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Drafthouse Picks Up Harrowing Genocide Reenactment Doc 'The Act of Killing'

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood October 31, 2012 at 1:49PM

Drafthouse Films has acquired US rights to Joshua Oppenheimer's breakout Danish doc "The Act of Killing." The film, described by Errol Morris as "a non-fiction film unlike anything else," is a series of portraits of Indonesian death squad leaders, challenged to reenact their real-life mass killings in whatever cinematic form they desire...
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"The Act of Killing"
"The Act of Killing"

Drafthouse Films has acquired US rights to Joshua Oppenheimer's breakout Danish doc "The Act of Killing," which played at both Toronto and Telluride. The film, described by Errol Morris as "a non-fiction film unlike anything else," is a series of portraits of Indonesian death squad leaders, challenged to reenact their real-life mass killings in whatever cinematic form they desire.

Drafthouse plans a 30-market theatrical release for the film in 2013, as well as a Best Documentary Feature push for the 2014 Oscars.

Here's Indiewire's Eric Kohn on the film:

"The Act of Killing" has been shepherded along by executive producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, an apt pair for this quintessential look at murder as a primal phenomenon. While Oppenheimer achieves an unprecedented closeness with people responsible for death, his mission is not unlike the process behind Herzog's "Death Row" series (where the director interviews convicted murderers) and Morris' "Mr. Death," which centers on a retired executioner. More than anything else, however, Oppenheimer's process calls to mind Claude Lanzmann's Holocaust epic "Shoah," as both Lanzmann and Oppenheimer eschew archival footage in favor of letting their subjects actualize past misdeeds in the present. The reenactments provide a chilling closeness that no grainy footage could possibly convey.

And Variety:

The incendiary experiment is a bombshell, both for opening the world's eyes to Indonesia's recent bloody history and vis a vis the tradition of objective nonfiction filmmaking… Documentary filmmakers are frequently criticized for being too judgmental toward their subjects. In Oppenheimer's case, the opposite may be true, as the helmer expresses no qualms about giving unrepentant killers the means to create their own propaganda. What he and co-director Christine Cynn do reserve, however, is final cut, maintaining ultimate control over how to present both the re-enactment exercises and the extensive behind-the-scenes footage.

This article is related to: News, Drafthouse Films, The Act of Killing , Documentary, Documentaries, News, Politics


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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.