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The much-discussed ‘documentary of the imagination’, in which former members of Indonesian death squads re-enact their own murders in the style of the American movies they love.

The Act of Killing is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. The film is a nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.

Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodelling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.

“The filmmaking method we used in The Act of Killing is best seen as an investigative technique, refined to help us understand not only what we see, but also how we see, and how we imagine. (The resulting film may best be described as a documentary of the imagination.) These are questions of critical importance to understanding the imaginative procedures by which human beings persecute each other, and how we then go on to build (and live in) societies founded on systemic and enduring violence.” – Joshua Oppenheimer

Joshua Oppenheimer, Indonesia/ USA, 2012, 159mins

Please note, this is the director’s cut.

Read a review.

Read Oppenheimer’s interview in Sight and Sound.

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