By Maggie Lange and Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 31, 2012 at 8:01AM
Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary "The Act of Killing" is premiering at the Telluride Film Festival as well as screening at Toronto as part of their TIFF Docs program. The film's premise is disturbing and provocative: a group of Indonesian killers re-enact a selection of their crimes--and then talk about how they feel about it. The interviewed gangster and perpetrator Anwar Congo eagerly agreed to make a film about his role in the genocide -- not to provide thoughtful testimony but rather to act in a film noir gangster style movie, gallop about in a Western, and sing and dance in musical numbers. "What Josh is doing is revealing the story," says editor Janus Billeskov Jansen, who also edited "The Hunt." "Most Indonesian people grew up with a totally different story."
Oppenheimer took seven years to amass 1000 hours of original Indonesian footage that took more than a year and a half and many editors to cut down to 50 hours in London, then in Copenhagen, three hours, and Jansen's final cut shown here. Oppenheimer has worked with militias, violators and their victims as a way to explore political violence. Werner Herzog says of Oppenheimer's depiction of power and violence: "I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade... unprecedented in the history of cinema."
Errol Morris praises Oppenheimer's portrayal of violence and cinematic imagination: "Like all great documentaries, 'The Act of Killing' demands another way of looking at reality. It starts as a dreamscape, an attempt to allow the perpetrators to reenact what they did, and then something truly amazing happens. The dream dissolves into nightmare and then into bitter reality. An amazing and impressive film."