Saturday, February 1, 2014


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

--- ‘The Act of Killing’ tipped for Indonesia’s first Oscar
---Why Indonesia should embrace ‘The Act of Killing’
---Guess what?: ‘The Act of Killing’ vies for Oscar
---“The Act Of Killing’: New narrative with new views
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The Act of Killing’ tipped for Indonesia’s first Oscar
Andreas D. Arditya, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Sat, January 18 2014, 10:49 AM

The Act of Killing, a documentary by American director Joshua Oppenheimer. Made from 2005 to 2011, the documentary tells the story of how death squad leader Anwar Congo killed thousands of alleged Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in North Sumatra. (Courtesy of Joshua Oppenheimer)
The Act of Killing, the widely acclaimed film about the nation’s bloody communist purges between 1965 and 1968, has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

It is the first time that an Indonesian movie will be voted upon by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for filmmaking’s highest accolade: An Oscar.

The film’s director, Joshua Oppenheimer, who made the film over eight years with Indonesian collaborators who remain anonymous, hoped the nomination would prompt public action as the 2014 election approached.

“With leading candidates personally responsible for crimes against humanity, and glorifying a history of genocide to build a climate of fear, there is a very real risk that the country will backslide toward military dictatorship,” Oppenheimer said in a press statement.

 “We hope that this nomination will put the film, and the issues of impunity that it raises, on the front pages of Indonesian newspapers — at a time when Indonesians must urgently debate how impunity for mass murder has led to a moral vacuum of fear, corruption and thuggery,” Oppenheimer said in a media release.

He also gave credit to the survivors of the 1965 purges, “who courageously defied army threats to tell us their stories, and inspired us to make this film” and to his anonymous Indonesian crew and co-director.

The documentary follows Anwar Congo and his colleagues, who claim in the film to have killed an untold number of alleged communists in North Sumatra.

What appears on screen is amazing and chilling: At Oppenheimer’s encouragement, the men reenact scene after scene of horrific violence within the framework of a movie within a movie.

Killing has received acclaim inside and outside the country since it began screening — privately in Indonesia, publicly overseas — in 2012.

It has been named the best documentary, if not the best film, of the year, by critics around the world and is the fifth highest rated film according to a survey of 153 “top-ten” lists conducted by Movie City News.

Local author Daniel Ziv, recently awarded top honors at the Busan film festival for Jalanan, said Killing offered a raw and provocative counter-narrative of what happened in Indonesia during the birth of the New Order.

“It also brilliantly reinvents the language of documentary storytelling, which a film does maybe once in a generation,” Ziv told The Jakarta Post on Friday. “It’s a devastating work of art that Indonesia will hopefully embrace for the sake of its own historical reckoning.”

Hilmar Farid, a historian and human rights activist, said that the slaughter of suspected members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was part of the nation’s “hidden history” — unlike the better known deeds of Adolf Hitler
or Pol Pot.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has said it has evidence that government officials were involved in the systematic and widespread killing and persecution of PKI members and alleged sympathizers in the aftermath of the abortive coup in 1965.

According to Komnas HAM, upward of one million people were victims of extra-judicial killings, imprisonment or exile.

“Killing is not the first movie about the terrible event, but it is by far the most significant for being able to tell the story from the perspective of the executioners,” Hilmar said on Friday. “The Oscar nomination can be expected to bring more international attention to the killings.”

The Oscars awards ceremony will be held on March 2.
Nominees for Best Documentary Feature
The Act of Killing
• Directors Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer
• Directors Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars
• Directors Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
The Square
• Directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
20 Feet from Stardom
• Nominees to be determined

Why Indonesia should embrace
The Act of Killing’
Daniel Ziv, Ubud, Bali | Opinion | Wed, January 15 2014, 11:45 AM
This week, for the first time ever, an Indonesian film will be nominated for an Academy Award.

The documentary The Act of Killing (TAoK) portrays in raw, chilling detail some of the most shameless perpetrators of Indonesia’s 1965 anti-communist genocide as they joyfully and boastfully recreate for the camera their darkest deeds.

In an op-ed I published about the film in the Wall Street Journal just over a year ago, I predicted: “The documentary will hit nearly every top international film festival early next year. An Oscar nomination is likely, which means Indonesia is about to gain notoriety for the wrong reasons.”

This forecast has come true, and it is important to fully appreciate the prominence, indeed dominance, that TAoK has enjoyed in the film world since. It has been screened at 120 international festivals, including nearly every top-tier event (Telluride, Toronto, Berlin, SXSW and many others.) It has won 35 awards, including many of the world’s most coveted film prizes: Berlinale, European Film Award, Gotham, Puma Impact, Asia Pacific Screen Awards and two BAFTA nominations.

Film legends Werner Herzog and Errol Morris have thrown themselves passionately behind TAoK, and it scores a whopping 96 percent on internet movie standard-bearer Rotten
TAoK’s director Joshua Oppenheimer was even a guest on the hit TV program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, usually a hot seat for A-list stars, not obscure documentary directors.

