Why Does the Filmmaker of "The Act of Killing" Use Re-Enactments to Tell This Story?
(It is also not certain that the communists were responsible.) The army outsourced the work to local gangs and militias, including the massive and still-active Pancasila Youth paramilitary organization, and within a year, at least 500,000 people (with some estimates placing the number up to 3 million) had been murdered and more than 1 million more were imprisoned. The aborted coup also led to the overthrow of the left-leaning President Sukarno, the nation's first president and a leader of the anti-Dutch independence movement in the 1920's and 1930's, who was replaced by military leader General Suharto. By 1967, Suharto and his right-wing New Order administration were officially ruling Indonesia. Although Suharto resigned in 1998 and died a decade later, this same regime—the one that ordered the killings now almost 50 years ago—remains in control of Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation on the planet. Moreover, international institutions, like the International Criminal Court (ICC), have ignored these cases and influential foreign nations, like the United States, have, at best, also ignored the killings or, at worst, been complicit and supportive of the right-wing government. Therefore, the now-elderly executioners are treated like celebrities in the country. In one surreal scene, an executioner describes his favored method of killing on what looks to be the Indonesian version of Live! with Kelly and Michael, to cheers and laughs from the audience. This was the atmosphere that Oppenheimer stepped into in the mid-2000s when he started making The Act of Killing. As he said on The Daily Show, and to other media outlets, it was like going to Germany 40 years after World War II and seeing the Nazis still in charge.
But I would suggest that the possibility of empowerment has been eclipsed. This would have required input, real collaboration between the perpetrators and victims.