Joshua Oppenheimer’s Act of Killing is one of, if not the greatest documentary ever made, and now Drafthouse has announced plans to distribute the follow up. They’ve acquired the rights to The Look of Silence, planning to take it on a festival tour this year in advance of a Summer 2015 theatrical release. With Act of Killing, Oppenheimer initially wanted to make a film about the victims of the Indonesian genocide, but, finding it difficult to find subjects who weren’t too scared of reprisals to talk, he instead set the cameras on the perpetrators. Who, still being in power and thinking themselves war heroes, were more than happy to boast of their deeds, leading to one of the most surreal, tragicomic, and illuminating glimpses into evil ever caught on film.
Act of Killing was made available for free in Indonesia, and now it seems that the story can finally be told from the victims’ perspective in The Look of Silence.
The Look of Silence is the companion piece to Oppenheimer’s 2014 Academy Award®-nominated documentary The Act of Killing, and explores the Indonesian genocide and its terrifying legacy from the victim’s point of view, following one man on his search for the truth as he confronts his brother’s killers.
Through Joshua Oppenheimer’s work filming perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered – and the identity of the men who killed him. The perpetrators live just down the road, and have been in power ever since the massacres. The family’s youngest son, an optometrist, seeks to bring the past into focus, asking how he can raise his children in a society where survivors are terrorized into silence, and everybody is intimidated into celebrating the murderers as heroes. In search of answers, he decides to confront each of his brother’s killers. The killers still hold power, so each encounter is dangerous. The former executioners respond with fear, anger, and naked threats but he manages these encounters with dignity; asking unflinching questions about how the killers see what they did, how they live side-by-side with their victims, and how they think their victims see them. Through these confrontations, audiences get a sense of what it is like to live for decades encircled by powerful neighbors who are also murderers of their children. The Look of Silence does something virtually without precedent in cinema or in the aftermath of genocide: it documents survivors confronting their relatives’ murderers in the absence of any truth and reconciliation process, while the murderers remain steadfastly in power.
As with the first, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris agreed to come on as executive producers after viewing a rough cut. You think you could keep Herzog away from a hellishly intense introspective nightmare like this? Ha, not even if you tried. I imagine him cross-dressing like Herman Koto rubbing his palms together the entire time. “Ja, ja. I haff not zeen pyouah cold eendeefference like ziss zince I look eento za eye uff za common cheeckn.”