The Act of Killing - Nashville
Deborah Presents... The Act Of KILLING
Film & Discussion
April 21, 2014 - 11:00amApril 22, 2014 - 12:00pmApril 23, 2014 - 1:00pmApril 24, 2014 - 3:00pmApril 25, 2014 - 5:00pmApril 26, 2014 - 7:00pm
Nashville Film Institute500 Lafayette StreetBuilding ANashville TN 37203
The first in the Deborah Presents... series at the Nashville Film Institue in Nashville is the viewing and discussion of the award-winning film, The Act Of Killing.
Film Synopsis: When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by… Show more the military in 1965, Anwar Congo and his friends were promoted from small-‐time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. 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 these Indonesian death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes. The filmmakers challenge unrepentant death squad leaders to dramatize their role in the genocide by reenacting 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 around the world, The Act Of Killing is an unprecedented film and, according to The Los Angeles Times, "could well change how you view the documentary form."
Rich with contemporary issues on history, politics, international relations, and war, The Act Of Killing, offers the perfect backdrop for a Seriously Entertaining discussion on Indonesia now, Us foreign policies, our human propensity for violence and evil and our humane need for peace and reconciliation.
Watch The Film And Engage In The Conversation!
“I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade…unprecedented in the history of cinema.”– Werner Herzog
“Like all great documentaries, The Act of Killing demands another way of looking at reality. It starts as a dreamscape, an attempt to allow the perpetrators to reenact what they did, and then something truly amazing happens. The dream dissolves into nightmare and then into bitter reality. An amazing and impressive film.”– Errol Morris
“If we are to transform Indonesia into the democracy it claims to be, citizens must recognize the terror and repression on which our contemporary history has been built. No film, or any other work of art for that matter, has done this more effectively than The Act of Killing. [It] is essential viewing for us all.”‐ National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia
“An absolute and unique masterpiece.”‐ Dusan Makavejev
“The Act of Killing is the most powerful, politically important film about Indonesia that I have ever seen. The arrival of this film is itself a historical event almost without parallel. [It] witnesses the bloody destruction of a foundation of this nation at the hands of Indonesians themselves. On top of a mountain of corpses, our fellow countrymen rolled out a red carpet for the growth of gangster capitalism and political Islam. In documenting this, The Act of Killing exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of this country’s notions of ‘patriotism’ and ‘justice.’ The film achieves all this thanks to the director’s genius and audacious choice of filmmaking method.”‐ Ariel Heryanto, Historian and Cultural Critic, Tempo Magazine (Indonesia’s premier newsmagazine)
“Every now and then a non-‐fiction film comes along that is unlike anything else I have seen: Buñuel’s Land Without Bread, Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana, Hara’s The EMPEROR’S Naked Army Marches On. Well, it’s happened again. Here, Joshua Oppenheimer invites unrepentant Indonesian death-‐squad leaders to make fiction films reenacting their violent histories. Their cinematic dreams dissolve into nightmares and then into bitter reality. Like all great documentary, The Act Of Killing demands another way of looking at reality. It is like a hall of mirrors––the so-‐called mise-‐en-‐abyme––where real people become characters in a movie and then jump back into reality again. And it asks the central question: what is real? Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in a Paris Review interview, wrote about reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” for he first time, “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that.” I have the same feeling with this extraordinary film.”‐ Errol Morris
“THE Act Of Killing invents a new form of cinematic surrealism.”‐ Werner Herzog
SYNOPSIS: Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodeling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers.
Medan, Indonesia. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-‐time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.
Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-‐wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide.
The Act of Killing is about killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built. Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan génocidaires, Anwar and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries. The Act of Killing is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. The Act of Killing is a nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.
In their youth, Anwar and his friends spent their lives at the movies, for they were “movie theatre gangsters”: they controlled a black market in tickets, while using the cinema as a base of operations for more serious crimes. In 1965, the army recruited them to form death squads because they had a proven capacity for violence and they hated the communists for boycotting American films – the most popular (and profitable) in the cinemas.
Anwar and his friends were devoted fans of James Dean, John Wayne, and Victor Mature. They explicitly fashioned themselves and their methods of murder after their Hollywood idols. Coming out of the midnight show, they felt “just like gangsters who stepped off the screen”. In this heady mood, they strolled across the boulevard to their office and killed their nightly quota of prisoners. Borrowing his technique from a mafia movie, Anwar preferred to strangle his victims with wire.
In The Act of Killing, Anwar and his friends agree to tell us the story of the killings. But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary: they want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. We seize this opportunity to expose how a regime that was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable, would project itself into history.
So we challenge Anwar and his friends to develop fiction scenes about their experience of the killings, adapted to their favorite film genres – gangster, western, musical. They write the scripts. They play themselves. And they play their victims.
Their fiction filmmaking process provides the film’s dramatic arc, and their film sets become safe spaces to challenge them about what they did. 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 the paramilitary movement argue that they should boast about the horror of the massacres because their terrifying and threatening force is the basis of their power today. As opinions diverge, the atmosphere on set grows tense. The edifice of genocide as a “patriotic struggle,” with Anwar and his friends as its heroes, begins to sway and crack.
Most dramatically, the filmmaking process catalyzes an unexpected emotional journey for Anwar, from arrogance to regret, as he confronts, for the first time in his life, the full implications of what he’s done. As Anwar’s fragile conscience is threatened by the pressure to remain a hero, The Act of Killing presents a gripping conflict between moral imagination and moral catastrophe.
DIRECTOR’S Statement – Joshua Oppenheimer
In February 2004, I filmed a former death squad leader demonstrate how, in less than three months, he and his fellow killers slaughtered 10,500 alleged ‘communists’ in a single clearing by a river in North Sumatra. When he was finished with his explanation, he asked my sound recordist to take some snapshots of us together by the riverbank. He smiled broadly, gave a thumbs up in one photo, a victory sign in the next.
Two months later, other photos, this time of American soldiers smiling and giving the thumbs up while torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners, appeared in the news (Errol Morris later revealed these photographs to be more complex than they at first appear). The most unsettling thing about these images is not the violence they document, but rather what they suggest to us about how their participants wanted, in that moment, to be seen. And how they thought, in that moment, they would want to remember themselves. Moreover, performing, acting, and posing appear to be part of the procedures of humiliation.
These photographs betray not so much the physical situation of abuse, but rather forensic evidence of the imagination involved in persecution. And they were very much in my mind when, one year later, I met Anwar Congo and the other leaders of Indonesia’s Pancasila Youth paramilitary movement.
FAR Away Or Close To HOME?
The differences between the situations I was filming in Indonesia and other situations of mass persecution may at first seem obvious. Unlike in Rwanda, South Africa or Germany, in Indonesia there have been no truth and reconciliation commissions, no trials, no memorials for victims. Instead, ever since committing their atrocities, the perpetrators and their protégés have run the country, insisting they be honored as national heroes by a docile (and often terrified) public. But is this situation really so exceptional? At home (in the USA), the champions of torture, disappearance, and indefinite detention were in the highest positions of political power and, at the same time, busily tending to their legacy as the heroic saviors of western civilization. That such narratives would be believed (despite all evidence to the contrary) suggests a failure of our collective imagination, while simultaneously revealing the power of storytelling in shaping how we see.
And that Anwar and his friends so admired American movies, American music, American clothing – all of this made the echoes more difficult to ignore, transforming what I was filming into a nightmarish allegory.
FILMING With SURVIVORS
When I began developing The Act of Killing in 2005, I had already been filming for three years with survivors of the 1965-‐66 massacres. I had lived for a year in a village of survivors in the plantation belt outside Medan. I had become very close to several of the families there. During that time, Christine Cynn and I collaborated with a fledgling plantation workers’ union to make The Globalization Tapes, and began production on a forthcoming film about a family of survivors that begins to confront (with tremendous dignity and patience) the killers who murdered their son. Our efforts to record the survivors’ experiences – never before expressed publicly – took place in the shadow of their torturers, as well as the executioners who murdered their relatives – men who, like Anwar Congo, would boast about what they did.
Ironically, we faced the greatest danger when filming survivors. We’d encounter obstacle after obstacle. For instance, when we tried to film a scene in which former political prisoners rehearsed a Javanese ballad about their time in the concentration camps (describing how they provided forced labor for a British-‐owned plantation, and how every night some of their friends would be handed over to the death squads to be killed), we were interrupted by police seeking to arrest us. At other times, the management of London-‐Sumatra plantations interrupted the film’s shooting, “honoring” us by “inviting” us to a meeting at plantation headquarters. Or the village mayor would arrive with a military escort to tell us we didn’t have permission to film. Or an “Ngo” focused on “rehabilitation for the victims of the 1965-‐66 killings” would turn up and declare that “this is our turf -‐ the villagers here have paid us to protect them.” (When we later visited the NGO’s office, we discovered that the head of the Ngo was none other than the area’s leading killer – and a friend of Anwar Congo’s – and the NGO’s staff seemed to be military intelligence officers.) Not only did we feel unsafe filming the survivors, we worried for their safety. And the survivors couldn’t answer the question of how the killings were perpetrated. Boastful killers But the killers were more than willing to help and, when we filmed them boastfully describing their crimes against humanity, we met no resistance whatsoever. All doors were open. Local police would offer to escort us to sites of mass killing, saluting or engaging the killers in jocular banter, depending on their relationship and the killer’s rank. Military officers would even task soldiers with keeping curious onlookers at a distance, so that our sound recording wouldn’t be disturbed. This bizarre situation was my second starting point for making The Act of Killing. And the question in mind was this: what does it mean to live in, and be governed by, a regime whose power rests on the performance of mass murder and its boastful public recounting, even as it intimidates survivors into silence. Again, there seemed to be a profound failure of the imagination.
