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'The Act of Killing': Genocide reenacted

February 28th, 2014
09:57 PM ET

Up to half a million people were killed in Indonesia from 1965 to 1966 as part of the anti-communist purges. For many, this was a genocide which has been largely forgotten by some.

One man set out to change that. With his documentary "The Act of Killing", Joshua Oppenheimer has not only earned himself an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature but has also shined a light on one of the 20th century's worst atrocities. Becky Anderson sat down with him ahead of the Academy Awards on Sunday to hear about the film and this bloody chapter in the history of Indonesia.

Oppenheimer offers a remarkable perspective on the killings. He travels to Indonesia and meets not the victims but the perpetrators of the genocide – the men who claim to have killed tens or even hundreds of their fellow countrymen. They appear so proud of what they have done that they're prepared to re-enact the murders for the cameras. Through the film Oppenheimer gives an insight into the mind of a mass-murderer. The central character is Anwar Congo who says he personally killed roughly 1,000 people during the purges. Anwar demonstrates for Oppenheimer the technique he used to minimize blood spillage during his killings.

According to Oppenheimer, Anwar went through a range of complex emotions during the filming, as he is forced to reflect on what he did.

"What's fuelling Anwar throughout the process was him trying desperately to deny the horror of what he's done, to run away from it – the boasting and remorse turn out to be two sides of the same coin."

The mass-killing began after six Indonesian generals were murdered on 1st October 1965. A coup attempt by the 30 September Movement ended in failure and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were blamed.

This sparked anti-communist sentiment within the army and the PKI were purged from political, social and military life. Following that, anyone who was affiliated or suspected of being affiliated with the communist party or leftist organizations became a target for arrest, torture and murder by death squads.

Oppenheimer says his film has helped provoke public discussion on the topic, that will hopefully lead to some form of reconciliation.

"The media is now able to talk about the genocide as a genocide", he says, "The public is able to debate the links between the catastrophe of the killings on the one hand and the moral catastrophe of the present day regime that the killers have built."

Filed under:  Becky's Interviews • Video
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