Author Topic: The Act of Killing  (Read 5853 times)

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wilder

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The Act of Killing
« on: May 23, 2013, 04:14:57 PM »
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A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.

In this chilling and inventive documentary, executive produced by Errol Morris (The Fog of War) and Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), the filmmakers examine a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes, challenging them to reenact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love. The hallucinatory result is a cinematic fever dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass murderers and the shockingly banal regime of corruption and impunity they inhabit. Shaking audiences at the 2012 Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals, The Act of Killing is an unprecedented film and, according to the Los Angeles Times, "could well change how you view the documentary form."


Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Release Date - July 19, 2013


Pubrick

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2013, 08:17:24 PM »
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I meant to reply to this ages ago, the Errol Morris update today reminded me. I have been talking about this trailer and the concept of this film ever since you posted it, I even gave the post its pitiful solitary upvote. Since then, the trailer has even made the front page of the internet.

I can't believe everyone isn't losing their shit over this. It looks like an unbelievable achievement. It should become a historical and cinematic landmark.

Thematically, it is similar to The Fog of War. That movie was basically Robert McNamara saying "yeah we committed war crimes, we got away with it, and we didn't even win." In this case the movie is about a winner, as he says himself, part of a US-supported regime, which is not mentioned in the trailer but I think is important.

All that is secondary to the real core of the film, which is about cinema itself. It's attempting to distill certain realities into new ways so we may be able to access the truth. The title speaks to this, since the big picture of an entire genocide is too much to process it is more effective to present a single person's experience of this act - or more accurately, behaviour - that has defined him and gained him national respect. His actions as those of a hero.. a great human being.

We can go deeper here, as the word act is presented as the historical fact but also the fictional representation of events. The two conflate for him in at least one scene, where he says "I didn't think it would look this brutal," the feeling has already been shown viscerally where a child actress is told to stop crying because the scene is over.

We can go deeper still. Just imagine this featured the perpetrator of any other genocide in history. It doesn't matter whether they were the victors or losers of their historical moment, an obvious statement, but why does it feel different to think about this starring one of Hitler's henchmen recounting the bloody victory in an alternate universe versus the atrocities on which modern nations and indeed civilization itself is founded on?

This is about reassessing not just who our heroes are, but who we are as a species.
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wilder

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2013, 03:48:46 PM »
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WERNER HERZOG AND ERROL MORRIS TALK ABOUT 'THE ACT OF KILLING'
via Vice

I saw The Act of Killing in a small theater, with about 20 other people. For some, the documentary was just too intense. More than a handful of viewers had to walk out during the screening. For those who stayed, I could see how emotionally taxing it was on their faces as they filed out of the theater in complete silence. I don't think I've ever seen a film as exhausting and affecting as the The Act of Killing. It was like going to a funeral and wedding at the same time.

So, what is this documentary about? On paper, it's concerned with the genocide of Chinese people in Indonesia between 1965 and '66. But what elevates the film is the fact that director Joshua Oppenheimer chronicles these killings through reenactments gleefully performed by the men who actually committed the murders and rapes and tortures so many years ago. What unfolds is a film that is frightening, hilarious, and, at its best moments, otherworldly. I can honestly say it's the most haunting and emotive documentary I've ever seen. It's no wonder why Werner Herzog and Errol Morris signed on to be executive producers. To get more insight on this film, we spoke with them about the making of the film and how important it could be for the future of documentary cinema. Enjoy!


Video - Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talk about 'The Act of Killing' @ Vice

wilder

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2013, 10:22:18 PM »
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Cloudy

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2013, 02:15:16 AM »
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Never seen cinema used in this way before. Every second more I think about it the more it haunts me. Absolute profound darkness. This is going to the cinema to live.
Most important and favorite film of the year for me, by far (which disservices how much I love this film, but it's too early to say more).

