(Our review of the film will be released in issue seven of Cinema Scandinavia)
US director Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Look of Silence [+], about the 1965-1966 Indonesian Genocide – the “companion piece” to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing [+] (2012), also about the genocide and premiered in Indonesia in secrecy – was on Monday (10 November) screened to two sold-out houses in Jakarta’s largest cinema at an event organised by the National Human Rights Commission, preceded by a Skype press conference with Oppenheimer, commissioners from the state organisation and around 100 journalists.
“These public screenings open to everyone are the most important so far – our love letter to Indonesia has not only achieved its goal, but has finally been read aloud by the state to the people,” said Oppenheimer. “With the commissioners’ support, this could lead to a campaign for truth and reconciliation.”
In the Danish production by Signe Byrge Sørensen, for Final Cut for Real Productions, which also staged The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer depicts the Indonesian killings from the victims’ point of view, whereas in the first film, he worked with Christine Cynn and an anonymous Indonesian director to challenge former death-squad leaders, now celebrated as heroes, to re-enact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love.
In The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer investigates the murder case of someone who was accused of being a communist, and discovers how he was killed and who was responsible. His younger brother, now an adult, vows to confront the people who took his life, asking how he can himself raise his children in a society where survivors are terrorised into silence. “This is unthinkable in Indonesia, so he violates one taboo after the other, and this is met with fear, anger and threats,” Oppenheimer recalled.
World-premiered in competition at Venice, where it collected five awards, including the Jury Grand Prix and the international critics’ FIPRESCI Award, The Look of Silence has also started an international festival tour, so far with 12 stop-overs – next up are the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (19 November) and India’s International Film Festival in Goa (20 November). It will be theatrically released in Denmark today (13 November).