Cultural Consumption: Task 15

Read a recent arts journal and highlight a project you find interesting:

I read ‘Oh Comely’ magazine, issue 18. It features tips for creativity, interviews with inspirational people and information about arts projects.

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One of the projects within the issue that I found interesting, was a documentary made from 2005-2011 by American director Joshua Oppenheimer. ‘The Act of Killing’ investigates the massacre of 2.1 million ‘communists’, and ethnic Chinese civilians that took place in Indonesia during 1956-1966.

Oppenheimer does not go about this traditionally, focusing on the point of view of the victims. Instead he focuses his chilling film on the perpetrators of the killings – who still glorify what they have done, and are proud. These men were celebrated by the majority of the community, and not persecuted for the atrocities they took part in.

Oppenheimer immersed himself in the lives of these killers, and spent several years in their company, collecting hundreds of hours of footage. He talks about how it was hard not to come to like them during this period; because of their friendly and sometimes comical personalities, but this was bluntly contrasted by the information they would recall in interviews about the killings. In the film he challenges them to recreate the horrific murders, and they do re-enact them proudly. The film documents the men’s journey through re-living their past, and is centred around one man in particular, named Anwar.

The documentary is shocking, showing how these men continue to tell themselves what they did was not wrong – they are proud of these killings. Oppenheimer shows that this is how they have come to cope with the murders.

Here is an extract from an interview with Josh Oppenheimer that I read online:

I do not see myself primarily as a documentary maker. I see myself as someone who uses film as a way of exploring the world. I’m particularly interested in how what appears to be our factual, everyday reality is, in fact, constituted by millions of interlocking stories and fantasies, half-remembered sometimes, second-rate sometimes, second-hand most of the time. I’ve always been interested in how we tell ourselves stories unconsciously to make ourselves who we are and to create our world. Whenever you film anybody, they become self-conscious; they start to stage themselves unconsciously. And the script, if you like, for that performance that they inevitably offer up is some notion of how they’d like to be seen based on how they have seen others. When you film someone, it’s an opportunity to put reality through a prism and reveal all of these interlocking fantasies that are normally invisible. Normally, non-fiction filmmakers point the camera at somebody and try to get beyond that moment of self-consciousness by getting the person to “act normal” so that they can claim to be looking at reality through a transparent window. But documentary is never that. You’re never a fly on the wall. You’re always working with your subject to create a series of occasions in which a person will prolong an argument, make a concession, preen or perform. And if you think of non-fiction filmmaking in that way, it is always inherently collaborative and often performative. This is what I’ve been interested in: using cinema to explore the way our seemingly factual realities are impregnated by fiction

The film had won a number of awards, and is now shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination, for Best Documentary.

Here is the trailer:


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