*4 hours later...masterpiece.
** 2nd viewing. I realized that the film itself could have been longer  the last third will have you dry heaving your heart out. But I feel like there's even more material that can lace this story together more musically. The subject matter is so rich that at certain points it felt like my only human brain could not grasp the vitality of what's going on.
DP/30 40min Interview of Joshua Oppenheimer. Fucking unreal interview. This man deserves some insane appreciation.

Pedro

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2013, 04:43:28 PM »
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This is one of the best films I have ever seen.  It's horrifying, hilarious, surreal.  All the elements combine to create something deeply disturbing and moving.  A study in empathy and our capacity to ignore it. 

** 2nd viewing. I realized that the film itself could have been longer

The director's cut is 40 minutes longer than the theatrical version.  You can find it online.  I have not seen it yet. 

Alexandro

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2013, 12:55:03 AM »
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I saw the long cut and actually think a shorter version would be better, but still, it is a devastating experience, and no doubt the best film I've seen this year.

wilder

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2013, 06:50:11 PM »
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Blu-ray on January 7, 2014

Mel

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2013, 05:24:02 AM »
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Cosplay With a Purpose
via Under the Radar

Joshua Oppenheimer's groundbreaking documentary The Act of Killing has been making the rounds on the festival circuit for nearly a year, and it is finally getting its long-awaited theatrical release on July 19. Executive produced by pioneering documentarians Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, The Act of Killing is a game-changer for the documentary genre. The film's title refers to the Indonesian genocidal mass murder of communists and Chinese populations in the mid-1960s, and Oppenheimer hopes it will give faces to the indigenous Indonesian populations that are otherwise blotted out in this historically erased holocaust.

Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, two death squad leaders at the time, recreated scenes of the most gruesome crimes, often in homage to classic Hollywood genres—gangster films, musicals, film noir. Oppenheimer gained unprecedented access to the still-hostile environment in North Sumatra, requiring his co-director and almost all of his staff to be recognized as "anonymous" in the film's credits. The result is a documentary by nature, but more importantly a cinematic epitaph. Under the Radar caught up with Mr. Oppenheimer following a screening of the film at this spring's New Directors/New Films festival in New York City. The following interview contains spoilers.

John Oursler (Under the Radar): I saw the director's cut of the film yesterday and was astounded by how well it played in a longer version.

Joshua Oppenheimer: Sometimes when a film feels long it can be too short, because you need more time for breaks to think, and also to get inside the character's heads so you care about them more. What the long version is really structured around are Anwar's doubts and his facial expressions where he's not really believing the things he's saying. In one scene he's desperately trying to figure out a way to make it okay, then he's figuring out that it's not going to work. And then he gets pissed off about it. These emotions actually are the real stuff of his arc. I think, in hindsight, if I'd had more time, I would have cut it down a little differently for the theatrical version. I would have taken out some of the politics and left in some more space for characterizing.

By politics, you mean the government's interfacing with the public at rallies?

Herman [Koto]'s campaign, for example, might have come out.

That's interesting, though. It doesn't seem like a tangent.

No, no; it's important. We first made a 90-minute theatrical version, which we had to do for TV, and there there's no campaign. It felt like that film really suffered from not understanding how this is still implicated in the present. I had a different editor doing that with me, and he was much more interested in the political story, and I was very blind. At this point I'd been editing for three years and when I had the director's cut I thought, "Now my film is done." We thought that would be the theatrical version, until theaters and distributors started saying they'd have trouble booking a 2 hour and 40 minute film that has no reputation yet. So then we realized, okay, they're going to take the 90-minute version and that was not that great. We had just a few weeks to expand it to the current theatrical version.

You've talked about how you think this film functions in a different documentary capacity, a 'documentary of the imagination.' Could you talk more about that and what you think the differences are?

