On 28 June 2013, The Act of Killing opened in UK cinemas to unprecedented critical acclaim. Since that date, the film has screened at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts consecutively every week for a whole year. On the occasion of the film's 1-year anniversary at the cinema, we invited Joshua Oppenheimer to return to the ICA to give a masterclass on the making of the film.
Hosted by Dave Calhoun from TIME OUT, the masterclass began with a discussion about the controversial final scene, moving on to focusing on the role of fiction, fantasy, performance and roleplay in the film. Joshua subsequently discussed how his filmmaking approach differs to cinema verite and direct cinema, elaborating on the difference between capturing what is 'typical' verses what is 'authentic'. Anwar Congo, the protagonist of The Act of Killing, was also discussed in relation to how he reacted to the reenactments. Anwar was the 41st boastful killer that Joshua filmed.
Anyone who has seen the film will know that the the production would have been a minefield of ethical dilemmas. Audience members at the masterclass asked Joshua about some of the key dilemmas he faced - e.g "Do you think that shooting those scenes makes you an accessory to extortion?" - to which Joshua responded with detailed explanations.
Joshua also elaborated on why the survivors of the genocide do not appear in The Act of Killing.
"The moment there are surivors in the film, or the righteous filmmaker who wants to expose this injustice, your identification as a viewer will immediately detach from Anwar and seek refuge with me and the whole premise of this film is that through my closeness with Anwar, you are brought into the terrible position of having to somehow recognise that these men are human, and that we're all closer to perpetrators than we think."
The full masterclass will be available on Dogwoof's YouTube channel soon. Watch this space!