News / Arts & Entertainment

Oscar-Nominated 'Act of Killing' Urges Indonesia to Face Its Genocidal Past

"The Act of Killing" director Joshua Oppenheimer (right) speaks with his main character, Anwar Congo (seated, wearing cap). (AP/Drafthouse Films)
"The Act of Killing" director Joshua Oppenheimer (right) speaks with his main character, Anwar Congo (seated, wearing cap). (AP/Drafthouse Films)
Sarah Williams
The bloody beginning of Indonesian President Suharto’s 32-year dictatorial reign is the focus of the Academy Award-nominated film The Act of Killing.   

From the title alone, it’s clear this nominee for Best Documentary Feature pulls no punches in seeking clarity on the frenzy of terror that gripped the Southeast Asian nation during the mid-1960s.

“Of course, it’s a huge honor for us, but much more importantly, it’s a really important moment for the survivors and the victims of genocide in Indonesia,” said Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing.

“My hope is that the nomination will actually encourage the Indonesian government to finally acknowledge the moral catastrophe of the genocide.”
 
Members of the Youth Wing of the Indonesian Communist Party are guarded by soldiers as they are taken by an open truck to prison in Jakarta following a crackdown on communists in 1965.Members of the Youth Wing of the Indonesian Communist Party are guarded by soldiers as they are taken by an open truck to prison in Jakarta following a crackdown on communists in 1965.
x
Members of the Youth Wing of the Indonesian Communist Party are guarded by soldiers as they are taken by an open truck to prison in Jakarta following a crackdown on communists in 1965.
Members of the Youth Wing of the Indonesian Communist Party are guarded by soldiers as they are taken by an open truck to prison in Jakarta following a crackdown on communists in 1965.
The mass bloodletting began in 1965-1966, as Suharto rose to power following the ouster of President Sukarno.  An estimated 500,000 people were killed. 

Said to target suspected communists, the victims also included ethnic Chinese, as well as leftists working as trade unionists, teachers and artists.  The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has described the bloodletting as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.”   But it is a genocide that is downplayed in most Indonesian history books.

Oppenheimer began the project with the intention of filming the survivors of the upheaval, and letting them tell their stories. But that quickly proved impossible.

“The army found out what we were doing,” he said. “The Indonesian army is stationed in every village, and in order to monitor, and ultimately, if needed, suppress the population, they found out what we were doing, and warned the survivors not to participate in the film.”

The survivors encouraged the film crew to seek out the perpetrators, hoping that their recollections would reveal the details of the deaths of their relatives.  

It was a suggestion that Oppenheimer initially resisted.

“I was nervous at first to approach the perpetrators, but when I did, I found to my horror that every single one of them was open, every single one of them was boastful, and would recount the grisly details of the killings, often with smiles on their faces in front of their families, even their little grandchildren,” he said. “It’s as though I wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power.”

The regime that was founded on crimes against humanity has never been held accountable.  In fact, former death squad commanders are happy to boast about their role.

The film concentrates on one of them, Anwar Congo, who estimates he killed about 1,000 people.  He takes the film crew to a roof of a building where he killed hundreds, and describes a method he used to lessen the amount of blood. 

In another scene, Anwar acts as the victim of a killing. We then see him with his grandchildren.  And finally, we see him coming to terms with the killings he committed many years ago.
 
Oppenheimer believes the present Indonesian government, and the Western countries which welcomed the Suharto takeover, should acknowledge the terrible events of the mid-1960s. 

“We’d like to see the Indonesian government acknowledge the past,” he said.  “But we’d like to see the U.S. government, the British government, the Australian government all acknowledge our collective role in supporting, participating in and ignoring these crimes.”

The U.S. has formally denied supplying aid to the Suharto forces.  But the U.S. embassy in Indonesia encouraged and lauded the military’s actions in the genocide’s early stages.  Academics and human rights groups say it also gave the army the names of thousands of Communist Party members.

The Jakarta Globe newspaper quoted Presidential spokesman for foreign affairs Teuku Faizasyah as saying the film “is simplifying a dark, complicated period of history.”  

The film portrays Indonesia as a “'cruel and lawless nation,” Faizasyah said.  “It must be remembered [that] Indonesia has gone through a reformation. Many things have changed.”

Not enough, apparently, for a group of 60 Indonesian crew members who opted not to list their names in the film's credits. Reflecting the sensitivity to the topic in Indonesia, an anonymous Jakarta-based co-director did not wish to publicly reveal his/her name.

While progress has been made to address the killings in the 16 years since the end Suharto’s death, a critical report by Indonesia’s human rights commission (Komnas HAM) has been rejected by the Attorney General and the Supreme Court as providing insufficient evidence. 

The Academy Awards will be announced Sunday, March 2, in Los Angeles.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: zickcrow from: Bogor
March 01, 2014 9:19 AM
why there isn't anything being said about the possibility that the U.S government, in this case CIA, are involved in the outrageous take over of Sukarno's government? By the way, who is Soeharto anyway before this take over? Then, he supposed to kill all the higher rank generals to fulfill the "Supersemar" letter, a letter which written in it a regulation that a general is allowed to rule over the government in the time of turmoil. Which until now the whereabouts of the letter is still a mystery. And what the U.S government gained from this deal? The right answer would be "too much". One of them is the gold mountain in Papua, in a city called Tembagapura. And also there's a "little" conspiracy in the naming of "Tembagapura" because it actually meant "Copperfield" which is a big fat lie. It is actually an actual mountain full of gold which now already turned into a deep valley, that also still full of gold. Do I have to mention the name of the company that owned that mine? I guess it wasn't necessary, there's only one gold mine company owned by U.S in there.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Pianist Myra Melford’s new CD “Life Carries Me This Way” features solo piano interpretations of drawings by modern artist Don Reich. She performs songs from the album, talks about turning art into music, and joins host Eric Felten in some Chicago boogie-woogie on "Beyond Category."