Seizing the moment In this, I saw an opportunity: if the perpetrators in North Sumatra were given the means to dramatize their memories of genocide in whatever ways they wished, they would probably seek to glorify it further, to transform it into a “beautiful family movie” (as Anwar puts it) whose kaleidoscopic use of genres would reflect their multiple, conflicting emotions about their “glorious past.” I anticipated that the outcomes from this process would serve as an exposé, even to Indonesians themselves, of just how deep the impunity and lack of resolution in their country remains.
Moreover, Anwar and his friends had helped to build a regime that terrorized their victims into treating them as heroes, and I realized that the filmmaking process would answer many questions about the nature of such a regime – questions that may seem secondary to what they did, but in fact are inseparable from it. For instance, how do Anwar and his friends really think people see them? How do they want to be seen? How do they see themselves? How do they see their victims? How does the way they think they will be seen by others reveal what they imagine about the world they live in, the culture they have built?
The filmmaking method we used in The Act of Killing was developed to answer these questions. It is best seen as an investigative technique, refined to help us understand not only what we see, but also how we see, and how we imagine. (The resulting film may best be described as a documentary of the imagination.) These are questions of critical importance to understanding the imaginative procedures by which human beings persecute each other, and how we then go on to build (and live in) societies founded on systemic and enduring violence.
If my goal in initiating the project was to find answers to these questions, and if Anwar’s conscious intent was to glorify his past actions, there is no way that he could not, in part, be disappointed by the final film. And yet, a crucial component of the filmmaking process involved screening the footage back to Anwar and his friends along the way. Inevitably, we screened the most painful scenes. They know what is in the film; indeed, they have profound debates about filmmaking inside the film, openly discussing the film’s consequences. And seeing these scenes only made Anwar more interested in the work, which is how I gradually realized that he was on a parallel, more personal journey through the filmmaking process, one in which he sought to come to terms with the meaning of what he had done. In that sense, too, Anwar is the bravest and most honest character in The Act of Killing. He may or may not ‘like’ the result, but I have tried to honor his courage and his openness by presenting him as honestly, and with as much compassion, as I could, while still deferring to the unspeakable acts that he committed.
There is no easy resolution to The Act of Killing. The murder of one million people is inevitably fraught with complexity and contradiction. In short, it leaves behind a terrible mess. All the more so when the killers have remained in power, when there has been no attempt at justice, and when the story has hitherto only been used to intimidate the survivors. Seeking to understand such a situation, intervening in it, documenting it – this, too, can only be equally tangled, unkempt.
THE Struggle Continues
I have developed a filmmaking method with which I have tried to understand why extreme violence, that we hope would be unimaginable, is not only the exact opposite, but also routinely performed. I have tried to understand the moral vacuum that makes it possible for perpetrators of genocide to be celebrated on public television with cheers and smiles. Some viewers may desire a formal closure by the end of the film, a successful struggle for justice that results in changes in the balance of power, human rights tribunals, reparations and official apologies. One film alone cannot create these changes, but this desire has of course been our inspiration as well, as we attempt to shed light on one of the darkest chapters in both the local and global human story, and to express the real costs of blindness, expedience and an inability to control greed and the hunger for power in an increasingly unified world society. This is not, finally, a story only about Indonesia. It is a story about us all.
DEBORAH Presents... The Act Of KILLING
Film & Discussion
April 21, 2014 - 11:00amApril 22, 2014 - 12:00pmApril 23, 2014 - 1:00pmApril 24, 2014 - 3:00pmApril 25, 2014 - 5:00pmApril 26, 2014 - 7:00pm
500 Lafayette StreetBuilding ANashville TN 37203
2 for 1 - $20.00
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500 Lafayette St.
Nashville, TN 37203