Joshua Oppenheimer discusses his collaboration with Adi Rukun, the importance of empathy, and the magical realist landscape and soundscape of his Oscar-nominated documentary The Look of Silence.
Is it possible to confront the men who murdered your older brother in such a way that facilitates dialogue and reconciliation? It’s a feat that would require someone with enormous empathy. But this is precisely what Adi, an Indonesian friend of documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer, felt he needed to do after seeing the footage from Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. In his remarkable new film, The Look of Silence, the director follows Adi as he seeks out the men responsible for his older brother Ramli’s death to give them an opportunity to repent. If they admitted their wrongdoings, Adi felt, “he could forgive them. He would be able to reconcile his family with the families of the perpetrators living around him. In that way, his children would not have to grow up anymore afraid of their neighbours.”
Read more: Deafening silence: The Look of Silence and Phoenix >>
In 1965, the Indonesian military dictatorship mobilized civilians to exterminate the country’s communists, amounting to over 1 million murders. Anyone opposed to the military dictatorship at the time could be labelled a “communist,” including union members, landless farmers, and intellectuals. Remarkably, the perpetrators continue to remain in power, creating a culture of fear and silence. In The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer filmed the perpetrators as they boastfully re-enacted their killings. In The Look of Silence, he revisits the men responsible for Ramli’s death with Adi to film their encounters with “precision and intimacy.”