Being an independent distributor is a tough business. In an industry dominated by Jurassic World news and the anticipation of the next Star Wars installments, it is hard to make enough noise about documentaries and foreign language films to be heard. The reason why we do it at Drafthouse Films, however, is movies like The Look of Silence, auteurs like Joshua Oppenheimer. Finding and sharing groundbreaking films and directors with as many people as possible is the reason I wake up in the morning, and frankly is the reason the overall Drafthouse brand exists.
We had the extreme honor to work with Joshua Oppenheimer to release his first film, The Act of Killing. I first saw it at the Toronto Film Festival and was absolutely thunderstruck. I was at once shaking with anger about the story told, conflicted about the unflinching insight into human nature and absolutely elated by the visionary, revolutionary filmmaking talent on display. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think about anything else and the rest of the festival was immediately rendered insignificant. There was only one film we wanted to distribute. I wasn’t alone in my awe. Twin titans of the documentary world, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, both saw a rough cut of the film and immediately signed on as executive producers and mentors to Joshua as he finished the film. They are also onboard for The Look of Silence.
Flash forward to January 2014 in the thick of the Oscar campaign for The Act of Killing. Joshua nonchalantly dropped into conversation that not only had he shot his next film, but he would soon be ready to show us the final cut. The Act of Killing was nine years in the making, and I had already prepared myself to wait another decade for the next Oppenheimer masterpiece. The Look of Silence was the film that Joshua initially set out to make when he first went to Indonesia, a film from the perspective of the victims of the genocide. But as The Act of Killing showed us, those who perpetrated the crimes are still in power, and the victims and families of the victims are largely unwilling to speak about it. While interviewing the killers featured in The Act of Killing, however, Joshua finally encountered the mild-mannered Adi, the quiet yet immeasurably brave hero of The Look of Silence. After completing The Act of Killing but before its world premiere, Joshua covertly returned to Adi’s village for just a few weeks to shoot The Look of Silence. He knew that once The Act of Killing debuted, he would never be able to return to Indonesia.
You may ask yourself, “I loved The Act of Killing, but do I really need to see another film about the Indonesia genocide?” The simple answer is yes, you unquestionably do.
The Look of Silence is better than the revolutionary The Act of Killing and firmly cements Joshua Oppenheimer as one of the greatest documentarians of all time.
You don't have to take my word for it: THE NEW YORK TIMES, BBC and NPR have all already hailed it as a "masterpiece."
I adore The Act of Killing. If you asked me back in 2014 whether I thought it possible for another documentary to affect me as much, I would have gone all-in against the notion. Although the genocide is again at the core of The Look of Silence, the two films could not be more different. You certainly don’t have to have seen The Act of Killing to appreciate The Look of Silence. They both stand alone, but also work together as wonderful companion films.
The Look of Silence follows Adi, a small-town optometrist as he travels door to door fitting his neighbors and fellow villagers with eyeglasses. These particular neighbors, however, were all complicit in some way in the brutal murder of his brother back in 1965. During these sessions, Adi unflinchingly and directly questions them about their role in his brother’s death. He is seeking closure and a simple apology for his family who has been living in silence amongst the killers for 50 years.
The Act of Killing was over-the-top with surreal imagery, staged violence and even musical numbers. The emotional punch was strong and you left the cinema dazed and a bit punch-drunk. Like Adi himself, The Look of Silence is quite the opposite: steady, measured, perfectly composed and quiet. Magically, there is every bit as much emotional wallop, if not more, delivered from The Look of Silence. After the US premiere of the film at Telluride, I watched a young couple lingering in the exit corridor. They were locked in an embrace, swaying and comforting each other for minutes on end. They had just seen something that shook them, that changed them forever.
When we released The Act of Killing in Indonesia, we had to do it covertly -- we put it on YouTube for free and made it available via BitTorrent. Secret community screenings were held all across the country, but officially the movie was all but banned and was discredited by the Indonesian government. Now just two years later, The Look of Silence has already been seen by millions of Indonesians. Thousands of official screenings have taken place all over the country. The movie even had billboards and bus shelter ads! The Indonesian media is openly discussing both the film and the genocide for the first time. This dark Indonesian underbelly is being acknowledged and there are visible chinks in the armor of the “anti-communist” propaganda machine.
If you love movies, if you crave once-in-a-lifetime experiences, if you want to be moved and changed forever, if you want to see one of the most important documentaries ever made, I implore you to not just see The Look of Silence, but bring your friends and have an awesome conversation afterwards. I guarantee* you will be glad you did.
To watch the trailer and to find out more about the educational outreach of The Look of Silence and what you can do to “End the Silence,” please visit our website thelookofsilence.com.
*Note: Tim League will personally mail you a complete refund of your ticket, a crisp $2 bill and a coupon for an order of cheese sticks to anyone who watches and does not love The Look of Silence.