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Why Adi Rukun Risked His Life To Make ‘The Look of Silence’

Why Adi Rukun Risked His Life To Make 'The Look of Silence'

READ MORE: Reality Checks: Is ‘The Look of Silence’ the Best Documentary of the Year?

Adi Rukun never knew his brother Ramli, whose death at the hands of Indonesian death squads during the 1965 genocide plays a large role in Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary “The Act of Killing.” Throughout Oppenheimer’s years in Indonesia documenting these atrocities, Rukun would come to serve as one the filmmaker’s great collaborators, with many speculating he is Oppenheimer’s anonymous co-director.  

Behind the scenes, he acted as the filmmaker’s guide to the families who live in the fearful shadow of the 500,000 to 1 million who were massacred. He would also serve as the director’s moral touchstone and watch hours of footage Oppenheimer shot of the genocide’s boastful leaders, who. in “The Act of Killing,” went so far as to reenact how they brutally killed the Indonesian farmers suspected of being Communists. But Rukun didn’t want to stay behind the camera, and he pleaded with Oppenheimer to take him along and allow him to confront the killers. Oppenheimer wouldn’t allow it, knowing Rukun would be putting his life and the lives of his young family at risk. Rukun, however, was insistent and eventually convinced Oppenheimer that the only way he, his family and his country could heal is if they stopped living in fear.

The result is “The Look of Silence,” which is one of this year’s five films nominated for best documentary. Rukun — who had to leave his home and has since been surrounded by a five-person security team ready to whisk him and his family away at the first sign of danger — recently issued his first written statement about the film.

Statement from Adi Rukun:

As an optometrist, I spend my days helping people to see better. I hope to do the same thing through this film. I hope to help many people see more clearly what happened during the 1965 Indonesian genocide – a crime often lied about, or buried in silence. We, the families of the victims, have been stigmatized. We have been called “secret communists,” a “latent danger haunting society,” a spectre to be feared, a pestilence to be exterminated. We are none of those things. 
I decided to make this film with Joshua because I knew it would make a difference – not only for my own family, but also, I hope, for millions of other victims’ families across Indonesia. I even hoped it would be meaningful to people around the world.
I wanted my image to be photographed, and my voice recorded, because images and sounds are harder to fabricate than text. Also, it would be impossible for me to meet every possible viewer, one by one, but images of me can reach people wherever they are. Even long after I’m gone.
I knew the risks I might face, and I thought about them deeply. I took these risks not because I am brave, but because I have been living in fear for too long. I do not want my children or, one day, my grandchildren to inherit this fear from me and my family.
Unlike the perpetrators, I do not ask that my older brother, my parents, or the millions of victims be treated as heroes, even though some deserve to be.
I just want my family to no longer be described as traitors in the school books. We never committed any crime. And yet my relatives and millions of others were tortured, disappeared, or slaughtered in 1965.
When I visited the perpetrators for the film, I had no desire for revenge. I came to listen. I hoped they would look into my eyes, realize that I am a human being, and acknowledge what they did was wrong. It was up to them to take responsibility for what they did to my family. It was up to them to ask forgiveness. If, instead, they choose to justify their crimes, adding to the noisy lies, we as a nation, living together in this same land, will have difficulty living together as neighbors in peace and in harmony.
Through “The Look of Silence,” I only wanted to show that we know what the perpetrators did. We know the truth behind their lies. And one day, the lies will be exposed.
Because we are no longer silent.

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