According to interviews which he gave afterward Werner Herzog was shaken up by it, and it’s understandable why. When shooting for “The act of killing”, which he co-executive-produced, began, it’s likely that he did not know such a major upheaval was about to occur in documentary filmmaking. Just like Joshua Oppenheimer, who lensed this film, did not expect to shoot such a documentary upon returning to Indonesia.
Connect with Joshua Oppenheimer @joshuaoppenheim
And yet, how could it have turned out any other way? Initially, “Act” was supposed to be a project addressing the massacre of communists in the sixties. They were given a chance to speak. Ultimately, however, the director could not find anyone willing to speak on camera, except for the executioners, who were whiling away their time peacefully after having committed the worst possible crimes with impunity. The perspective of witness-bearing changed altogether and the project turned into a filmed-truth document about killing and the trivialization of horror. Volumes could be filled with what ought to be said about the harrowing, inspiring, and unbelievable experience that is “The act of killing.”
Through a clever narrative process (to interview killers and ask them to fake-reenact the slaughter they perpetrated), Oppenheimer lifts the veil on a very dark chapter of Indonesian history–in fact, of human history altogether. The film is filled with scenes that are each one more incredible to watch than the other, and it is with a sinking heart that we are made to realize that such a tragedy did exist, and did occur. “The Act of Killing” is a brave and necessary film, a rational and subtle work that is rarely seen on television, web or at the theater. Undoubtedly the must-see movie of 2013 so far. Indeed, this is a masterpiece.
Due out in theaters July 19th
Find out more about the 1965 massacre in Indonesia by visiting the Tapol site