I think that there are precedents for this kind of film. Jean Rouch had characters act in his films. Actually, he's the inventor of cinéma vérité, which we've wrongly identified with direct cinema in the US, like the Maysles Bros, Wiseman. That is not at all cinéma vérité. They are totally philosophically opposed; they just share a common technological origin and portable 16mm cameras and portable synched sound. Cinéma vérité was all about giving people a chance to act a little bit, tell stories, watch their footage, and comment on it, without trying to understand how people's worlds are constellated, or created through the stories they tell themselves: shared fantasies, unconscious fragments of stories, how our notion of self is fractured and made up of different identities that crash and overlap. I think what this film does, is it reenacts the process whereby we make our world through stories by giving Anwar and his friends the opportunity to make their world—different aspects of their world—through stories, through fiction. In a sense, by giving people the chance to stage themselves in whatever ways they wish—as individuals, as collectives—and documenting the process, it's like putting reality through a prism. Where once you had white light, now you have a rainbow of colors. You've made something previously invisible visible. So, I think that people often ask, what about the film of Anwar and his friends? I think partly that's because audiences get so into it that they think that these people are making a real film, and that's as it should be. Because if they weren't so invested, then it wouldn't reveal or mean anything to them. But I think it's also because we've never seen anything like it. Why are these men making a musical number if there's not a musical? Why are they making a gangster scene if there's no gangster film? It stands on the shoulders of Jean Rouch and maybe some of the ethics of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's early work. But it is also something new.

You've said that, for the men in the film, you don't see it as a cathartic process, but rather as a distancing one.

In the end, there's no release.

Anwar has a release at the end.

Not really. It's almost a release. He's trying to have a release. He's trying to vomit up the ghosts, the horror. I think that what's really happening for Anwar. Catharsis only exists in stories. That scene is one shot. Anwar is still saying—in the director's cut there's not one cut—he walks on the roof, talks, vomits, chokes, dry heaves, pulls himself together, talks, vomits, dry heaves. It's like 5 or 6 minutes. What he's saying is still justification. "I killed because my conscious told me they had to be killed." That's a justification—he killed for power and money. Every killer, if given the chance, will justify it, as we all do. We all justify the things in our lives that are uncomfortable if we can. If you ask someone who's killed why they've killed, they'll give you the justification. Anwar is clinging to the old line even as his body is somehow unconsciously starting to recognize the horror and the fact of the horror that he's done in that place. It's as though he's trying to vomit up the ghost that possesses him only to discover there's nothing to come up. There's nothing to release because he is the ghost. He is his past. When he walks down the stairs in the long version of the film, when he just stands there at the landing, I couldn't use that shot in the short version because it felt like a psychological ending as opposed to a political ending. In the shorter version I think we were slightly unable to overcome the boundary between the psychological and the political, the personal and the political. In that sense, the longer film uses its length to do a deeper work. When he just stands there on the landing for such a long time, to me, that is his unconscious acceptance that this is his place. He will never escape what he's done or be released from it. It will never be okay. I remember talking to a psychologist who said, "Okay, Josh, sometimes over many years of therapy, perpetrators can recognize that what they've done was wrong and live with it." I remember thinking that sounded nice, but how is that really possible? How can you really have killed 1,000 people and recognize what that means and live with it? The only way you can live with it is if you can numb yourself to what that really means, in which case there's also going to be no release, which is what Adi has done. Anwar can't numb himself, so for him there's no catharsis. He can't release himself because he is destroyed by it. He's escaped justice but he's not escaped punishment.

At one point Anwar says (during the re-enactments), "I feel what my victims feel," and you respond, "It's not actually the same because you don't think you're going to die." Did you hesitate to say that because you didn't want to interject too much of your own feeling?

It was so instinctual. I actually feel lucky that I was present in that moment. As a filmmaker, you know that at any moment you could be distracted by numerous problems. In that moment I knew this was really important. And also because I was never motivated by taking Anwar on any type of a psychodrama- my intention was to expose a regime of terror. He's creating these scenes as a way of building up a sort of cinematic scar tissue around his wound and I'm harvesting the scenes, maybe perversely, to expose a regime of impunity based on a celebration of genocide on behalf of survivors to other Indonesians themselves. Catching the imagination of international viewers was not my first intention, actually. Because of that, when Anwar made that statement it was obvious to me that he didn't [feel that way] because "this was a fiction scene that you've made, Anwar, and your victims are dying." Those are not the same experiences, because I was aware and playing with the falseness of the material they're making. There's a paradox in the film where they're making fictional scenes that channel real horror in some way, or evoke real horror. At the same time they're fake. When we filmed the village massacre, for me it was important to create an icon for a genocide that has no icon or images. It's important because now it will have a force and be remembered through those images of the village burning, because it's collective and on a big scale—unlike the film noir scenes in the office, for example.

