Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Berlin Review: Could 'War on Everyone' Be the Best Bad Cop Comedy Ever? Berlin Review: Could 'War on Everyone' Be the Best Bad Cop Comedy Ever? Berlin Review: With 'Midnight Special,' Jeff Nichols Offers Up a Very Special Sci-Fi Thriller Berlin Review: With 'Midnight Special,' Jeff Nichols Offers Up a Very Special Sci-Fi Thriller How They Designed the Characters and Sounds for the Oscar-Nominated 'Mad Max: Fury Road' How They Designed the Characters and Sounds for the Oscar-Nominated 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Meryl Streep to Fund The Writers Lab, Supporting Women Screenwriters Over 40 (EXCLUSIVE) Meryl Streep to Fund The Writers Lab, Supporting Women Screenwriters Over 40 (EXCLUSIVE) Oscar Predictions 2016 Oscar Predictions 2016 Roger Deakins on Shooting Hollywood From the Inside Out in 'Hail, Caesar!' (Video) Roger Deakins on Shooting Hollywood From the Inside Out in 'Hail, Caesar!' (Video) A Letter to Michael B. Jordan A Letter to Michael B. Jordan Bona Fide Acquires Movie Rights to Knausgaard New York Times Series 'My Saga' for Alexander Payne (EXCLUSIVE) Bona Fide Acquires Movie Rights to Knausgaard New York Times Series 'My Saga' for Alexander Payne (EXCLUSIVE) WATCH: 9 Oscar-Nominated Screenwriters on How They Got Their Start, Their Writing Process, and Much More WATCH: 9 Oscar-Nominated Screenwriters on How They Got Their Start, Their Writing Process, and Much More Inside the Oscar Nominees Lunch Inside the Oscar Nominees Lunch How John Ridley and Company Create the Emotional Resonance of 'American Crime' How John Ridley and Company Create the Emotional Resonance of 'American Crime' Top 10 Takeaways:  'Hail, Caesar!' Leads Three New Releases—Which Barely Total $20 Million Top 10 Takeaways: 'Hail, Caesar!' Leads Three New Releases—Which Barely Total $20 Million 'Deadpool' Review & Roundup: Ryan Reynolds Finds a Franchise Worthy of His Talents 'Deadpool' Review & Roundup: Ryan Reynolds Finds a Franchise Worthy of His Talents Arthouse Audit: 'The Club' and 'Rams' Reveal Weakness in Subtitled Film Market Arthouse Audit: 'The Club' and 'Rams' Reveal Weakness in Subtitled Film Market Inside the Directors Guild Awards Inside the Directors Guild Awards Joel & Ethan Coen Crack Each Other Up, And Me, Talking About 'Hail, Caesar!' Joel & Ethan Coen Crack Each Other Up, And Me, Talking About 'Hail, Caesar!' WATCH: Oscar Nominee Tom Hardy Explains Why Shooting 'The Revenant' Was So Bloody Hard (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) WATCH: Oscar Nominee Tom Hardy Explains Why Shooting 'The Revenant' Was So Bloody Hard (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) How They Created the Bear VFX for the Mauling of Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Revenant' How They Created the Bear VFX for the Mauling of Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Revenant' How Quentin Tarantino Resurrected Ultra Panavision 70 for 'The Hateful Eight' How Quentin Tarantino Resurrected Ultra Panavision 70 for 'The Hateful Eight' What Happened to Scorsese's $70-Million Short 'The Audition' Starring DiCaprio, De Niro and Pitt? What Happened to Scorsese's $70-Million Short 'The Audition' Starring DiCaprio, De Niro and Pitt?

Behind Joshua Oppenheimer's Genocide Documentary 'The Act of Killing' -- Where Are the Survivors?

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood March 19, 2013 at 2:04PM

When New Directors/New Films opens Wednesday night at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, it will mark another ambitious survey of fresh talent and movies, beginning with the D.C.-sniper inspired “Blue Caprice” (its catalog description begins: “The ability of innocence to embrace evil is a chillingly reality"--and yes, someone was paid to write that). Guaranteed to grab ND/NF audiences by the throat – just as it’s been doing since last year’s Telluride – is “The Act of Killing,” (TOH! review here) directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, who cast his movie with real killers who celebrate the art and craft of murder.
1
"The Act of Killing"
"The Act of Killing"

When New Directors/New Films opens Wednesday night at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, it will mark another ambitious survey of fresh talent and movies, beginning with the D.C.-sniper inspired “Blue Caprice” (its catalog description begins: “The ability of innocence to embrace evil is a chillingly reality"--and yes, someone was paid to write that). Guaranteed to grab ND/NF audiences by the throat – just as it’s been doing since last year’s Telluride – is “The Act of Killing,” (TOH! review here) directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, who cast his movie with real killers who celebrate the art and craft of murder.

The backstory – the murder of up to 3 million suspected Communists in 1965 Indonesia – was perpetrated by the very people who star in Oppenheimer’s movie, and who are seen attempting to make a movie of their own, starring themselves. What troubled some viewers when “Act of Killing” began its festival run was that Oppenheimer facilitated the making of the extravagant feature film we see in production. 

But matters aren’t quite that simple: The movies were an essential element in the massacres in Indonesia. For one thing, the so-called Indonesian “movie gangsters” of 1965 held a grudge against the left for its boycott of American movies, which they loved. And when the killings started, the perpetrators drew both inspiration and technical guidance from Hollywood for the ways they mass-murdered their fellow Indonesians. The idea that Oppenheimer cooked up for his own cinematic outrage isn’t quite as simple as it sometimes seemed.

“Josh gave them a car and said ‘Why don’t you go for a ride?’” said “Act” lead editor, Niels Pagh Andersen. “But they decided where to go.”

Last week, in a Nepalese restaurant in Helsinki, the celebrated Danish editor (who lives here with the Finnish film composer Sanna Salmenkallio), talked about not wanting to do the film at all.

“At first, I escaped by practical reasons,” said Andersen, noting that he would have had to be away from home for a considerable time. “But the editor in me saw that it’s amazing material, and it’s a gift in that way. But it’s one of the most complicated films I’ve been on because it has so many narrative lines -- what happened then, what happens now, a character who develops, a side character who doesn’t, their relationship, a narrative about storytelling. And how their fantasy about storytelling gets wilder and wilder.”

“Act” has more than a little bit of the fantastical about it – players in drag, an enormous fish, graphic description of murder by strangulation, and a suffocating lack of remorse. What it doesn’t really have is victims, or their survivors.

“We discussed this very much,’ he said. “How are human beings able to kill another human being? It is when you dehumanize the other – “you’re a Communist, you’re a Muslim, you’re a Nazi, you’re different from me.” And what we were trying to do is show that the evil is part of being human. If we brought in the victims we would just make the killer into monsters. Of course, they are monsters, but we are trying also to show aspects of them that are human, too.”

And the footage of the survivors?  “That movie,” Andersen said, “we start in April.”

This article is related to: Festivals, MoMA, The Act of Killing , Interviews


E-Mail Updates






Festivals on TOH



Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.