International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

The Makers of “The Act of Killing” Do an AMA on Reddit


A few weeks back we learned about The Act of Killing, an incredibly strange yet moving film about the anti-Communist atrocities in Indonesia from 1965-1966. Just today, director Joshua Oppenheimer and producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit.

The humorous responses are quite entertaining, such as when a redditor asks what their greatest motivation for making documentaries is—to which Morris says, “The desire for future employment.” Especially notable however are some of the serious responses. Oppenheimer describes his motivation as the following: “It is my opportunity to explore the darkest and most puzzling aspects of what we are – and, because everybody starts to stage themselves the moment you point a camera at them, it is my opportunity of pondering the fantasies and dreams that make us what we are.”

Oppenheimer gives some incredible insight into the filming process, such as the sort of danger he and his crew faced during the 5 years they spent shooting the documentary: when powerful ministers ordered, “Cut!” or the like, the crew had no choice to abide (these officials could have easily arrested Oppenheimer and his crew on the spot). While the nightmarish feel is no doubt palpable in the film, Oppenheimer notes that he and his crew felt this too, first-hand. Oppenheimer also describes how he and Anwar still keep in touch, and how Anwar has refused to become a spokesperson for human rights (which Oppenheimer seems to have somewhat hoped for). Oppenheimer also describes the final rooftop scene, the raw humanness of it all, when Anwar, gagging and physically distraught, says, “I had to do it, because my conscience told me they had to be killed.” There, Oppenheimer notes, “For my part, I had this desire to put my arm around him and say ‘It’s going to be okay’ (a manifestation of desperate optimism that we Americans are famous for). In that moment, however, I had this sickening realisation that no: it will not be okay. And this is what it looks like when it is not okay. And I realised then I could do nothing other than bear witness to what was unfolding.”

Another redditor also notes how Oppenheimer and his colleagues screened the film in front of Congress and asked them to acknowledge the genocide, to which Oppenheimer responds that the international community was complicit in the atrocity, and did not intervene when they should have because of convenience.

Personally, I was most moved by Herzog’s response to a redditor asking what Herzog has learned during his career of making documentaries:

“My work on death row inmates was very disturbing. The key insight during this work and other films that I made, was that murderers and executioners are human beings, not monsters. The crimes are monstrous, but the killers still remain human. This is the great and devastating lesson to learn from The Act of Killing.”

Overall, this was a great AMA worth checking out!


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