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The Look of Silence Photo: Lars Skree


Revealing the fiction of our reality

Joshua Oppenheimer ref lects on what the process of making The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence has taught him, and how he sees his role as documentary filmmaker today. As told to Freja Dam The fly on the wall is premised on a lie. Whenever you point a camera at anybody, they start staging themselves, consciously or unconsciously. They act out the fantasies they wished they lived up to and dramatise idealised images of themselves that they wished they could fulfil. In that sense, the non-fiction film camera is, in its most natural state, a prism with the power to reveal the fictions that constitute ourselves and our perception of reality. And from this self-staging, we can infer how people really see themselves. Anwar in The Act of Killing isn’t re-enacting what he did in 1965. He’s dramatising, for my camera, his present-day fantasies and emotional states. For example, the gangster scenes are not re-enactments, but an acting out of a despairing identity borrowed from Hollywood’s film noir that glamorises evil and allows him to live with himself. The audience doesn’t see it as glamorous, but as an enactment of how a man copes with guilt. What matters is what questions the film is answering. I think our responsibility as filmmakers is to answer the most urgent question inherent in 22

Berlinale Special / 2015

whatever situation we’re filming. Insofar that as we’re creating reality with anybody we film, it is our responsibility to create whatever reality will be most insightful to these questions. In The Act of Killing, I was trying to understand not only how human beings commit evil, but what lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions – and the effects of those lies. The Look of Silence is a poem about what 50 years of fear and silence does to a human being, to a mother, to the f lesh of an old man, to a family and a community. I’m always searching for poetic forms that allow me to express the most important thing – which is always something not immediately visible. I don’t see my two films as uncovering a hidden and forgotten genocide, nor am I certain that would be of value in and of itself. The purpose of both films is to expose the present-day legacy of genocide – the thuggery and corruption and fear that results from decades of impunity – and to immerse viewers in a poetic, almost physical experience of what it is like to live in such a world. Both films are about what it means to be human. They are not historical or journalistic films about Indonesia. They depict the effects of evil on our humanity, and how unacknowledged evil FILM | Berlin Issue 2015

Danish Films Berlin 2015  
Danish Films Berlin 2015  

Danish Film Institute's magazine with interviews and all the basics on Danish films at Berlin 2015