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)
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

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”