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The Look of Silence

.
Through Joshua Oppenheimer’s work filming perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered and the identity of the men who killed him. The youngest brother is determined to break the spell of silence and fear under which the survivors live, and so confronts the men responsible for his brother's murder – something unimaginable in a country where killers remain in power.
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Running Time: 99 min.
Subject(s): Asian Studies, Cinema, Conflicts, Ethnography, Family, Genocide, Human Rights, Investigative Journalism see all »
Language(s): Indonesian, Javanese
Subtitles: English
Director(s):
Producer(s): Signe Byrge Sørensen
Editor(s): Niels Pagh Andersen
Production Company: Final Cut for Real

Press

  • 5 out of 5 "...this film is just as piercingly and authentically horrifying as before. It is filmed with exactly the same superb visual sense, the same passionate love of the Indonesian landscape, and dialogue exchanges are captured with the same chilling crispness."
    The Guardian
    Peter Bradshaw
  • 5 out of 5 "A superior work of confrontational boldness... Essential"
    Time Out New York
    Joshua Rothkopf
  • "So involving is the raw content of The Look of Silence that some might view its formal elegance as mere luxury, yet the film reveals Oppenheimer to be a documentary stylist of evolving grace and sophistication."
    Variety
    Guy Lodge
  • "Every bit as frank and shocking as last year's The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer's ground-breaking documentary about the men behind the brutal murder of some one million Indonesians in the mid-Sixties in the name of a Communist purge, The Look of Silence is perhaps even more riveting for focusing on one man’s personal search for answers as he bravely confronts his brother's killers."
    The Hollywood Reporter
    Deborah Young
  • "...A gripping but also often tense and uncomfortable viewing experience..."
    Screen International
    Lee Marshall
  • "Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of the award-winning documentary 'The Act of Killing,' about the 1965-66 anti-communist purge in Indonesia, has struck again with his follow-up film 'The Look of Silence,' which last week won the Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival... For the survivors, just the recognition that they were never villains is enough."
    Jakarta Globe: Front page article
    Adelia Anjani Putri
  • 5 out of 5 "Oppenheimer and his anonymous collaborators are to be roundly applauded for bringing this appalling moment in history to light."
    Cine Vue
    John Bleasdale
  • "A portrait in courage and moral integrity, and pretty brilliant filmmaking"
    Indie Wire
    Tom Christie
  • "The photography this time qualifies The Look Of Silence as a truly cinematic experience, one in which its raw emotional power is matched by its beauty."
    CPH Post
    Mark Walker
  • Look of Silence wins top prize at CPH:DOX (screening over 200 films). Jury included David Wilson, Laurence Reymond, Kidlat Thaimik, Lilibeth Cuenca and Nelly Ben Hayoun
    Screen Daily
    Wendy Mitchell
  • "'The Look of Silence': The film making Indonesia face its brutal history... It shows just how far Indonesia has to go before it can be called a genuine democracy with rule of law."
    CNN
    Dean Irvince
  • "For all their aesthetic beauty, both The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence occupy an unsure place on the continuum of cultural forms. Are they works of art? Taped confessions? Symbolic tribunals? Whatever it is that Oppenheimer and his anonymous co-director on both films—an Indonesian hiding his or her identity for fear of reprisals—have made, if it’s playing in a theater near you, go see it."
    Slate
    Dana Stevens
  • "The follow-up to last year's The Act of Killing is as disturbing as it is mesmerizing, and replaces the weirdness and humor of the first film with emotional turmoil of a victim's family"
    Filmoria
    Lesley Coffin in Cinema Reviews
  • "This slow, somber production with its sense of quiet rage over injustice has great cumulative power, delivering a universal message of just how much a society can be damaged by ignoring its dark history. Recommended."
    Video Librarian
  • "...the result is no less stunning, an encounter with the banality of evil in the most visceral way. Watching survivors come to terms with their pain is hard enough; watching them as they seek answers from those who inflicted it is riveting, disturbing and eye-opening."
    Steven Zeitchik
    Los Angeles Times
  • "The film shows unfathomable courage in the face of unfathomable evil"
    Scott Tobias
  • "A riveting, poetic film"
    Noel Murray
  • "The Look of Silence is profound, visionary, and stunning."
    Werner Herzog
  • "One of the greatest and most powerful documentaries ever made. A profound comment on the human condition."
    Errol Morris

