Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Look of Silence - 1 nomination

Documentary Feature - Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen

The Look of Silence is the second documentary nominee from Joshua Oppenheimer examining the aftermath of the genocide in Indonesia which saw the mass murderer of a million people purported to be communists.  To really get this film, I highly recommend starting with the first installment (not that this is technically a sequel), The Act of Killing.  That film asked perpetrators of the genocide to re-enact their terror for the film, thereby asking them to relive their actions.

In this second installment, we follow Adi, an optometrist who is haunted by the murder of his older brother who was accused of communism.  He meets personally with killers and their families, and watches video that Oppenheimer had collected of killers explaining in great deal the specific murder of his brother.  In all cases, no one takes responsibility, some are still quite proud of what they did, and the killers' families universally deny that they knew what their family member had done, even in the face of video footage showing that they did indeed know.

This documentary is excellent but I believe needs the context of the first film to truly grasp the level of denial that Indonesians still have about what happened in their country.  To me, the most frightening part of the film came during the credits.  It is clear that the filmmakers used a great deal of Indonesians on the crew from the lowest to the highest positions, and they all almost universally chose to be credited as "anonymous."  I would venture a guess that at least half of the people who worked on the film were anonymous, which only suggests that the violence and danger is in no way laid to rest for acts that transpired in the 60's, but that the threat is very real and very current.  And the lack of responsibility taking and the lack of accountability in the country means that it could still happen again.  I am deeply worried for the lead character who bravely starred in this film looking for answers, as I feel his life is in danger now that the movie is out in the world.

I have to mention that it is clear that these filmmakers spent years and years building relationships with people so that they felt comfortable admitting their sins and inviting them into their homes.  That is the work of a true documentarian - not just capturing the story, not just distilling the story in such a way that explains the situation, but building real relationships with sometimes terrible people, or people who did terrible things enough so that they are willing to expose themselves to their friend, the filmmaker.  Bravo to Joshua Oppenheimer who did this work so phenomenally as to end up with two Oscar nominated documentaries.

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