Magazine article Screen International

Joshua Oppenheimer, the Look of Silence

Magazine article Screen International

Joshua Oppenheimer, the Look of Silence

Article excerpt

Joshua Oppenheimer talks to Wendy Mitchell about changing the culture of fear in Indonesia with The Act Of Killing and its follow-up, The Look Of Silence.

We often talk about the power of film, but it's rare that a single film can start to change a whole country. That's the accomplishment of Joshua Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary, The Act Of Killing, which showed perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide re-enacting their crimes.

"The Act Of Killing helped really catalyse the transformation in how the country talked about its past," says Texas-born Oppenheimer, over a coffee in his adopted home of Copenhagen. "The government now talks about the genocide instead of the heroic struggle against the communists. Now the public are talking about it in schools and at work; the perpetrators in Indonesia no longer boast about what they did."

Now his stunning follow-up film, The Look Of Silence, tackles the same story from the side of the victims dealing with the past and confronting the perpetrators. "This new film comes in and says, 'Look how torn the social fabric is. Look how urgently we need truth and reconciliation,'" he says.

Oppenheimer first went to Indonesia in 2001 to work on a film about palm-oil plantation workers. He did not know much about the mass murders then, but he learned about the climate of fear that ordinary Indonesians lived with.

Oppenheimer knew while shooting The Act Of Killing that he would also want to make a film about the victims. He describes the moment he knew there would be two films, when two perpetrators took him down to the river to show him how they had killed their victims.

'It was like I had wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust only to find the Nazis still in power'Joshua Oppenheimer

"That was one of the most horrifying and traumatic days of my life. It was like I had wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust only to find the Nazis still in power.

"At that moment I knew I would spend as long as it takes to address this and I knew there should be two films. One would be about what happens when killers win and justify their actions and impose those on a society, and that's The Act Of Killing. I also knew there was an equally important film about what does it do to human beings to have to live in 50 years of fear and silence surrounded by the people who killed your loved ones. …

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