Called one of the greatest and most powerful documentaries ever made, The Look of Silence was screened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC on Martin Luther King Day. This event included a post-screening discussion with Director Joshua Oppenheimer moderated by Amy Goodman, founder of Democracy Now.
“A stunning, shocking profound film," Amy Goodman said as the conversation with Director Joshua Oppenheimer began. The Look of Silence was a 2016 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature.
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 perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide in 1965 remain in power today while millions of survivors live in fear.
The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: he confronts the men who murdered his brother, and while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions.
Out of concern for his safety, Adi Rukun is not fully identified in the film and is credited only as "anonymous," as are many of the film's crew positions, as he confronts the men who carried out the killings. Some shots consist of Adi watching (what seems to be) extra footage from The Act of Killing, which includes video of the men who killed his brother. Although none of the killers express any remorse, the daughter of one of them is clearly shaken when she hears, apparently for the first time, the details of the killings. Tens of thousands of workers were killed by the Snake River; the murder of Adi’s brother Ramli was the only one with witnesses.
Oppenheimer, who lives in Copenhagen, told the audience he went to Indonesia in 2002 to teach a filmmaking workshop at a Belgian-owned farm, where he discovered the atrocities of the 1965 genocide from the workers.
Oppenheimer’s first film, The Act of Killing, released in 2012, focuses on the perpetrators of the Indonesian killings of 1965–66 in the present day, ostensibly towards the communist community where almost a million people were killed. Early Oppenheimer realized there had to be two films. The second which came to be The Look of Silence would focus on what it's like for the survivors of the genocide to live in the environment surrounded by the boasting killers.
The Look of Silence provides a close look at the effects on the families left grieving and, thanks to a corrupt legal system, without any closure.
Oppenheimer explained he felt danger in telling the second story where the perpetrators were still in power. Adi, he said, believed confronting regionally powerful figures, would pose less risk, than to confront nationally powerful leaders.
The rest of Adi’s family, who live in a remote Indonesian village, is illiterate. Adi gathered survivors of the genocide to tell their stories. "Try to film the perpetrators," Adi told Oppenheimer who went on to film every perpetrator he could for two years.
"They've done all they can, all these years, to deny responsibility for the murders," Oppenheimer said of the Indonesian government. “The US provided money, weapons, training to the death squads, and lists of thousands of names of public figures whom the United States wanted killed,” Oppenheimer said. “We in the US must do the same work as the Indonesians. We must declassify the documents that reveal our role in these crimes, and take responsibility.”
Oppenheimer compares the Indonesian genocide to what the Germans did outside Auschwitz, both atrocities of government-sanctioned crimes of mass violence, motivated by ideology.
Oppenheimer’s careful and unobtrusive direction makes this a sensitive yet vital film, shining a light on atrocities that still, 50 years later, remain unpunished.
Since the film’s release, Adi Rukun’s family has been moved to a safer part of the country where a team is monitoring their safety. The Look of Silence has been screened throughout Indonesia which now considers Adi Bokun a national hero.