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Indonesian government blasts Danish documentary

'The Act of Killing' may have won scores of film awards, but it has attracted criticism in Indonesia for being vulgar and insensitive


'The Act of Killing' is an example of outsiders pushing an agenda, Indonesian officials say (Photo: theactofkilling.com)

January 28, 2014
11:37

by Christian Wenande


The Danish-produced documentary ’The Act of Killing’ has been nominated for an Oscar and has already won a host of awards in the film industry, but it might not be much of a success in Indonesia.

The documentary, directed by the Copenhagen-based American/Brit Joshua Oppenheimer, exposes the 1965 genocide in Indonesia through the eyes of the perpetrators. The lauded film has been blasted by Indonesian government officials.

“[Indonesia] is portrayed as a cruel and lawless nation,” Teuku Faizasyah, a government spokesperson said last week, according to the Jakarta Globe newspaper. “The film portrayed Indonesia as backwards, as in the 1960s. That is not appropriate, not fitting. It must be remembered [that] Indonesia has gone through a reformation. Many things have changed.”

READ MORE: Genocide film back in the hunt for an Oscar

Don't judge on one film
As many as one million Indonesians were killed in 1965 during a government purge of communists and the film follows former executioner Anwar Congo as he reveals the brutal details of his active role in the mass killings.

But Faizasyah argues that Indonesia should not be judged by one film that depicts just one part of the nation’s past.

“Many countries have similar bleak [moments] in their history,” he said. “Do not label a country so easily. We have to remember the history of slavery in the United States, the aboriginals in Australia, the bombings of Vietnam by America. There are elements of violations against humanity in many other nations. One must remember that the problem occurred in the context of the Cold War, a war against communism.”

While Faizasyah also contended that Indonesia’s history should not be told by outsiders, Oppenheimer, who worked in Indonesia for eight years, claimed on Twitter that the Indonesian government’s response was belated and “inadequate”.

READ MORE: And the hunt for a Danish Oscar begins

Film deemed vulgar 
So far, the Indonesian government has refused to set up an official investigation into the mass killings, despite pleas from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Komnas HAM, however, has argued that 'The Act of Killing' is “vulgar” and “reopened old wounds”.

“The film doesn’t need to be responded to too seriously,” Imdadun Rahmat, a commissioner with Komnas HAM, told the Jakarta Globe. “Otherwise Komnas HAM’s efforts for reconciliation can be crashed by overwhelming resistance from the public. Telling the truth can be done kindly without provoking hatred.”

Rahmat went on to agree with Faizasyah that the nation didn’t need the condemnation of international observers.

“We should be free from international allegations that claim that human rights violations in Indonesia happened without any follow-up whatsoever,” he argued.

‘The Act of Killing’ is a Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature in this year’s Oscar Awards. The Danish film ‘Jagten’ (‘The Hunt’) is up for Best Foreign Language Film and the Danish short ‘Helium’ is nominated in the Best Live Action Short category. 



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