Festival & Awards

  • Venice FIlm Festival - 2014
    Grand Jury Prize Winner
  • telluride Film festival - 2014
  • Toronto Film Festival - 2014
  • Helsinki Film Festival - 2014
  • New York Film Festival - 2014
  • CPH:DOX - 2014
    DOX: AWARD Main Competition Grand Prize Winner
  • IDFA - 2014
  • Busan International Film Festival - 2014
    Best World Documentary
  • Starz Denver Film Festival - 2014
    Best Documentary Prize of the Danish Arts Council
  • Tromso International Film Festival - 2015
    Don Quixote Prize
  • Gothenburg Film Festival - 2015
    Dragon Award for Best Nordic Documentary
  • True/False Film Festival - 2015
    True Life Fund Recipient
  • Berlinale - 2015
    Peace Film Prize winner
  • SXSW - 2015
    Audience Award Winner, Best Film, Festival Favorites
  • Festival d'Angers - 2015
    Audience Award - Best Film
  • Festival de Cinéma Valenciennes - 2015
    Grand Prix du Jury, Prix de la Critique, Prix Étudiants,
  • Sofia International Film Festival - 2015
    Best Documentary
  • Prague One World Film Festival - 2015
    Best Film
  • Victoria Film Festival - 2015
    Best Documentary
  • Danish Film Academy 2015 - 2015
    Robert Prize Award for Best Long Documentary
  • 2015 Danish Film Critics’ Award - 2015
    (Bodil Prize) for Best Documentary
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest - Audience Award - Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015
    Audience Award
  • Burma Human Rights Documentary Film Festival - 2015
    Aung San Suu Kyi Award
  • Documenta Madrid - 2015
    Audience Award
  • Docs Barcelona - 2015
    Audience Award, Amnesty International Award
  • Movies That Matter Festival - 2015
    Audience Award
  • Vilnius International Film Festival - 2015
    Best Director (Baltic Gaze)
  • Docs Against Gravity - Warsaw - 2015
    Amnesty International Award
  • Subversive Film Festival - 2015
    Wild Dreamer Award
  • NordicDocs - 2015
    Special Jury Prize
  • River Run Film Festival - 2015
    Best Director (Documentary)
  • Uruguay International Film Festival - 2015
    Best Film - Cine de Derechos Humanos
  • Calgary Underground Film Festival - 2015
    Best Documentary

additional materials

  • Study Guide
  • Film Poster
  • Sculpting a Lethal Landscape/Producing a Crime Scene: Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence by Professor Janet Walker
  • Suharto: A Declassified Documentary Obit
  • Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence
  • Am I PKI or Not PKI?
  • Case Study: The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966
  • The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia: 1965-1968
  • National Commission for Human Rights Investigation
  • Special Report: Requiem for a Massacre
  • The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967
  • Petrus Dadi Ratu
  • Out of the Black Hole
  • Why Not Genocide? Anti-Chinese Violence in Aceh, 1965 – 1966
  • Remembering Indonesia's bloody October
  • Film Review: The Look of Silence, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal
  • I had to dispense with the facts or you wouldn’t have perceived the truth
  • "The Look of Silence: Finding our Humanity in the Face of Genocide"
  • "Opening the Books on the Cold War"
  • Take Action
  • Visual Anthropology Review

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  • Director's Notes

    The Act of Killing exposed the consequences for all of us when we build our everyday reality on terror and lies. The Look of Silence explores what it is like to be a survivor in such a reality. Making any film about survivors of genocide is to walk into a minefield of clichés, most of which serve to create a heroic (if not saintly) protagonist with whom we can identify, thereby offering the false reassurance that, in the moral catastrophe of atrocity, we are nothing like perpetrators. But presenting survivors as saintly in order to reassure ourselves that we are good is to use survivors to deceive ourselves. It is an insult to survivors’ experience, and does nothing to help us understand what it means to survive atrocity, what it means to live a life shattered by mass violence, and to be silenced by terror. To navigate this minefield of clichés, we have had to explore silence itself.

    The result, The Look of Silence, is, I hope, a poem about a silence borne of terror – a poem about the necessity of breaking that silence, but also about the trauma that comes when silence is broken. Maybe the film is a monument to silence – a reminder that although we want to move on, look away and think of other things, nothing will make whole what has been broken. Nothing will wake the dead. We must stop, acknowledge the lives destroyed, strain to listen to the silence that follows.

