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A CINEMA OF CONFRONTATION With The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer ekes even more devastating truth from guilt and denial BY SAM ADAMS De ae al ‘OVER THE YEARS, many moviemakers have rede fined documentary. Fe, however have composed a new vocabulary forthe medium as systematically as Joshua Oppentielmer. Tak with him for even a brief while About his movles—The Academy Award i moves, hel polnt out, 2 cuanercow 7 sunner 203s AM half a mllion Indonesians in 1965 and 1966, ‘ut about thei lingering effect on the pres ent, The scenes in The Act of Kling where the perpetrators of those massacres restage ‘heir eimes aren't “reenactment” but *dramatizations” When The Look af Sience's Adi Rukun grills the men who murdered his other and thousands ke him, ifs not an "interview" but a“confremtation.” "Even as innocuous 2 term as “shooter” ins dusty sang fora cinematographer, does not ceseape is grasp. “On the one Nand? he says “the word i nie in that its not pretentious (On the other hand, itseems to hea slight misunderstanding of what were doing when ‘we make flm—as tough were just shooting reality the way we would at a wedding” ‘The Austin-bom, Copenhagen-based Op- ‘enheimer’s pression shouldn't be mistaken for pedantry. The words he targets have ‘tremendous ideological weight, and theyre ‘even more powerful because they 80 rarely examined. The distnetion between “roonaet- ment” and “dramatization” is as important asthe one between “massacre” and "gen0- cide? the Tater what Oppenheimer uses to refer tothe Indonesian Killings. Im some ways, The Act of Killing and The Look of Sitence serve te function of tradi tional isue documentaries, raising global awareness, stimulating local dialogue, and prompting genuine change in a country ‘hat has swept a massive historical atrocity ‘under the rug for nearly half a century, and is now dealing with it ets premiere in 2012 prompted Indonesia's Tempo ‘magazine to publish a special double issue of the perpetrators’ testimony, breaking 47 years of mainstream media silence. The country’s National Commission on Human [Rights issued a statement calling the film “essential viewing,’ saying: “If we are to transform Indonesia into the demoeracy it claims tobe, citizens must recognize the teeror and repression on which our eon- temporary history has been built. No film, tr any other work of art for that matter, hhas done this more effectively then The det of Kittin” ‘At the same time, both documentaries force us to eonftont what it means to sorb ths subject matter in climate conttoled suditorium sta film festival or fan art house theater; how our countries, confront their own durk legacies, ot more often fail t; and what nebulous buzzwords like “awareness? "dialogue" and change” really mean, If anything ata. anti-Communist purges tha killed a least | SunneR 2025 WHILE WE'RE DEFINING our ‘teri lot start with one ofthe ‘mast abused terms inthe history ‘of movies: "cinéma vit” ts most commonly used to denote ME te socalled “fy-onthe-vall” sestheti, where the documentary crew, pet hhaps after some petiod of acclimation, simoly Aisappears into the woodwork and if goes ‘ono eameraas thas before “There's claim that Ue camer is 2 trans parent window onto preexisting reality” ‘Oppentimer said in Marc a the University of Missours Based on a True Story enfer- ence, dedicated to exploring the eationship Deween journalism and documentary. "But ‘what realy happening that che diector and the fim erew and the subjeets are col- laboring to simulate a reality in which they pretend the camera snot present fsa kind fof dishonest story about how the fl was ‘male, one that performs useful funetion— namely i helps ust suspend our disbelief and perveive that simulation as realy ‘Oppenheimer’s own films are closer to the orignal definition of cinéma vérté—nearly 1380 degrees from the vay its come tobe used As conceived by Jean Rouch and Eagar ‘Morin, whose Cironice ofa Skammer isa classic ofthe form, cinéma vérité was devised recisely to step awa’ from the passive ‘observer tradition of ethnographe docamen- tary There was, Rouch determined no way for awhite Frenchman to eavesdrop on the inhabitants of France's Afican colonies with- ‘out his presence having an effect. What he ‘ould do was lim the truth of his subject ‘erntion with the camera Cinéma vé- t,he explained, ‘vas not the einem of truth, hut the Ea “Cinema vérité is not the “The essence of nonfiction is creating the occasion in collaboration betveenflmamaker anc participants? Oppenhelmer, 2 2014-Ma- ‘arthur Fellowship reipint, explains from a ca in Cannes, "where everybody is moved to space tat is not quite ennfortable, within ‘the overall safe space of making fn, A space ‘where tings that would never be revealed in ‘he normal course of things are revated. A chance to rub reality axainst the grain” THE JOURNEY TOWARD both films began with a scene that Op- ppenhelmer filmed in 2004, one that acts asthe leat of The Look af Si- ence: Two executioners, Amir Has- san and thong, stand by the banks ‘of te Suoke River and recall earrying out ‘Raual's murder, laughing as they do, Oppen- ‘heimer had been helping oil palm plantation ‘workers make a film about their struggle wo unionize (2003's The Globalization Tapes, when he discovered that major obstacle to the task was the lingering fear instilled by the 1965 genocide, whose perpetrators had. remained in power ever sine, Although it was nominally intended to oot out Comnu- nist subversves, the perpetrators themselves describe a gory, indiscriminate free-for-all, designed to sow submission and fea. Oppenheimer views his ims a5 to parts ofa greater whole” In fact, Aes unusual form came about atthe urging of genocide survivors who, though they believed it urs for dem. to speak on camera, nonetheless wanted Op- ‘pembeimerto make the lm. although {hee fins were Shoone ater the other he made sre poverurewn oe Cinema Of truth, but the truth or vercomacea mexnicontyone. gf cinema; a powerful truth, ote. neinersmoss. but not the only one. in201 sin he tists are ok iow at ean starts cosa anon Bat onsen a maine Jaborators. In The Act of Killing, he invites ‘the perpetrators ofthe 1965 genocide to, yes,