I love cinema and I love social activism, and The Act of Killing perfectly connects those two. It's brilliant as a work of cinema, a movie that tells us so much about the way we use stories and the movies to examine and reflect upon ourselves. As activism it's even more brilliant, a stunning look at the truth of a too-often forgotten genocide. More than that, The Act of Killing serves as a chilling reminder that the people who commit the most heinous crimes aren't unknowable monsters, safely removed from their humanity. They're people, and sometimes they're even people who seem like they're normal, okay people. Who just happen to have personally murdered thousands of people for stupid political and ethnic reasons.
The bank gave $30 BILLION dollars to Suharto, an architect of the genocide and the man who rose to power with it, over the years, propping up a regime that was engaged in actual evil. Last night Amnesty International and the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) projected The Act of Killing on the side of the World Bank building in Washington DC, finally bringing home the images of horror to those who helped finance the original act of killing.
It's incredible seeing the scenes of the movie played out over the World Bank logo. It reminds you that the world is an interconnected place, and that we can often trace the roots of bad things happening elsewhere to people and institutions in our own backyard. We are not powerless to stop the evils that plague the world, we just have to look to the actual causes, not simply the symptoms.
Drafthouse Films has put out a lot of films that I like (and have even more coming), but nothing they have released feels as deeply important as The Act of Killing. I know some of you have thought about watching it and haven't quite gotten there; I urge you to give it a chance. This is actually a very watchable movie; it has moments of surrealism and some scenes of horror, but it's not an endurance test. It's actually often quite funny, and it's always very strange. It's also important in a way that doesn't feel like homework; it will make you feel smarter and improve your perspective on the world.
Indonesia has never even officially admitted these crimes took place. ETAN has a petition urging the current government to simply acknowledge the horrors of the genocide. You can sign it here.