In recent weeks TAoK made nearly every Best of 2013 movie list that matters, including The Guardian, New York Times, Indiewire, and LA Weekly. It was often listed not just as the year’s top documentary, but as the year’s top film in any category.

This sort of renown is unprecedented for a non-fiction movie, and even more unusual given that TAoK had everything working against it: It’s abnormally long (two hours 39 minutes) and it’s a slow-moving political documentary in a foreign language about an event nearly 50 years ago in a country most international viewers have barely heard of.

In other words, TAoK had all the ingredients to go totally unnoticed. Despite these handicaps, it has become one of the most critically acclaimed films of our time.
The attention will only intensify in the lead-up to the Oscars in early March, and Indonesia will be in the spotlight like never before.
What has the Indonesian government’s reaction been? Silence. Government officials have no doubt seen the film, but haven’t reacted publicly. Contrary to the film’s important underlying message — that historical truths must be addressed for the sake of justice — Indonesia’s government seems content to bury its head in the sand. This is a great shame.

The disgrace surrounding Indonesia’s 1965 genocide isn’t that the perpetrators have gone unpunished: anyone familiar with Indonesia’s patronage politics knows how unlikely it is that killers from 1965 will ever be investigated and brought to justice.

The real outrage — and surely of far greater pain to the victims — is that the 1965 genocide hasn’t even been acknowledged. To make matters worse, the official narrative in Indonesia surrounding the events of 1965 remains one of blatant lies and historical distortions.
Why does Indonesia’s reaction to TAoK even matter? The country, now just months from crucial parliamentary and presidential elections, is at one of its most fragile moral crossroads in decades.

The political arena will be contested by morally corrupt figures with direct ties to those involved in 1965, and at least one candidate who personally embodies that legacy of political violence.
But it will also be contested by an enlightened few with a vision of Indonesia governed through honesty, openness and accountability.

There is reason to be optimistic: For the first time since reformasi, Indonesia is seeing the emergence of a new generation of energetic, people-focused leaders bent on battling corruption and entrenched interests.

Jakarta’s Governor Joko Widodo and his deputy Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama are the most obvious examples. But we can also look to figures like Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil, Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu and former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati as influential leaders who won’t settle for business as usual.

Progressive figures like Anies Baswedan and Gita Wirjawan are similarly emerging as potential leaders of the future. Many of these “good guys” weren’t even part of the political landscape five years ago.

So Indonesia faces a clear choice: It can slide deeper into the very real landscape of fear and impunity portrayed in TAoK, or it can treat the film as a wake-up call and insist at the polls on the kind of enlightened, honest leadership it deserves.
Oppenheimer has handed a massive gift to Indonesia in the form of some hard medicine to heal its historical wounds and to right some of its greatest wrongs.

In October, Oppenheimer and his team made TAoK available for free download to anyone in Indonesia. Its people have begun confronting the truth through this important film. Now the government must decide whether to be on the right side of history by embracing truth and justice, or continue burying its head in the sand.

The idea of a government embracing and even promoting a film that criticizes its country is not as unlikely as it sounds. Israel, for instance, produces dozens of hard-hitting movies each year that blatantly expose and criticize institutionalized injustice.

Many of these films are not only promoted overseas by the Israeli government, but produced with government funding. This is also true of many films produced in the US with taxpayer money. It’s a huge part what art is supposed to do anywhere — to serve as introspection, a social conscience, a devil’s advocate.

Some may say Indonesia isn’t ready for this kind of introspection. This is nonsense. The country is full of thoughtful, honest, forward-looking citizens comfortable with the world around them and wanting nothing more than to be part of a global society. To suggest they need to be “protected” from controversy or truth is utterly condescending. The Indonesian government needs to become a lot better at trusting the Indonesian people.

Rather than being embarrassed by TAoK, Indonesia’s government should champion this film. It should welcome it into theaters and boldly promote TAoK as an important educational tool to compensate for decades of indoctrinating its nation’s students with the infamous propaganda film G30SPKI.
Endorsing TAoK would be a sign of a confident, progressive government intent on breaking away from a culture of fear, lies and impunity.

Though Oppenheimer won’t be visiting our shores for a while, for fear of reprisals by vigilante groups implicated in TAoK, he isn’t going away any time soon.
Oppenheimer and his Indonesian codirector Anonymous are now editing their follow-up film. It’s also about the 1965 genocide, but this time from the perspective of the survivors. Its title points poignantly and shamefully at how Indonesia’s government has chosen thus far to ignore 1965: The Look of Silence.

The writer is the director of JALANAN, a new feature-length documentary about Indonesia seen through the lives of three Jakarta street musicians, and author of the urban pop culture book Jakarta Inside Out.

Guess what?: ‘The Act of Killing’ vies for Oscar

The Jakarta Post | People | Thu, December 05 2013, 12:22 PM
Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary, The Act of Killing, about mass murders in Indonesia in 1965 has been selected as a candidate for Documentary Feature in the 2014 Academy Awards.
The Act of Killing is among 14 other documentary titles listed in the category, several film websites, including, reported on Wednesday.

