The Act of Killing, a new research funded film premiered to acclaim at Toronto’s film festival

23 October 2012

The Act of Killing premiered at the North American Film Festival in Toronto in September to a five star review from the Guardian and is funded by the AHRC research award with support from the University of Westminster’s New Directions Fund.

A European premiere will take place during the Berlin Film Festival in February 2013 and a theatrical release and TV broadcasting is planned for early 2013.

The film is the result of five years of collaborative work from:

  • Josh Oppenheimer, a senior research fellow in MAD,
  • Prof. Joram ten Brink, the director of DocWest Research Centre in CREAM /School of Media Arts and Design and the Principal investigator of the AHRC research project,
  • Final Cut for Reel production company in Denmark and a large number of broadcasters and foundations across Europe and the USA.

The Act of Killing focuses on the impunity and prestige enjoyed by perpetrators of the 1965- 1966 genocide in Indonesia (historians estimate between 500,000 to 2.5 million victims).

Joram ten Brink said:

“Unlike in Rwanda or Cambodia, In Indonesia there has been no truth and reconciliation commissions, no trials, no memorials for victims—only triumphant slogans of ‘national struggle’.

Indeed, the perpetrators have been promoted through the ranks of military and government, and continue to be celebrated as the heroic ‘founding fathers’ of modern Indonesia.

Working with these perpetrators, the film has successfully developed and deployed a cutting-edge nonfiction filmmaking method to explore how people perform, remember and recount acts of genocide violence.

Using cinema to access and present details of the genocide's history, while revealing with chilling clarity how cinema was itself an actor in this history; specifically how cinema is implicated in the imagination and machinery of the genocide.”

Joram ten Brink has recently published Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence, Columbia University Press, edited by Joram ten Brink and Joshua Oppenheimer.

The book addresses the complex relationships between film, violence, journalism, trauma and the memory of war  and genocide and includes major contributions by Errol Morris, Harun Farocki, Rithy Phan, Thomas Keenan, Avi Mograbi, Brian Winston and Michael Chanan.

Notes to editors

Reviews

The Guardian , Catherine Shoard , September 15th,2012

5*

Here's the best, and the most horrific, movie of this year's Toronto film festival. It's a documentary about the Indonesian death squads of the mid-1960s who tortured and killed communists. But it's also a film within a film, as director Joshua Oppenheimer urges the ageing gangsters to recreate their acts on increasingly elaborate scale (prosthetics, props, drag outfits, soundtrack, location shooting). They grin and mug just as they also take it very, very seriously… It's often said of documentaries that they deserve to have as wide an audience as possible. This doesn't deserve; it demands – not for what it says about present-day Indonesia or even about its former horrors. But because almost every frame is astonishing.

Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik , September 15, 2012.

From “Hearts and Minds” to “Shoah,” documentary film has a long history of tackling difficult subjects like death and violence. But they’ve never looked at it in quite the way that Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn do in “The Act Of Killing,” one of the breakout documentaries of the Toronto International Film Festival and a movie that could well change how you view the form…

They put the camera on the killers and let them relive what they did. More specifically, they allow them to re-enact it, encouraging them to shoot a scripted “Hollywood movie” about the killings and discuss them while they did so. This is not a random exercise. Many watched violent Hollywood movies and took their cues from them as they practiced various forms of strangulation, gunplay and other forms of cruelty on their victims; indeed, they were even called “movie theater gangsters.”…..

With questions about the role of Hollywood violence percolating this summer, “The Act of Killing” and its Hollywood-obsessed villains couldn’t be more timely. With an intense moral seriousness about a subject that has recurred throughout history, it is also timeless

CNN , Tom Charity, September 12th 2012

The Act of Killing "a radical development in the documentary form and as an explosive journalistic expose. It’s also a deeply disturbing emotional experience, a movie that some audiences will find upsetting or hard to stomach, even if it is also poetic, funny, profoundly strange and moving."

Slavo Zizek, September 18th,2012

The documentary The Act of Killing provides a unique and deeply disturbing insight into the ethical deadlock of global capitalism…..But what makes The Act of Killing extraordinary is also the level of reflexivity between documentary and fiction – the film is, in a way, a documentary about the real effects of living a fiction.

Errol Morris

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, Josh 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-abîme ––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 the first time, "I didn't know you were allowed to do that." I have the same feeling with this extraordinary film.

Werner Herzog

I have not seen a film as powerful and surreal and frightening like this in at least a decade.

Mark Danner

We just watched "The Act of Killing." I am a bit stunned by it. My entire writing life has been spent describing and trying to understand various atrocities of one kind or another from Haiti and El Mozote to Bosnia and Iraq and of course torture.

Oppenheimer's film is phantasmagorical and perverse, powerful and nauseating. It seems to take most of what I have spent my life caring and writing about and twists into strange, unimagined postmodern pretzel shapes, impossible to describe or, perhaps, on first viewing, comprehend. One feels yanked into a dark, upside down world that comes perilously close, in some sequences, to satire, or dystopic science fiction. The film is certainly as powerful a work on atrocity as I have seen.


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