The Act of Killing

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The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing (2012 film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen
Werner Herzog
Errol Morris
Andre Singer
Joram Ten Brink
Music by Elin Øyen Vister
Cinematography Carlos Arango de Montis
Lars Skree
Editing by Niels Pagh Andersen
Janus Billeskov Jansen
Mariko Montpetit
Charlotte Munch Bengtsen
Ariadna Fatjó-Vilas Mestre
Studio Final Cut for Real
Distributed by Det Danske Filminstitut (Denmark)
Dogwoof Pictures (UK)
Drafthouse Films (US)
Release date(s)
  • 31 August 2012 (2012-08-31) (Telluride)
  • 8 September 2012 (2012-09-08) (TIFF)
  • 8 November 2012 (2012-11-08) (Denmark)
  • 28 June 2013 (2013-06-28) (UK)
  • 19 July 2013 (2013-07-19) (US)
Running time 122 minutes[1]
159 minutes (Director's cut)
Country Norway
United Kingdom
Language Indonesian
Budget $1 million[2]
Box office $267,990[3]

The Act of Killing (Indonesian: Jagal) is a 2012 documentary film directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.[4] It is a Danish-British-Norwegian co-production, presented by Final Cut for Real in Denmark, produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen, co-directed by Anonymous and Christine Cynn, and executive produced by Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Joram ten Brink, and Andre Singer. It is a Docwest project of the University of Westminster.

Synopsis[edit source | editbeta]

When Sukarno was overthrown by Suharto following the failed coup of the 30 September Movement in 1965, the gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry in Medan (North Sumatra) were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leading the most notorious death squad in North Sumatra, as part of the Indonesian killings of 1965–1966. They also extorted ethnic Chinese, killing those who refused to pay. Anwar personally killed approximately 1,000 people, usually by strangling with wire.

Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of the right-wing paramilitary organization Pemuda Pancasila that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to genocide. A regime was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable.

Invited by Oppenheimer, Anwar and his friends eagerly re-enact the killings for the cameras, and make dramatic scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite film genres: gangster, western, and musical. Various aspects of Anwar and his friends' filmmaking process are shown, but as they begin to dramatize Anwar's own nightmares, the fiction scenes begin to take over the film's form, leading the film to become increasingly surreal and nightmarish. Oppenheimer has called the result "a documentary of the imagination."

Some of Anwar's friends realize that the killings were wrong. Others worry about the consequence of the story on their public image. Younger members of Pemuda Pancasila argue that they should boast about the horror of the massacres, because their terrifying and threatening force is the basis of their power today.

After Anwar plays a victim, he cannot continue. He says that he feels what his victims have felt. Oppenheimer, from behind the camera, points out that it was much worse for the victims, because Anwar is only acting. Anwar then expresses doubts over whether he has sinned or not, tearfully saying he does not want the memories of what he did to come back to him. He revisits the rooftop where he claims to have killed many before repeatedly gagging. The dancers from the film's theatrical poster are seen before the credits begin to roll.

Production[edit source | editbeta]

The film was shot mostly in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, between 2005 and 2011. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, after seeing an early preview of The Act of Killing, signed on as executive producers.

Critique[edit source | editbeta]

Before signing on as executive producer, veteran filmmaker and producer Werner Herzog said of The Act of Killing, "I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade... it is unprecedented in the history of cinema."

In some quarters Oppenheimer has been accused of treating his subjects in bad faith. As far as their goal at the beginning was to glorify mass murder, Oppenheimer responds that could never have been his goal, therefore that side of them may have been betrayed.[5][6][7][8] In an interview with The Village Voice, Oppenheimer said, "When I was entrusted by this community of survivors to film these justifications, to film these boastings, I was trying to expose and interrogate the nature of impunity. Boasting about killing was the right material to do that with because it is a symptom of impunity."[9]

The main protagonists in the film, Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, have seen the film and neither feels deceived, according to Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer says that upon watching the film Anwar Congo "started to cry... Tearfully, he told me: 'This is the film I expected. It's an honest film, a true film.' He said he was profoundly moved and will always remain loyal to it."[10] A subsequent interview on Al Jazeera's program "101 East" revealed that Anwar had misgivings about the film and the negative reaction to it in Indonesia, which was causing problems for him. He confided these concerns directly to Oppenheimer in an apparent Skype conversation displayed within the program.[11]

Some critics argue that the film lacks historical context.[12] In reply, Oppenheimer said that "the film is essentially not about what happened in 1965, but rather about a regime in which genocide has, paradoxically, been effaced [yet] celebrated – in order to keep the survivors terrified, the public brainwashed, and the perpetrators able to live with themselves.... It never pretends to be an exhaustive account of the events of 1965. It seeks to understand the impact of the killing and terror today, on individuals and institutions."[13]

Indonesians in power have been supportive during the film making process but may not like the result. Therefore many local contributors remain anonymous, and Oppenheimer may not be able to make more films in Indonesia any time soon (however, he already has the material of an upcoming documentary about people who are oppressed and/or related to victims of the killings).