The other icon that the film has produced for Indonesians is Anwar dancing on the roof, but I knew there was something perverse and that genocide is singular and shouldn't have an icon, and I was aware of the fact that we were using conventions of Vietnam war films, shooting through fire, shaky camera, long lenses, to produce the icon, and I felt the way to deconstruct that was to pull the sound down. It's this very unusual sound design during that scene. You can see that it's constructed but also that there's real trauma there. For me the fakeness was always important and forefront in my mind. Even the waterfall scene, which at the end is finally majestic, is kitsch.

It doesn't seem kitsch when you watch it.

It doesn't seem kitsch when it comes back, but it does at the beginning when they're saying "more teeth, more teeth, smile!" It's virtually the same images, but different shots. It doesn't seem kitsch at the end, and that was another very important principle that, what I said to them was, "We will make scenes together and we will document the process," but it was very important that their scenes were as powerful as possible so that they would hold a truth of some aspect of who they are and how they did what they did.

It was important for them that they were powerful?

It was important for me that we make their scenes as good as they can be with their limited budget and in accordance with their wishes and vision. The waterfall scene, for example, could have easily been done as a bad karaoke video and then the audience would be laughing at him and we would feel superior. The whole dynamic whereby the audience is meant to be swept into their world and identify with them would be undermined because we would position the audience somewhere above them. When that scene comes it is, I hope, devastating and undeniably majestic. Of course it's kitsch, but kitsch can be beautiful.

You said that the killers were eager to tell their stories for different reasons than you wanted to present the stories. Did you feel like you had to hide your objectives from them to go through the process?

In a way, yes. I had to not say that I'm coming at this in collaboration with survivors. That was kept secret, also for the survivors' safety. I could be open about what we were doing. I don't think they were trying to glorify what they did. I think Adi comes into the film saying "what we did is wrong, and the propaganda was a lie. We were the cruel ones." He's not trying to glorify what he did. Anwar, I think, isn't either. He's trying to transform the shapeless horror of what he did into representations, and that kind of alchemy is not possible in the end. We were at cross-purposes to the extent that I was not trying to help him deny to himself the meaning of what he did. I was actually harvesting from that process these artifacts that were metaphors for impunity. I came to realize that the indictment of the regime would be most powerful if it could show the killers' own brokenness. As I came to understand that Anwar was broken and trying to repair himself or deny his brokenness by making it beautiful, I came to understand that if he's trying to do that, if the viewer can feel that, then the viewer will think that is the biggest indictment. At that point we were no longer at cross-purposes because Anwar was trying to run away from the horror by making these scenes and I wanted to see where that would go. There were times also, in the longer version, where there is this long descent into hell before he plays the victim. It gets so awful. After he would enact certain things I'd say to him, "Anwar, did you ever do that to a person?" and he didn't answer. He wouldn't answer. He said something crazy like, "If I did, I would never tell." So I wasn't sure what he did and didn't do. It started in the film as a game for him.

It seems too specific, almost, for the reenactments to come from a vacuum. They had to come from his experiences.

I've thought about this a lot. I know he killed women and hasn't talked about it. There was one man who told me that tons of women would go into the newspaper office [where many of the mass killings took place] and come out dead. All the stories he told me about killing people were about killing men. But I believe that he killed women too because of that guy. Knowing Anwar, I think it'd be harder for him to admit to killing children. I think that maybe, though, we feel like the scenes are so specific but the scenes come from something else. Because it's a teddy bear, he can actually go all the way. It's the only time in the film that we really see him go all the way. I think maybe it feels specific because it's the only time he goes all the way in the movie. Maybe he did that to children, or maybe not. Earlier you talked about cross-purposes, and later in the journey I could be pretty honest with him and say, "This is horrible. How do you feel? I feel awful filming this." I could be very open. We were all pretty overwhelmed. I don't think you can make a film honestly about this without getting really overwhelmed.

