The film was produced by Oscar-winner Errol Morris (The Fog of War) and Oscar-nominated Werner Herzog (Encounters at the End of the World). It has so far picked up 33 international awards, including the Bafta.
The Act of Killing was not granted a general release at Indonesian cinemas, with the government raising doubts about the film’s portrayal of history. Beyond special select screenings, the film is available for download.
The killings are not closely examined by school textbooks and were not widely discussed during Suharto’s iron-fisted rule. However, following his fall in 1998, and in recent years, Indonesians have begun to talk about the issue more openly with frequent newspaper stories, academic seminars and published memoirs.
Critics say more needs to be done, and point to the fact the Attorney General’s office has refused to start a probe despite an extensive 2012 report from Indonesia’s official human rights body which claimed to have found extensive evidence of abuse.
Presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the film “is simplifying a dark, complicated period of history,” and was one-sided.
In a statement issued last week to the Jakarta Globe newspaper, the film’s anonymous co-director denied the charge it had been produced by foreigners out to negatively affect Indonesia’s global reputation.
“A negative image is when unfairness and impunity is being sustained. Negative image is when there was no apology conveyed to the victims and the families of the victims of the crimes against humanity. A negative image is to make the architect of the mass killing a hero,” the statement said.
And Oppenheimer, who is working on a follow-up focusing on the victims’ side of the story, is convinced The Act of Killing has helped mainstream media in Indonesia address the genocide and open it up further for public debate.
“There’s no stuffing the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “It is opening a space for people to finally acknowledge the most painful and troubling aspect of contemporary Indonesia without fear.”
Additional reporting by staff writer