Joshua Oppenheimer's insane documentary gives genocide a human face
I can’t really express what I saw last Tuesday night, tucked away in the back theater at The Parkway. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. I’m still trying to find a metaphor for the effect it had on me–some movie critic cliche like “a punch to the gut”. But fuck that. We’re talking about something else entirely here.
I guess some context couldn’t hurt. Essentially, The Act of Killing is a film about making a film. The director, Joshua Oppenheimer had been living and making films in Indonesia for years before deciding to delve into one of history’s great under-documented tragedies. In 1965, Indonesia was caught in the midst of political upheaval, and in the wake of a failed military coup by Indonesia’s communist party (the PKI), came one of the bloodiest mass murders in modern history.
As the tides of popular opinion turned against the PKI, the Indonesian government took to purging anyone suspected of harboring communist loyalties. In the North Sumatran capital of Medan, the city’s “movie theater gangsters”–local gangs running a host of rackets and criminal enterprises–took on the role of government-appointed death squad leaders. A few decades, and a few hundred thousand corpses later, gangsters like Anwar Congo have become national folk heroes, leaders of a powerful paramilitary group still celebrated nationwide today.