The film, which had its premiere in Telluride last year, shows executioners from Indonesia’s death squads re-enacting torture events and killings from the 1960s genocides.
While its director Joshua Oppenheimer has been criticized for the techniques he employs – most notably asking the executioners to act out their roles as if they were players in cherished Hollywood movies — the film has been successful in highlighting the murder of over one million people and the enduring legacy in Indonesia today. And instead of denials, the killers dish out gruesome details. “Killing” has also been widely seen on the international festival circuit.
It does not have a distributor in Indonesia, but is understood to have been screened illegally on over 500 occasions in Indonesia.
The film will still not get a conventional theatrical release, but will instead be distributed from Sept 30 (the anniversary of the beginning of the atrocities in 1965) as a free download that is geo-blocked and available only in Indonesia.
“Because the Indonesian government typically bans films dealing with human rights violations, a traditional theatrical release for ‘The Act Of Killing’ is not possible: a ban would become an excuse for paramilitary groups to attack screenings physically – and with impunity,” VICE said in a statement.
“The history of the 1965 genocide belongs to the people of Indonesia and for that reason it has always been our intention to give the film to all Indonesians,” said Oppenheimer in the statement. “We worked together for seven years to open a space in which all Indonesians can finally discuss, without fear, how their nation’s traumatic past underpins a regime of corruption and impunity. We hope this film will help the struggle for truth, reconciliation, and justice.”
The film was made over a period of seven years by Oppenheimer. Most of the local Indonesian crew he employed has kept their names off the credits out of fear of reprisals.
“The most important audience for ‘The Act of Killing’ is the Indonesian audience,” said producer Signe Byrge Soerensen. “Together with our anonymous Indonesian partners, we have already reached many Indonesian viewers, and a vital national debate has begun.”