Downloads: Press Release
“A … profoundly empathetic work of moral reckoning.” — A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar®-nominated The Look of Silence tells the incredible story of a man who confronts his brother’s killers and demands they accept responsibility for their part in the Indonesian Suharto regime’s 1965 genocide, which claimed 1 million lives. The film has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, June 27, 2016 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) during the 29th season of the PBS documentary series POV (Point of View).
A companion piece to Oppenheimer’s 2013 film The Act of Killing, also nominated for an Oscar and presented on POV, The Look of Silence has been hailed by critics and audiences around the world for bearing witness to the collapse of 50 years of state-sanctioned silence. The film is the winner of more than 70 international awards, including the Grand Jury Prize, FIPRESCI Award and Human Rights Film Network Award at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. Like its predecessor, it is executive-produced by Werner Herzog, Errol Morris and André Singer. The POV broadcast will also include a conversation between legendary filmmaker/screenwriter Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Grizzly Man) and Oppenheimer.
The documentary focuses on Adi Rukun, a determined yet mild-mannered optometrist from a family that survived the genocide. His older brother Ramli was murdered by Indonesian death squads unleashed against opponents of General Suharto, who came to power in 1965 by overthrowing President Sukarno and imprisoning, enslaving or murdering anybody associated with the Indonesian left, as well as the ethnic Chinese. Though initially this bloody dragnet allegedly targeted Communist Party members accused of destabilizing the country, it soon widened to include anyone likely to oppose the new government, including union members, intellectuals and women’s-rights activists. Many death squad leaders remain in power today—and some are Adi Rukun’s patients.
As The Look of Silence illustrates, Ramli holds a special place in the genocide’s history. Unlike the hundreds of thousands of victims who simply disappeared at night from concentration camps, Ramli was murdered before outside witnesses. “Ramli was proof that the killings, no matter how taboo, had, in fact, occurred,” says Oppenheimer. “His death verified for villagers the horrors that the military regime threatened them into pretending had never occurred, yet threatened to unleash again.” Ramli was the human symbol of a vast crime against humanity.
The film is a study in contrasts: Rukun’s unflinching desire to confront his brother’s murderers and his insistence that they admit moral responsibility, and the killers’ celebratory attitude toward their heinous acts.
An especially chilling display of pride occurs when two former death-squad members lead Oppenheimer to a clearing near North Sumatra’s Snake River where they helped the army kill 10,500 people. The tour begins as the killers blithely note that the local foliage smells “lovely, but subtle.” There is no subtlety in their descriptions of what happened there. Victims were “paralyzed with fear. They had seen our machetes.” Many were beheaded, their corpses “bobbing up and down” in the river as they floated away. One man admits to stabbing Ramli repeatedly, pushing him into the water and then finishing him off with sexual mutilation. Women were not spared similar treatment. As the interview ends, the two men proudly pose for commemorative pictures, as if for a Facebook status update.
The Look of Silence includes other confrontations with evil acts. Amir Siahaan, former commander of the Snake River death squads, not only has no regrets—”We exterminated communists for three months, day and night,” he boasts—but says, “We should be given a gift. We should be rewarded with a trip to America; if not by airplane, a cruise will do.”
While the brutality and callousness of the killers is nearly supernatural, Rukun’s bravery is also stunning. Many of the men he confronts remain in power and do not hesitate to threaten him, warning that speaking about the past is an invitation for the perpetrators to kill again.
“Maybe what you’re doing now is a secret communist activity,” one death-squad leader says. M.Y. Basrun, speaker of the regional local legislature since 1971, mixes menace with breathtaking audacity, insisting that if the victims’ families didn’t like him, he would never have been reelected so many times. “Do the victims’ families want the killings to happen again?” he asks. “No? Then change! If you keep making an issue of the past it will definitely happen again.” Fear of reprisals remains strong in many villages.
Rukun’s willingness to confront the killers has historical significance. “There has never been a nonfiction film, in the history of cinema, where survivors confront perpetrators who still hold a monopoly on power,” Oppenheimer says. By doing so, Rukun has broken through a 50-year reign of terror, intimidation and submission—and opened the door to the possibility of justice. Both of Oppenheimer’s films are at the center of an ongoing effort to convince the White House to declassify documents related to the genocide and to call on the government of Indonesia to appoint a commission to investigate the crimes and seek national reconciliation.
“Again and again, Adi Rukun says the unsayable, leaving the audience to feel what it is like to live as a survivor, and to perceive the contours of an oppressive silence born of fear,” says Oppenheimer. With The Look of Silence, Rukun forces his countrymen’s murderers, and us, to reckon with the abyss of fear and guilt that forms when political violence is followed by impunity and silence. Oppenheimer’s film bears witness to this, and has broken the spell of submission and terror.
About the Filmmakers:
Joshua Oppenheimer, Director
Born in 1974 in the United States, Joshua Oppenheimer is a 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. His debut feature film, The Act of Killing, was nominated for the 2014 Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature and has been released theatrically in 31 countries. The film was named Best Film of the Year in the 2013 Sight & Sound film poll and won 72 international awards, including the European Film Award 2013 for European Documentary, BAFTA 2014 for Best Documentary, Asia Pacific Screen Award 2013 for Best Documentary Feature Film, Berlinale Audience Award 2013 and the Guardian Film Award 2014 for Best Film. Oppenheimer is a partner at Final Cut for Real ApS in Denmark and artistic director of the International Centre for Documentary and Experimental Film at the University of Westminster in London. He was educated at Harvard and Central Saint Martins.
Signe Byrge Sørensen, Producer
Signe Byrge Sørensen has produced two Oscar®-nominated films, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. She was nominated for a Producers Guild of America Award in 2016 for The Look of Silence. She won Cinema Eye Honors for the production of both films. Sørensen has been a producer since 1998 and founded Final Cut for Real ApS in 2009. She has produced documentaries in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, Denmark and Sweden. She holds a master’s degree in international development studies and communication studies from Roskilde University, Denmark.
The Look of Silence is a production of Final Cut for Real ApS.
To learn more about the making of the film, the history of the Indonesian genocide and what has happened in the country since the film was released, visit www.thelookofsilence.com.
(Due to the nature of this film, it has been necessary to credit numerous Indonesian partners and collaborators as anonymous.)
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Producer: Signe Byrge Sørensen
Executive Producers: Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, André Singer
Director of Photography: Lars Skree
Editor: Niels Pagh Andersen
Sound Editor and Mix: Henrik Garnov
Running time (including Interview): 1:56:46
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producers: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Vice President, Content Strategy: Eliza Licht
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman
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Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.
POV films have won 34 Emmy® Awards, 19 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, three IDA Awards for Best Curated Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. Learn more: www.pbs.org/pov.
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POV’s Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 650 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.
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American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.
Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding comes from Nancy Blachman and David desJardins, Bertha Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Marguerite Casey Foundation, Ettinger Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.