Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of a groundbreaking new documentary "The Act of Killing," appears on Democracy Now! for a 45-minute interview. The film opens this weekend in New York City.
The film is set in Indonesia, where, beginning in 1965, military and paramilitary forces slaughtered up to a million Indonesians after overthrowing the democratically elected government. That military was backed by the United States and led by General Suharto, who would rule Indonesia for decades. There has been no truth and reconciliation commission, nor have any of the murderers been brought to justice. As the film reveals, Indonesia is a country where the killers are to this day celebrated as heroes by many. Oppenheimer spent more than eight years interviewing the Indonesian death squad leaders, and in "The Act of Killing," he works with them to re-enact the real-life killings in the style of American movies in which the men love to watch -- this includes classic Hollywood gangster movies and lavish musical numbers.
"These reenactments have the power to turn official history on its head," Oppenheimer says.
A key figure he follows is Anwar Congo, who killed hundreds, if not a thousand people with his own hands and is now revered as a founding father of an active right-wing paramilitary organization. By the end of the film, "you see how the founding fathers of [Indonesia's] regime and establishment are completely broken," notes Oppenheimer, "These men are not enjoying their old age as the heroes they have been telling themselves and the rest of the country that they are, they're destroyed."
According to Oppenheimer, the title reflects more than the reenactments that take place in the film, "It's worth remembering that the act of killing needn't refer simply to the act of killing human beings -- as the film demonstrates, I hope -- it also refers to the act of killing ideas, hope, communities, solidarity and our common humanity."
The film is co-directed by Christine Cynn and an Indonesian co-director who remains anonymous for fear of retribution, as does much of the Indonesian film crew. Its executive producers are Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. "The Act of Killing" opens in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., on July 26, then to theaters nationwide.
Click here to read the full transcript.