The Act of Killing

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on September 13, 2013

Stamp image Priority

Dear Anonymous
Crew Member

Dear Anonymous,

You're a co-director. A producer. A cinematographer. A make-up artist, production manager, sound recorder, assistant editor, carpenter, costumer, runner, wrangler, and more. In your many roles, you represent no less than 50% of the people who worked on The Act of Killing. And in every case, you are remarkably brave. Because you were never just a disposable crewmember, risking your life for someone else's crazy vision. You're also a father. A mother. A son. A sister. A friend. And most importantly, a human being - even if we don't know your name. So above all, thank you, for helping tell this strangest of stories and contributing to one of the most important documentaries ever made.

Where do I even start? Few films have ever made me feel so… much. Angry, horrified, mesmerized, baffled, shocked, confounded, and, ultimately, inspired. Over the past week, I've found myself retelling countless scenes to friends, colleagues and even strangers, as way of convincing them to see this film. I'll describe to them some of the most bizarre moments in full detail in my own recreation of the experience - including what happened and what I was thinking. But it's only now, in this moment, that I am realizing why that testament to the film's power is so profoundly ironic.

As you know all too well, the Indonesian government supported paramilitary troops in the genocidal extermination of communists, communist supporters, and ethnic Chinese in 1965 and 1966. Driven by horribly graphic propaganda films, a calculated campaign was carried out by everyone from gangsters to journalists to murder without mercy and rape without remorse. Now, some 50 years later, we're told many Indonesians have forgotten this great "triumph". So in 2012, films were commissioned to recreate the massacres, with additional encouragement to elevate the experience through artistic interpretation, be it Bollywood musical or Hollywood Western. But The Act of Killing is not some thoughtless collection of those films. Instead, because of you, we get to go behind the scenes of that experience in a documentary that becomes a multi-layered examination of the power of film.

The main murderer/national hero we follow in the film is a seemingly unassuming, gentle-natured man named Anwar Congo. In an early scene, he describes how using a wire was his method of choice for killing nearly 1,000 people. He pantomimes the sequence for your documentary team with matter-of-fact detail. A few scenes later, we see him review the footage at home, with clear discomfort on his face. He's clearly upset about what he's seeing - not the description of horrific acts, but the fact he wore white pants the day of the shoot (he prefers dark colours). It's chilling, and revelatory, but luckily for us (and you, especially), only the beginning of his incredibly complex journey back into the past.

I'll spare you from re-living anything else, since the film does a masterful job showing how the simple act of recreation can send people into full trauma. But I want people to see this film. We need people to see this film. But will anyone simply take my word for it? I hope so.

Thankfully yours,


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