Magazine article Screen International

Oppenhemier Talks to AND about His Docs

Magazine article Screen International

Oppenhemier Talks to AND about His Docs

Article excerpt

Joshua Oppenheimer spoke at Busan's Asian Network of Documentary (AND) about his Venice Grand Jury prizewinner, The Look Of Silence, and its preceding companion piece The Act Of Killing.

The Look Of Silence is screening in Busan's Wide Angle Documentary Showcase.

Both films are about the army-supported mass killings of so-called 'Communists' in Indonesia (1965-66). The first is from the viewpoint of the perpetrators and the second from the point of view of the families of victims.

"I knew that in The Look, I wanted the viewer to see what it would be like to have to build a life with the perpetrators around you. I knew that The Look would illuminate The Act, and The Act would, if I succeeded, illuminate The Look, not by being opposites but by being like a mirror," he said.

Oppenheimer talked about the dangers of interviewing perpetrators who were still very much in power. He said that at one point during a crucial interview, "I had crew at the airport waiting to buy tickets if they didn't get a text message from me that everything was okay."

He worked through a Ph.D grant and one from the Arts and Humanities Council in the UK, and once they had scenes, Danish producer Signe Byrge Sorensen of Final Cut For Real saw a presentation.

"At that point we had 1,000 hours of footage and no money, no producer," he said. Sorensen raised funds and support from around Europe including from the Danish Film Institute and NGOs.

After The Act Of Killing was screened, he said, "the film affected Indonesians and how they talk about the genocide."

A leading news publication in the country, Temple magazine did an expose "for which they sent 60 journalists around the country, gathered 1,000 pages of killers boasting, of which they published 75 pages, showing that the stories were the same anywhere in the country, not just to me. That opened up this space in mainstream media. In one fell swoop this ended the silence in the media."

Oppenheimer says he never imagined the impact of his two documentaries while shooting them because "first of all we couldn't get anyone in the film world interested, so it never occurred to me that this film would do that."

The way he sees documentary filmmaking, he said is, "first of all you look for themes and you look for questions, and you look for people who embody those themes and questions or come as close as possible, and help me as deeply as possible to understand them. This is why I think of myself as an explorer not a storyteller. I don't want to be the same person at the end as I was at the start. I look for someone with whom I could be very close. …

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