The Act Of Killing––Joshua Oppenheimer’s deeply unsettling documentary about the death squads that killed half a million people in Indonesia in the mid-1960s––is one of the best-known works of the ongoing non-fiction boom. It’s met with plenty of acclaim (Sight & Sound recently named it as one of the 50 best documentaries ever made), and more than its share of controversy, much of it centered on Oppenheimer’s decision to focus entirely on the perpetrators of the killings, rather than the victims.
The truth, though, is that The Act Of Killing is one of those documentaries that changed course partway through production. Oppenheimer began the project as a general history of the killings and their aftermath, and didn’t meet The Act Of Killing’s main subject––the dapper, supposedly guilt-free mass murderer Anwar Congo––until several years into filming. The result was two parallel films: one about the victims, the other about the perpetrators.
The latter became The Act Of Killing and was completed first. Now its companion piece, The Look Of Silence, is set for a U.S. release. The movie, which premieres at the Venice Film Festival this week, has been picked up for a summer 2015 release by Drafthouse Films, the Austin-based outfit that distributed The Act Of Killing.
According to the official synopsis, the movie follows “a family of survivors [who discover] how their son was murdered and the identity of the men who killed him.” Here’s Oppenheimer’s statement on the film:
The Act Of Killing exposed the consequences for all of us when we build our everyday reality on terror and lies. The Look Of Silence explores what it is like to be a survivor in such a reality. Making any film about survivors of genocide is to walk into a minefield of clichés, most of which serve to create a heroic (if not saintly) protagonist with whom we can identify, thereby offering the false reassurance that, in the moral catastrophe of atrocity, we are nothing like perpetrators. But presenting survivors as saintly in order to reassure ourselves that we are good is to use survivors to deceive ourselves. It is an insult to survivors’ experience, and does nothing to help us understand what it means to survive atrocity, what it means to live a life shattered by mass violence, and to be silenced by terror.
You can watch an exclusive clip over at The Playlist.