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.
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.