Sunday, July 14, 2013

the act of killing and indonesian death squads..,


NYTimes | Early in “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s startling new documentary about mass murder and impunity in Indonesia, a death squad leader named Anwar Congo, dapper in white pants and a lime-green shirt, demonstrates how he strangled hundreds of people with wire. It was quicker and less messy than beating them to death, he explains matter-of-factly, then breaks into a dance routine, performing the cha cha cha for the camera. “The Act of Killing,” which opens on Friday, is crammed with unsettlingly bizarre moments like that, blending the horrific and the absurd in a disturbing cocktail. Time after time, the killers joke and brag about their deeds, which earns them applause on an Indonesian TV talk show, praise from officials in the government in power today and condemnation from the human rights groups that want to see them brought to justice.

But Mr. Oppenheimer’s film, which counts Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as its executive producers and was made by a largely Indonesian crew, is also stirring controversy because of its unorthodox form. Re-enactments are always a source of disagreement in the documentary world, but Mr. Oppenheimer has taken that longstanding debate to a new level by encouraging the perpetrators of human rights abuses to restage their crimes, on film and for a global audience.
“I think it’s our obligation as filmmakers, as people investigating the world, to create the reality that is most insightful to the issues at hand,” Mr. Oppenheimer, 38, said in a recent interview. “Here are human beings, like us, boasting about atrocities that should be unimaginable. And the question is: Why are they doing this? For whom are they doing this? What does it mean to them? How do they want to be seen? How do they see themselves? And this method was a way of answering those questions.”
The events initially addressed in “The Act of Killing” are little known in the West: the slaughter of as many as a million people in Indonesia following the military’s seizure of power there in 1965. The victims were labeled Communists but included labor leaders, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals, with paramilitary groups carrying out the killings at the behest of the Indonesian Army and with the support of the United States and its allies, who worried that Indonesia, like Vietnam, would fall into Communist hands.
In Indonesia, the killings were “a kind of open secret, kept discreetly hidden so that if you wanted to, you could pretend it wasn’t happening,” said John Roosa, a scholar of Indonesian history at the University of British Columbia and the author of “Pretext for Mass Murder,” the leading book about the 1965 massacres. “So this film has become a provocation, an impetus for Indonesians to go back to the perpetrators and say, ‘Tell us exactly what happened.’ ”