  • Statement from Adi Rukun

    As an optometrist, I spend my days helping people to see better. I hope to do the same thing through this film. I hope to help many people see more clearly what happened during the 1965 Indonesian genocide – a crime often lied about, or buried in silence. We, the families of the victims, have been stigmatized. We have been called “secret communists,” a “latent danger haunting society,” a spectre to be feared, a pestilence to be exterminated. We are none of those things.

    I decided to make this film with Joshua because I knew it would make a difference – not only for my own family, but also, I hope, for millions of other victims’ families across Indonesia. I even hoped it would be meaningful to people around the world.

    I wanted my image to be photographed, and my voice recorded, because images and sounds are harder to fabricate than text. Also, it would be impossible for me to meet every possible viewer, one by one, but images of me can reach people wherever they are. Even long after I’m gone.

     

    I knew the risks I might face, and I thought about them deeply. I took these risks not because I am brave, but because I have been living in fear for too long. I do not want my children or, one day, my grandchildren to inherit this fear from me and my family.

    Unlike the perpetrators, I do not ask that my older brother, my parents, or the millions of victims be treated as heroes, even though some deserve to be.

     

    I just want my family to no longer be described as traitors in the school books. We never committed any crime. And yet my relatives and millions of others were tortured, disappeared, or slaughtered in 1965.

     

    When I visited the perpetrators for the film, I had no desire for revenge. I came to listen. I hoped they would look into my eyes, realize that I am a human being, and acknowledge what they did was wrong. It was up to them to take responsibility for what they did to my family. It was up to them to ask forgiveness. If, instead, they choose to justify their crimes, adding to the noisy lies, we as a nation, living together in this same land, will have difficulty living together as neighbors in peace and in harmony.

     

    Through The Look of Silence, I only wanted to show that we know what the perpetrators did. We know the truth behind their lies. And one day, the lies will be exposed.

     

    Because we are no longer silent.
    – Adi Rukun

  • Long Synopsis

    The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s powerful companion piece to the Oscar®-nominated The Act of Killing. Through Oppenheimer’s footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered, as well as the identities of the killers. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the suffocating spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: he confronts the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions. This unprecedented film initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.

  • A conversation with Joshua Oppenheimer

    JULY. 17, 2015

    “It’s as Though I’m in Germany 40 Years After the Holocaust, but the Nazis Are Still in Power”

    Joshua Oppenheimer on how to make an effective documentary about genocide, as discussed with Dana Steven’s at Boats conference 2015.

    Read More

  • Joshua Oppenheimer's New York Times Op-Ed on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 killings

    Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence

    SEPT. 29, 2015

    This week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of a mass slaughter in Indonesia. With American support, more than 500,000 people were murdered by the Indonesian Army and its civilian death squads. At least 750,000 more were tortured and sent to concentration camps, many for decades.

    The victims were accused of being “communists,” an umbrella that included not only members of the legally registered Communist Party, but all likely opponents ofSuharto’s new military regime — from union members and women’s rights activists to teachers and the ethnic Chinese. Unlike in Germany, Rwanda or Cambodia, there have been no trials, no truth-and-reconciliation commissions, no memorials to the victims. Instead, many perpetrators still hold power throughout the country.

    Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, and if it is to become the democracy it claims to be, this impunity must end. The anniversary is a moment for the United States to support Indonesia’s democratic transition by acknowledging the 1965 genocide, and encouraging a process of truth, reconciliation and justice.

    Read More

  • Asia Literary Review - Let Bygones Be Bygones

    Let bygones be bygones!’ Mum and Dad said to me, speaking over each other. Their faces shared a determination to have the last say on the matter. The afternoon light was fading and our teas were turning cold. My parents and I had been shouting at each other for the past hour, debating whether or not Indonesia should apologise to the victims of the 1965 communist purge.

    Like some Indonesians who lived through the massacre of nearly one million people that brought Suharto to power, my parents are averse to the idea of a national apology and reconciliation for the crimes of 1965.

    ‘Who would apologise? All the people responsible have died.’

    ‘The state,’ I said.

    ‘It’s in the past,’ Mum snapped.

    Read More

     

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