You've talked openly about your affinity for Anwar as a result of filming with him for so long. Did you ever think that was problematic for your ultimate goals?

That makes sense, and it relates to a question I've been asked by people in Germany: "Do you feel there's a risk for having empathy for [Anwar and his friends]?" I don't think you can ever have too much empathy. The empathy for him doesn't undermine at all the empathy you have for the survivors. In fact, I think it probably only enhances it. Empathy is the beginning of love. I remember one troubling time where I really depended on my crew and we would remind each other constantly about why this was important. It enabled us to always keep our moral direction clear. I tended to be the more sympathetic one to Anwar because I had the relationship with him. At one point my anonymous co-director started having sympathetic feelings for him and I found it really scary and threatening, because I was relying on him as my grounding. I think that was the beginning of this spiral into the abyss which we all took together that allowed the film to have the force that it has.

What's one misconception that you think most people have about the film? I've seen a wide variety of ideas about what the film is about.

I think the misconception is rationalization. People don't want to go there. They don't want to see even a small part of themselves in Anwar. You'd have to look at yourself. There's this whole edifice of the world being divided into good guys and bad guys, and we could talk about Arendt's banality of evil here. I think that 99.9% of the reasons people denounce the film are rationalizations of the fear that they have. It goes back to the humor in the film. There are two types of humor: there's the absurd, grotesque humor where you see the hypocrisy on which the whole regime is founded, where you can't believe what you're seeing. Then there's the other kind, which is the more interesting one, the disarming humor. We're never actually laughing at their jokes. There are these moments where [our subjects] are so open with us onscreen. The openness can very quickly turn to horror or beauty or absurdity. They're identifiable people and generous with themselves. When I make films with people, I look for people who have no façade, who are open. We love that in people. We laugh, and we identify with them as human beings, and that's when the horror comes. Normally with acts of evil, in human rights documentaries especially, there is an ominous score preparing us for the fact that something terrible is going to happen, so we can retreat from what we're about to witness into the realm of "I'm good and I'm going to see something bad." This film deprives viewers of that possibility and seduces them into entering the evil with the human beings who are perpetrating it. That is scary for people. Most haven't seen that very often. When Werner Herzog said this film was unprecedented in the history of cinema he was talking about that. He said, "You never see a film where the humanity of people is so seductively worked." I think people don't want to go there.
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Mel

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2013, 01:41:53 PM »
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I was about to write down some opinion before, ended up with posting interview, which answered few of my questions. I hesitated, because of mixed feelings, which are still present today (those comes mostly from receptions documentary got). This is quite something, if had to choose one film from this year as recommendation for viewing, it would be 'The Act of Killing'. Method used in filming this documentary is brilliant - we will see in future, what impact it will have.

It is horrific, but not shocking - there is so much mass killing around world, that it is hardly novelty (which says much about us as a whole). On other hand I'm surprised, how close Anwar and Herman are to us. They are almost unaware what is going around them, as they are blinded by idea of having their own movie. They are more concerned with their looks: (nice cloths, fixing teeth, coloring hairs) than being perceived as monsters. This is a very western thing - counterparts could be found on any talk-show (one difference is they don't care to be perceived as idiots).

There is sad part to whole story, as I agree with Errol (from endorsement, posted earlier), there is no lesson that comes from it. Film can change and probably did already change how those events from past are treated in Indonesia, that is all. I need to see it again in few months - I don't feel like viewing it again now, because it is very vivid experience.

btw. I agree with comment posted by Pubrick in shoutbox: 'The Act of Killing' deserves to be talked much much more about. 
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Lottery

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2013, 06:53:16 PM »
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I saw the long cut and actually think a shorter version would be better, but still, it is a devastating experience, and no doubt the best film I've seen this year.

