© Wolf/Neue Visionen

The Act of Killing
Denmark/Norway/U.K. 2012

Opening 14 Nov 2013

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
Writing credits:

In Indonesia in 1965 a military coup gave power to over 3000 pro-regime paramilitaries of the Pancasila Youth, as well as sadistic criminals who jumped onto the band wagon, delighted at this opportunity to follow their sick instincts legally under government protection. They sought out, tortured, and murdered more than 1000 so-called Communists. These were predominately of Chinese origin, often in the third or fourth generation, supposedly, followers of Communist mainland China. Director Joshua Oppenheimer had no problem speaking with these killers, as they consider themselves heroes and were never called to atone for their crimes (contrary to Nazis, for example). Oppenheimer could convince them to recreate their actions to be filmed for posterity. They proudly helped find sites, actors, extras, and costumes. They demonstrated their deeds so that the actors (and sometimes themselves as actors) could get it down right. In their free time they eagerly watched Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and John Wayne on television with family members. Thus, here, we have a film about the making of a film. Gradually, some of the participants realize what they have done – perhaps.

For me this was especially interesting for three reasons. First: it is well-made and brings to light a massacre which should not go unremembered, even in this world of a long history of such deeds. One participant even says, “People like me are everywhere in the world.” Second: Joshua Oppenheimer might not be as well-known in Germany as he deserves. He was born 1974 in Austin, Texas, educated in Harvard and Central St. Martins in London. He produced films, 2004-2012, in Indonesia. Although he never shows himself in this film, he does speak to his participants; they call him Joshua and speak Indonesian. This film won two major awards at the 2013 Berlinale, as well as awards in other festivals. Third: I have a personal interest. My Chinese-Indonesian husband and I were living in Hamburg during this time, when several of his relatives moved to Germany to study. Here, in the 1960s they were wildly active in like-minded groups of Chinese and even Indonesian students, calling themselves “communists” and claiming membership in the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) which was worldwide, e.g., in the U.S. This was the sixties after all. After a few years, these Chinese in Hamburg realized that there were more important things to do such as pass German exams. Also, they had received no support from any government, other than Bulgaria or Hungary and none of them wanted to go there. Luckily, none of my family members suffered in the long run, although Chinese schools, including that of my husband’s were closed down for many years, and Chinese changed their name to something more Indonesian, e.g., Tan to Tunodwaja. (Becky Tan)

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