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'Act Of Killing' Director Joshua Oppenheimer Talks About Why His Film is Important

Joshua Oppenheimer Act of Killing Film CourageThe Act of Killing, a documentary about a group of boastful human rights perpetrators, is making some noise after its release in New York and LA last week. Film Courage brings us a fascinating interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer who discusses what he discovered during the process of making his film over a yen year period in Indonesia. Joshua discusses why the film is important, how they avoided the film being banned and the companionship of his crew that made it all possible. Hit the jump to watch the videos and learn more:


These interviews from Film Courage really struck me. The way he talks about his film tells you that he’s really been through it and really understands what happens to it. It’s this kind of impeccable conscious approach to a project that can elevate it to something more than just a movie, and to something that enacts social change in the world.

Check out the interviews below:

Making The Act of Killing Gave Me Nightmares And Insomnia:

How We Avoided The Act of Killing Being Banned In Indonesia:

All Humans Are Capable Of Murder:

It’s really powerful when he talks about how he and his crew had to “light what was a dark journey” for each other. Joshua’s sentiments on escapism and his relationship with his subjects also strike especially true:

We tell ourselves that the trousers we’re wearing are not the work of virtual slaves, but the work of a fashion designer, so as to forget the true nature of our reality. I think the film asks people to look at the nature of reality, and if I knew that if for a moment I see these men as anything but human then I’m once again escaping the reality by telling myself that I’m not like them. I feel I can’t make a film honestly about another human being if I don’t allow myself to get close to them.

I’m really curious to see this film, have any of you caught it yet? Share your experience in the comments below.

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  • Juan Martin on 07.26.13 @ 10:34PM

    I had the privilege of watching this film during the recent BAFICI (Buenos Aires International Independent Films Festival). Surprisingly, it was an extended version of the film of about 160 minutes length vs. the 115-minute theatrical release.

    I can only say that it is one of the most shocking and distressing films I have ever seen. You will not see a drop of blood and there are no horrifying archive footage images. The main theme of this film is impunity, and what a bunch of crazy men (actually, a few thousands) are willing to do if they are given enough power to accomplish it. And, even worse, 40 years later these people are real heroes in their land.

    This film really disturbed me and, as a horror film fan, I can only say that the monsters you see in the movies are nothing compared to what these people did.

    ‘The Act of Killing’ is truly a masterpice. Go check it out if you have the chance.

    • I also was able to see it at SXSW earlier this year, I totally agree, this was a distressing film, I couldn’t shake it for a few days. The main officers, if you can call them that, had just a very warped way of looking at the value of human life. It was such a shocking thing to watch and an even worse thing to think about. After every film at SXSW the Austin audience would always make a point to clap, after Act of Killing, it was utter silence.

  • Wow. I must say if not for this blog I would be utterly lost comprehending/planning such a shoot. For instance, how to approach such a topic in a way that inspires a peaceful dialogue on atrocity. We are all human beings. Great speaker. Looking forward to seeing his film.

  • Ungoogleable on 07.27.13 @ 4:17AM

    Not going to lie. I downloaded it online. I did not have a choice. It was not the original version of the movie but a crappy cropped version of it. You watch this movie as you would watch your grand mother dying, your hands plunging the knife inside of her stomach, while filming her own death. I can’t find any other way of describing this movie.

    I can relate to these people, human beings, becoming human existing by the act of killing.

    Not watching this movie, it can be a good thing. Because it questions the very purpose of a morality, and it also ask the question of morality within the concept of the fabric of society. ANY SOCIETY.

    From a psychological perspective, I find (after viewing the filmmaker), that the camera (the director of the interviews itself, him) he must have been shaken. I cannot imagine the innocence of this western man, doing this project. You must have a very naive, very childish perspective for doing this (And I use these words incorrectly, I am just out of words really), to be a little bit crazy. Making such a project, he must have lost something.

    There are too many other things I would like to say, but please be aware. You are looking at a very very dark hole.

    This is not cinema anymore. And it is! This guy redefined what you can achieve with a lens and few cuts.

    God if it exists, have mercy on yourself. Because no one sane enough can go through this documentary (or worse experience) and not be angry at you.

  • I went to a Berlinale meet with Oppenheimer who talked about the film there, and he refused to take any moral position over the murderers and some at Berlinale felt he’d glorified them further by giving them this platform.

    Oppenheimer took over the stage and the interview that day and wouldn’t let the other director get a word in edgeways, which was disappointing because it was supposed to be a joint talk with them both sharing the time.

    I don’t think it’s a very ethical film but I do think it’s compelling.

  • Please consider taking action on the issues raised by this important and powerful film. Impunity persists in Indonesia for the 1965-66 and later crimes committed by Indonesia’s armed forces in East Timor, Aceh and West Papua. Groups are supporting an appeal from survivors for the Indonesian government to acknowledge the truth about the 1965 crimes and to apologize and provide reparations to the victims and their families. See http://etan.org/action/saysorry.htm

  • Wow, fascinating interviews. Honestly, I don’t want to watch the film purely for fear of the impact it may have on me.