Other candidates, which will later be whittled to five nominees, include a film about jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer; a documentary about a British war photographer killed in Libya, Which Way is The Front Line from Here?; and 20 Feet from Stardom, which tells about the lives of back-up singers.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the nominees on Jan. 16, and the Oscars show will take place on March 2.
    The Act Of Killing’: New narrative with new views
Nelly Martin, Wisconsin | Opinion | Fri, September 06 2013, 9:45 AM
I need to state it upfront that this piece is not coming from a historian, but an Indonesian layperson. Right after I watched the movie and before I wrote this piece, I started a conversation with a group of friends residing in Indonesia. Their reaction was easy to guess: “I don’t like the movie because it gives a bad name to the Indonesian government”. I can totally understand this stance because that’s how the majority of Indonesians have been indoctrinated.

Another strong opinion stated that the movie, which is aimed at an international audience, would just give the impression to the world that the Indonesian government has been treating the Chinese badly.

I am not going to discuss this. For me, it is just a matter of power and who is powerful enough to write it down and to instill it in the people. As an Indonesian studying overseas for quite a while now, I can understand where some Indonesians are coming from — that the crushing of the communists was justified and excusable. My best guess is that we might have been brainwashed into considering that the entire massacre was legal and ethical. Again, I speculate here.

What interests me more is the way the director narrates the story. I may refer to the movie as a life history. Seeing it from the life history point of view, this piece is trying to reconstruct the history from another point of view.

There are two reasons why this movie may be worth watching. First, it is because this movie is voicing the unheard voice, one which was not present when history was being written. Second, this movie is, as Cole and Knowles (2000) put it, provides a broader understanding of other human experiences. It gives us some understanding of the complexities of the killer’s decision making. Whether or not we want to forgive him, it will be our personal choice and inclination.

The truth is there and should be revealed. While I am not sure if I can forgive the killer(s), this movie has started a dialogue, which hopefully can mediate the differences and friction among the Indonesian government, the killers, the victims and the nation in general. Additionally, this piece has successfully made “the audience aroused by vivid, intriguing, soothing, perplexing, provocative, and even shocking portrayals of all kinds” (Cole & Knowles, 2001, p. 103). Some scenes may be too vulgar or sadistic but I can tell that the director did a lot of research before filming.

Also, we can really sense a close relationship between the director and the protagonist (the killer) from the language he uses with Joshua Oppenheimer the director. He would simply call him “Josh” instead of Joshua and this may be a signal that this movie went through a long process in which both parties built up a close relationship. Some utterances in the movie show this relationship. The protagonist seems to be relaxed and re-tells the story without any hesitation. Also, I need to praise Joshua for being such a good listener, and that is the key to the life history: “[the] willingness and commitment to listen” (James, 2000, p. 125).

Another good quality of Joshua is the position that he took. As an outsider, he clearly emphasizes it when responding to the killer’s regret: “they [those who were killed] had much more fear because they knew they were going to be killed, unlike you who knew that you were being filmed”. This very sentence is to convey that what the killer did was not right. At least that’s how I interpreted it. However, as much as I respect Joshua’s position, I feel that the closing seems to mislead the viewers. It is, at least for me, to sympathize or to forgive the killer. At the end, whether or not you want to forgive him, it is a matter of choice.

Moreover, this movie may have been made through togetherness (Bakhtin, 1981). Together the director and the protagonists have collected and recollected the memory and re-told the stories. This recollection and retelling attempts to understand cultural and social phenomena rather than understand only individual lives and personalities, though it is only narrated by one person. It is a view from a broader perspective, rather than a narrow-minded one.

It is our task to keep questioning and evaluating what we hear, read and see so that we don’t pass judgment too easily. It is for us to teach and educate our children that we need at least to be fair and listen to both sides of the story before making any decision or passing any judgment. This is the message that I took away from the movie.

That said, this movie is not to be banned or to be avoided, as we just need to employ our critical thinking in scrutinizing what’s good and what’s bad. It is obvious that it is not for children. It’s more for the parents so they can be have balance when narrating Indonesian history.

At the end, I was actually hoping there would be some historical background about the PKI (the Indonesia Communist Party) so that international viewers would understand it comprehensively. The lack of this part seems to take it for granted that all of the audience will have understood Indonesian history. Also, a statement from the Indonesian government that the act of killing of those people was sinful is missing. Some friends argue that this movie should also have captured the government asking for forgiveness from the victims. As this movie is from the other perspective, it may have been� wise to do so.

The last message I wish to convey is that we don’t have to worry that the world or other countries will hate us after seeing the movie. Simply put, those who are well-read and well-educated will seek other sources before passing judgment. On the other hand, those who hate easily, due to their lack of knowledge or ignorance, will pass judgment regardless. There is nothing we can do to for this group of people. Whether we want to be a hater or a critical thinker, it is up to us.

So, my friends, let’s forget our hatred, and instill love within us, because differences are inevitable. This movie is just another narrative from another perspective.

The writer is a PhD Candidate in second language acquisition, Fulbright Presidential Scholar, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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