Joshua Oppenheimer, an Oscar-nominated documentary director, came to Colgate to show and discuss his highly acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing. The film follows Anwar, a death squad leader, who helped in the killing of over 1 million Indonesians in the 1960s. The Act of Killing challenges these unrepentant death squad leaders to dramatize their role in the genocide. The results, depicted in the film, have been called “a hallucinatory cinematic fever-dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass murderers.” The film was produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog and has been lauded as one of the most groundbreaking films in recent history, even winning the best film award at the first Guardian Film Awards, beating Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave.
I found the movie to be an extremely powerful and disturbing foray into the human psyche, something which challenged my perceptions and forced me to grapple with the complexities inherent in what it means to be “good” and “evil.” The panel discussion afterward with Joshua Oppenheimer was also fascinating and I am so glad I had the chance to question the filmmaker and also learn more about the filming process and what was not shown in the documentary. Mr. Oppenheimer was extremely articulate and his insight into the film elevated it even further in my eyes. One of the things he said was that even after learning about the killings this man, Anwar, did, he still felt empathy for him and as I viewer, I couldn’t help but feel that way too after seeing the film. Oppenheimer spoke about the importance of this empathy, calling it “the beginning of love…and something you can’t have enough of” as well as the best way to connect with people and prevent further violence in the future.
You can see the trailer for the film by clicking the link here