An Indonesian academic, Soe Tjen Marching, analyzed the film in relation to Hannah Arendt's theory of the banality of evil.[14]

Critical reception[edit source | editbeta]

The Act of Killing received worldwide critical acclaim. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 97% approval rating with an average rating of 8.7/10 based on 102 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Raw, terrifying, and painfully difficult to watch, The Act of Killing offers a haunting testament to the edifying, confrontational power of documentary cinema."[15] On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 88 out of 100, based on 19 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[16]

The Village Voice called it a "masterpiece."[17]

Awards[edit source | editbeta]

  • Berlinale Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary 2013[18]
  • Berlinale Panorama Prize of the Ecumenical Jury 2013[19]
  • 2013 Danish Academy Award for Best Documentary (Robert Award)[20]
  • 2013 Special Prize of the Danish Film Critics Association – Bodil Awards (Sær Bodil)[21]
  • Grand Prize – CPH:DOX 2012[22]
  • Grand Prix (Documentaire) – Festival de Cinéma Valenciennes 2013[23]
  • Grand Prize of the Jury – Documenta Madrid 2013[24]
  • Audience Award for Best Film – Documenta Madrid 2013[25]
  • Grand Prix – Beldocs Belgrade International Documentary Film Festival 2013[26]
  • Audience Award for Best Feature Film – FICUNAM Mexico City 2013[27]
  • Best Film – Prague One World Festival 2013[28]
  • Movies That Matter Award – ZagrebDox 2013[29]
  • Critics Prize – Istanbul Independent Film Festival 2013
  • Gilda Vieira de Mello Prize – Geneva International Human Rights Film Festival 2013[30]
  • Amnesty International Award – IndieLisboa 2013[31]
  • Audience Award – Planete+ Doc Film Festival Warsaw 2013[32]
  • Grand Prix Dolnego Śląska – Planete+ Doc Film Festival Warsaw 2013[33]
  • Grand Prize – DocsBarcelona Film Festival 2013[34]
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013 – Special Jury Award[35]
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013 – Audience Award[36]
  • Biografilm Festival Italy 2013 – Grand Prize[37]
  • Grimstad Short and Documentary Film Festival 2013 – Golden Chair[38]
  • Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival 2013 – Basil Wright Prize[39]
  • Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival 2013 – Aung San Suu Kyi Award[40]

References[edit source | editbeta]

  1. Jump up ^ "THE ACT OF KILLING (15)". Dogwoof Pictures. British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  2. Jump up ^ "The Act of Killing (2012) - Box office / business". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  3. Jump up ^ "Act of Killing (2013)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  4. Jump up ^ Shoard, Catherine (14 September 2012). "The Act of Killing – review". The Guardian. 
  5. Jump up ^
  6. Jump up ^
  7. Jump up ^
  8. Jump up ^
  9. Jump up ^
  10. Jump up ^ APPLEBAUM, STEPHEN (April 13, 2013) Indonesia's killing fields revisited in Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary. The Australian
  11. Jump up ^ Al Jazeera English 101 East "Indonesian Killing Fields" December 20, 2012
  12. Jump up ^
  13. Jump up ^ Melvin, Jess An interview with Joshua Oppenheimer. Inside Indonesia
  14. Jump up ^ Marching, Soe Tjen (July 5, 2013). "Coming to Grips With the Banality of Mass Murder in Indonesia’s Past". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  15. Jump up ^ "The Act Of Killing (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  16. Jump up ^ "The Act of Killing". Metacritic. Retrieved July 29, 2013. 
  17. Jump up ^
  18. Jump up ^ the Panorama Audience Award . Berlinale 2013
  19. Jump up ^ the Ecumenical Jury award. Berlinale 2013
  20. Jump up ^ Robert Award for Best Documentary. Danish Academy Award 2013
  21. Jump up ^ Bodil Awards (Sær Bodil). Bodil Awards 2013
  22. Jump up ^ Grand Prize (DOX: AWARD). CPH DOX 2012
  23. Jump up ^ Grand Prix (Documentaire). Festival de Cinéma Valenciennes 2013
  24. Jump up ^ Grand Prize of the Jury. Documenta Madrid 2013
  25. Jump up ^ Audience Award for Best Film. Documenta Madrid 2013
  26. Jump up ^ Grand Prize. Beldocs Belgrade International Documentary Film Festival 2013
  27. Jump up ^ Audience Award for Best Feature Film. FICUNAM Mexico City 2013
  28. Jump up ^ The Best Film Award. Prague One World Festival 2013
  29. Jump up ^ Movies That Matter Award. ZagrebDox 2013
  30. Jump up ^ Gilda Vieira de Mello Prize. Geneva International Human Rights Film Festival 2013
  31. Jump up ^ Amnesty International Award. IndieLisboa 2013
  32. Jump up ^ THE AUDIENCE AWARD. Planete+ Doc Film Festival Warsaw 2013
  33. Jump up ^ Lower Silesia Grand Prix – The Marshall of Lower Silesia Award. Planete+ Doc Film Festival Warsaw 2013
  34. Jump up ^ Grand Prize. DocsBarcelona Film Festival 2013
  35. Jump up ^ Special Jury Award. Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013
  36. Jump up ^ Audience Award. Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013
  37. Jump up ^ Grand Prize. Biografilm Festival Italy 2013
  38. Jump up ^ Golden Chair. Grimstad Short and Documentary Film Festival 2013
  39. Jump up ^ Basil Wright Prize. Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival 2013
  40. Jump up ^ Aung San Suu Kyi Award. Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival 2013

External links[edit source | editbeta]