Back to IndieWire

Watch: ‘The Act of Killing’ Director Discusses His Harrowing and Polarizing Documentary

Revisit one of the most harrowing and acclaimed documentaries of 2012 in this #ThrowbackThursday post.

[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Movies On Demand. Catch up on this year’s Awards Season contenders and past winners On Demand. Today’s selection is “The Act of Killing.” This article originally ran during last year’s awards race following the film’s Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.]

“The Act of Killing” is a polarizing film — one that rattles you to your core and gives rise to your worst fears. We see killers take joy in their work. It’s a close-up view of evil like you’ve never seen it before. Unsurprisingly, there are audiences who are angry with Joshua Oppenheimer (and presumably with his co-directors, Christine Cynn and another who had to remain anonymous) for giving license to this uncomfortable truth, as if it’s a celebration of the worst of humanity.

But “The Act of Killing” is an act of hope. On the simplest level, it brings attention to the forgotten as the best documentaries do: While it might be sad but unsurprising that Americans were aware of the Indonesian killings of 1965-1966, much less the brutal policies that led to the murder of perhaps 1 million ethnic Chinese, intellectuals and other accused Communists, much of the country itself prefers to believe that the genocide never happened.
However, that’s where the real strength in “The Act of Killing” comes into play, in its audacious structure that allows the thugs who oversaw the death squads, and who killed with their own hands, to tell the story in their own actions — which, as usual, are much louder than words. Oppenheimer provides that stage (and it is a stage, one that even includes a garish cross-dressing musical number) for men who deserve the worst and will never see their comeuppance.

Watch the filmmaker discuss the making of his film below:

Indiewire has partnered with Movies On Demand for Indiewire’s Awards Season Spotlight. Meet the nominees and watch the movies with Movies On Demand. Go HERE for profiles, Contender Conversations, Awards news, and viewing guides for your complete Awards Season experience.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: News and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox