we like to believe.
The Act of Killing asks hard questions about what it means to be a human being. What does it mean to have a past? How do we create our reality through storytelling? And how, as a crucial part of this, do we use storytelling to escape from our most bitter and indigestible truths.
Born 1974, in Texas, USA. Joshua Oppenheimer has worked for over a decade with militias, death squads and their victims to explore the relationship between political violence and the public imagination. Educated at Harvard and Central Saint Martins, London, his award-winning films include The Globalization Tapes (2003, co-directed with Christine Cynn), The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase (1998, Gold Hugo, Chicago), These Places We’ve Learned to Call Home (1996, Gold Spire, San Francisco) and numerous shorts. Oppenheimer is Senior Researcher on the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Genocide and Genre project and has published widely on these themes.