Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing focuses on the perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian Genocide, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including Ramli Rukun. Last year's The Look of Silence is centralized instead around the survivors, in particular Ramli's family and his brother, Adi.
Adi Rukun took great personal risk to guide Oppenheimer to other families who were affected by this brutal massacre, to tell a story of great courage and compassion. Dissent is still a dangerous word in Indonesia - even acknowledging the genocide can be perilous in a country run on fear. But Adi Rukun insisted on telling this story with Oppenheimer, and on confronting those members of the death squad that changed his family and so many others forever.
Here, he speaks for the first time on what drove him to be a part of this project:
Here's a statement from 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.
The statement was prepared for Adi Rukun and my meetings with Senate Foreign Relations Committee and State Department Staff, where Adi was urging the United States and the Indonesian government to fully acknowledge their role in the 1965 Indonesian genocide. We were asking the United States to declassify all the documents pertaining to its role in the genocide, and to urge the Indonesian government to initiate a process of truth, reconciliation, and justice. We described the perpetrators' rule of fear that has been in place in Indonesia - a rule that has continued in one form or another since 1965. We highlighted the terrible consequences of this fear, from slave-like labour conditions to annual forest fires set by military-backed plantation companies that completely undermine international efforts to control climate change.
These meetings were set up by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who held a screening of The Look of Silence to which State Department and Congressional staff were invited. Following the screening, Adi and I held a Q+A.
If you haven't seen The Look of Silence, please do.