TAKE SOME TIME --- READ THIS "GUARDIAN" ARTICLE PLEASE =========================IT HAPPENED ALMOST HALF A CENTURY AGO IN INDONESIA
Friday, 21 June, 2013
TAKE SOME TIME --- READ THIS "GUARDIAN" ARTICLE PLEASE
IT HAPPENED ALMOST HALF A CENTURY AGO IN INDONESIA
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The Guardian: Joshua Oppenheimer: 'You Celebrate Mass Killing
So You Don't Have to Look Yourself in The Mirror'
June 21, 2013
Anwar Congo is showing us how he killed people. Then he dances
cha-cha-cha. He used to beat people to death, but there was
blood ("It smelt awful"). So he asks a pal to sit down, ties a
a post, wraps the other end around his neck, and pulls. "This
to do it!"
Anwar still has nightmares about what he did. He tries to
alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy. He dances and sings. His friend
"He's a happy man."
The year following Indonesia's 1965 coup saw the murder of
more than a
million "communists" (in fact, enemies of the military,
ethnic Chinese, intellectuals, union members). Anwar, head of
of killers called the Frog Squad, dispatched about 1,000
is the subject of The Act of Killing, a documentary that
and his friends to dramatise their crimes, to boast about
starring roles in a genocide.
Director Joshua Oppenheimer began the film a decade ago by
interviewing survivors. But when, at the suggestion of one of
turned his camera on the perpetrators, he found they were more
eager to reveal the history themselves. The killers simply
story they had been telling each other for decades: that they
ruling class, so their acts were heroic.
For gangsters like Anwar, Oppenheimer was offering the chance
a "beautiful family film" – a celebration of their rise,
the Hollywood movies they loved.
"They're desperately trying to run away from the reality of
they've done," says Oppenheimer, a 38-year-old Harvard
based in Copenhagen. "You celebrate mass killing so you don't
look yourself in the mirror in the morning and see a murderer.
keep your victims oppressed so that they don't challenge your
When you put the justification – the celebration – under a
microscope, you don't necessarily see a lack of remorse, but
to see an unravelling of the killers' conscience. So what
be the symptom of a lack of remorse is in fact the opposite.
sign of their humanity."
The Act of Killing is as much Anwar's film as Oppenheimer's.
killer's taste in movies stretches from westerns to gangster
to Elvis Presley musicals: apple-pie imports that were
the communists were in power. The reconstructions are
their flamboyance, their bizarre camp. One scene imagines the
of one of Anwar's victims force-feeding him his own liver.
himself; the daughter is played by his best friend, Herman, a
am-dram fan dressed in a sparkling red and gold belly top,
eyeliner and giant headdress ("The makeup artist and costume
loved Divine," says Oppenheimer). Herman cackles and screams
pushes the meat into Anwar's mouth. Oppenheimer watches
the sidelines, giving the gangsters all the rope they need.
unsettling montage of re-enactment, confessional and political
that grabbed the attention of doco-godfathers Werner Herzog
Morris – both executive producers – as well as awestruck
the world over.
As Anwar had nightmares about his past, so did Oppenheimer ("A
reunion transforming gradually into a scene where somebody I
being tortured or killed"). And after all that time with
couldn't help but move into his world. The monster who had
misery for thousands was the dapper gent serving him sweet
playing Cliff Richard records and teaching his grandchildren
for injured animals.
It's this dissonance that makes the film so disturbing. It
to relate to a mass murderer.
"If we have any hope of learning how these things happen and
preventing them from happening again we have to discard this
that there are monsters out there," says Oppenheimer, "that we
have to be vigilant and lock them up and maybe kill them or
"In calling someone a bad guy I reassure myself that I'm good.
elevate myself. I call it the 'Star Wars morality'. And
it underpins most of the stories we tell."
Oppenheimer stays in touch with Anwar. The two speak via Skype
"I care about him," he says. "It's hard to call our
friendship. I was trying to expose a regime of impunity on
behalf of a
community of survivors, while Anwar was trying to run away
pain, to build up a cinematic psychic scar tissue around his
may not exactly like him, but I have love for him as another