Look of Silence: Award-Winning Docu from Joshua (Act of Killing) Oppenheimer

the_look_of_silence_1Joshua oppenheimer’s new documentary, “The Look of Silence,” arrives in Toronto Fest after winning at the Venice Film Fest the prestigious Grand Jury Prize, as well as best film awards from FIPRESCI, the European Film Critics, and Italian Online Film Critics and the Human Rights Night Award.

Joshua Oppenheimer, a graduate of Harvard and London’s Central St. Martins, also serves as the keynote guest on Day 2, on September 10, of Toronto’s Film Fest Annual Doc Conference.

When Oppenheimer filmed the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, he met a family of survivors.   Through him, the members discovered how their son was murdered, and more shockingly, the identity of the men who murdered him.  The killers, who lived just down the road, have been in power ever since the genocide.

The family’s youngest son, Adi, born after the genocide, asks how he can raise his children in a society where survivors are terrorized into silence, and everybody is terrorized into treating the murderers as heroes.

In search of answers, Adi decides to confront each of his brother’s killers. Since the killers still hold power, his encounters—actually provocative confrontations–are risky and dangerous. In fact, the killers respond with fear, anger, and ultimately threats.

But surpirsingly Adi manages all of these meetings with dignity, unafraid to ask hard questions about how the killers perceive what they did, how they live side-by-side with their victims, and how they think their victims see them.

Through these confrontations, we begin to understand what it is like to live for decades encircled by powerful neighbors who murdered your children.

the_look_of_silence_3Like “The Act of Killing,” “The Look of Silence” is eager to pay tribute to the victims by making the perpetrators acknowledge their sins, even if they don’t repent, or wish to redeem themselves.

Offering an invaluable lesson in history, the docu achieves something unprecedented even for non-fiction work: It chronicles in detail how survivors confront their relatives’ murderers in the absence of any truth or the slight possibility of reconciliation.

Oppenheimer first met Adi soon after he arrived in Indonesia.  “Awards are important in terms of the attention they bring,” Oppenheimer said in reference to “Act of Killing.”  The Oscar nomination “opened this space where Indonesia could for the first time talk about what happened in 1965 as a crime that needs to be examined, as opposed to something that was justified.”

“But for a film to be a work of art, the truths have to be universal, and intended for any human being anywhere,” he continued. “My hope is ‘Look of Silence’ will reach a wider audience, more quickly, as it stands on the shoulders of the previous film.”

“I knew I would spend as many years as it would take to address the situation, “ he said. “I also understood there would be two films — one about the storytelling and fantasies we retreat into to justify our actions, and the moral vacuum that becomes inevitable, which was ‘Act of Killing.’

“The second would be just as contemporary, but not about what happened in 1965, but about the shadow it casts on the present, what it means to live as a survivor surrounded by the people who killed your relatives.”

the_look_of_silence_2“Everyone was afraid to talk about it except for the youngest son Adi, who was born after the killings,” the director explained. “He saw in my process the means to understand his family, and went on to become a key collaborator, wothout whose presence the docu would simply be impossible.

“When Adi told me he wanted to meet the killers, I thought it was dangerous and reckless,” the director recalled. “But he wanted them to acknowledge what they did, so he could separate the crime from the human being, and live alongside these men and their families.

Profound Irony

“He saw his meetings not as a way to shame them, but a way out of this fear, which is a model for how Indonesia could move forward.  “The profound irony is that as he tries to tries to forgive, he is instead treated as a criminal,” Oppenheimer said. “So we had to work closely with the family to relocate them to a more activist community far away.”

Drafthouse Films and Participant Media bought U.S. rights to “Look of Silence” prior to its world premiere in Venice fest.

The film plays the New York Film Festival, in October, and will be released theatrically in the U.S. in the summer of 2015.