The Act of Killing - Performative Documentary Style The Act of Killing is a documentary film directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, with co-direction done by Christine Cynn as well as an anonymous individual from Indonesia. Titled Jagal in Indonesian, which means “Butcher”, the film revolves around a few of the Indonesian mass-murders, who were responsible for the 1965 massacre of more than 500,000 members as well as supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). What started as a Docwest project of the University of Westminster, the film had theatrical release, earning critical acclaim as well as number of prestigious awards.
It won 2014 BAFTA award for the best documentary and was also nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was also widely discussed in political circles as well as among the human rights activists due to the atrocious and even callous nature of the content, with the individuals behind one of the gruesome genocides ‘boasting’ their killings, and were not indicted for their crimes even now. This boasting part was primarily due to the style of documentary making adopted by Oppenheimer.
He shot The Act of Killing in performative documentary style, where visuals and content were presented to the viewers in such a way, so they themselves can make interpretations and form opinions. The other key aspect of performative documentary style, which was visible in this film, is the way how the individuals featured in the documentary are made to perform or reenact certain portions. Thus, focusing on The Act of Killing, analysis will be done regarding how it falls in line with the performative documentary style of filmmaking.
The mass killings of the communists and even Chinese immigrants in mid 1960s was so widespread and ghastly, “CIA study of Indonesia described the anti-PKI massacres as "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century. ” (Whyte). Although, officially estimated death toll in the massacre was around 500,000 unofficial figures could go over million lives, as the Communist party, his members as well as followers were totally exterminated. With this massacre going all over Indonesia, in the state of North Sumatra, two gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were put in charge of the notorious death squad to kill the communists and even Chinese immigrants.
The documentary mainly revolves around these two individuals, as they carry on with their daily lives without any punishment for the crimes, and in the film, they go to the extent of reenacting their crimes and also “pride” themselves for their inhumane actions.
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