EXCLUSIVE: Joshua Oppenheimer’s award-winning The Act of Killing garnered wide acclaim and the year’s best nonfiction debut this summer. But the filmmakers believe the docu, in which ex-death squad leaders of the 1965-1966 Indonesian genocide reenact their own atrocities for the camera, can’t have a traditional release in the country where said mass murderers are still celebrated as national heroes. So the film’s most significant release will come in September when Drafthouse Films, VICE, and VHX open the pic in Indonesia – for free.
The 1965 genocide that killed an estimated 500K to 1 million accused leftists, intellectuals, and ethnic Chinese is rarely talked about in the country and isn’t taught in history books. It’s so sensitive within Indonesia that the 60+ Indonesian crew members on The Act Of Killing are credited as “Anonymous” for fear of retribution. Filmmakers fear that, if submitted to the government-run film board, the docu would likely be banned and subsequent screenings would invite violent attacks by paramilitary groups. Instead, Drafthouse, VICE, Signe Byrge Sørensen’s Final Cut for Real ApS, and VHX will release Act of Killing within Indonesia on September 30 via www.actofkilling.com, where local viewers can download the 159-minute directors cut for free from a site exclusively geo-blocked for Indonesia.
The film has already been shown in hundreds of underground screenings in 95 cities across Indonesia from traditional venues to rural locales. The version released online in Indonesia will be the 159-minute Indonesian director’s cut which has no English subtitles, making piracy outside of the country a non-issue, says Drafthouse Creative Director Evan Husney. It’s already become the indie distributor’s biggest box office hit to date. Still in limited release in select cities, Act of Killing has been bolstered by a strong 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating, the Berlin Film Fest’s 2013 Audience Award, and the support of Werner Herzog and Errol Morris who came aboard as exec producers after seeing the film. Drafthouse is planning an awards season run later this year ahead of an early 2014 home video release.
Said Oppenheimer: “The history of the 1965 genocide belongs to the people of Indonesia, and for that reason it has always been our intention to give the film to all Indonesians… We worked together for seven years to open a space in which all Indonesians can finally discuss, without fear, how their nation’s traumatic past underpins a regime of corruption and impunity. We hope this film will help the struggle for truth, reconciliation, and justice.”
Vice joined with Drafthouse after a Vice producer on another docu project caught one of the underground screenings of the film held in Indonesia. Then Chief Creative Officer Eddy Moretti was shown the pic. “When I finally saw the film myself, I was also deeply affected. It’s that rare kind of film: you marvel at its form, its structure, you are drawn into the emotional and cultural complexities, but all the while you can’t stop thinking about how truly evil and disgusting humans can be to one another.”