Ok, with this is mind, has anyone else seen both? Is the shorter one a better overall experience? Does the shorter version miss any important content?

classical gas

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2014, 08:05:23 PM »
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For those interested, this is on netflix instant now.

Alexandro

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2014, 08:24:38 PM »
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http://documentaries.about.com/od/Guest-Commentaries-on-Documentary-Films/fl/WE-LOVE-IMPUNITY.htm

A dissenting voice I don't agree with but what do you guys think?
The guy actually says what Pubrick said:

"I’d feel the same if film-makers had gone to rural Argentina in the 1950s, rounding up a bunch of ageing Nazis and getting them to make a film entitled We Love Killing Jews. Think of other half-covered up atrocities – in Bosnia, Rwanda, wherever you like –  imagine that similar films had been made. Think for a moment, and consider what response might have made to such efforts. And now consider whether such goings-on in Indonesia are not acceptable merely because the place is so far away, and so little known or talked about that the cruelty of such an act can pass unnoticed."

Mel

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2014, 06:47:51 AM »
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http://documentaries.about.com/od/Guest-Commentaries-on-Documentary-Films/fl/WE-LOVE-IMPUNITY.htm

A dissenting voice I don't agree with but what do you guys think?

He missed or omitted reason why "The Act of Killing" was made in the first place. Victims are afraid of speaking and I'm not sure if anyone would listen to them anyway. This isn't denial, it is complete inversion with victims perceived by majority as  culprits in own country. This is why Joshua followed murderers, not victims.

Quote
I’d feel the same if film-makers had gone to rural Argentina in the 1950s, rounding up a bunch of ageing Nazis and getting them to make a film entitled We Love Killing Jews. Think of other half-covered up atrocities – in Bosnia, Rwanda, wherever you like –  imagine that similar films had been made. Think for a moment, and consider what response might have made to such efforts. And now consider whether such goings-on in Indonesia are not acceptable merely because the place is so far away, and so little known or talked about that the cruelty of such an act can pass unnoticed.

I live in eastern part of Poland, I could say that place where Holodomor and other Soviet crimes took place is in "throwing rock" distance. To this day Stalin is widely perceived in Russia as good grandpa and NKVD crimes are denied (there is continuity between Cheka > NKVD > KGB > current political establishment). Do I imagine something similar to "The Act of Killing" could be made? Sure, but it is probably too late: victims are dead and many perpetrators became victims themselves later on.

Quote
It isn’t fair to make any comparisons between Lanzmann’s dark, obsessive, life-altering masterpiece and The Act Of Killing, but one might observe that unlike Shoah the latter never gets much further than the long and laborious contemplation of its own methodology.

For me it is the other way around. "Shoah" is very manipulative (you can read somewhere else how it is perceived by Polish Jews) , where "The Act of Killing" lets you draw own conclusions.

Quote
Whatever the film-makers’ intentions (these are said, certainly to be noble, not just by themselves, but also by such film culture aristos as Errol Morris and Werner Herzog) they do not  in any recognizable sense enhance our knowledge of the 1960s Indonesian killings, or indeed (as if that were possible, and as if, after all the disputes over Hannah Arendt’s legacy, that could be taken seriously) our familiarity with the metaphysics of evil.

Should documentary be a teaching book on history? By avoiding that "The Act of Killing" becomes much more universal for me. I stated in previous post that film didn't shock me. Before that I did see some interviews with African war lords, in which they openly talk about acts of cannibalism and other atrocities. Mass murders are happening all over the world, and similar to Indonesian killings, sometimes perpetrators have upper hand in establishing how crimes are perceived in years to come.
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Alexandro

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Re: The Act of Killing
« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2014, 09:42:46 AM »
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you are right in all accounts. I was perplexed by the criticisms this man makes, not because he makes them, but because they're so misguided to the point it sounds as he is incapable of using his own head while watching a film.

 

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