Brow Beat

Premiere: Joshua Oppenheimer on Why He Made a Companion Film to The Act of Killing

A scene from The Look of Silence.

Photo courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

To watch Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing, about the anti-communist mass killings in 1960s Indonesia, is to be horrified, mesmerized, disgusted, thrilled, and saddened, all at once. In it, the filmmaker interviews some of the men who carried out the killings as they boast about the murders and even gleefully recreate them several decades later. Lauded for its unusual storytelling and the way it exposes some of the most disturbing aspects of both history and human nature, The Act of Killing made it onto dozens of lists of the best movies of 2013 (including Slates own), helped Oppenheimer win a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and forced Indonesian government officials to acknowledge the killings.

This made The Act of Killing, to put it mildly, a tough act to follow. Yet Oppenheimer’s companion piece, The Look of Silence, feels as necessary as its predecessor. This time, he follows around an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break from the nation’s code of silence about the murders and confront the men who had a hand in the death of his older brother Ramli.

In the featurette below, which we’re premiering here on Slate, Oppenheimer reveals his motivations for making another film and the impact he hopes it will have. “Imagine you have to go to weddings and funerals and socialize politely with people who murdered your children because you’re too afraid to actually speak out and confront them. That takes a tremendous toll on our humanity …” he says. “I wanted to make a film that stands in memoriam for all that’s destroyed.”

For a peek at how Oppenheimer and Adi approach this disturbing piece of history, you can also watch this scene from The Look of Silence, in which Adi interviews the commander of the Komando Aksi death squad that was responsible for his brother’s murder.

The Look of Silence opens July 17.

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