Genocide film back in the hunt for an Oscar

‘The Act of Killing’ is on a shortlist of 15 films in contention to win the Academy Award for best documentary

A home-grown documentary about the 1960s Indonesian genocide, which was principally directed by an English-American filmmaker who lives in Copenhagen and hit Danish cinemas in November 2012, is back in the hunt to win an Oscar next March.

The hopes of Danish-British-Norwegian documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ had been temporarily dashed when in September it lost out to ‘Jagten’ (‘The Hunt’) after being included on a three-film shortlist to become the Danish entry for best foreign language film. But now it has been included on another list – this time to win the Academy Award for best documentary.

Fifteen documentaries, including the HBO-produced ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’ and box-office hit ‘20 Feet From Stardom’, were selected from a record 151 entries and will compete to earn one of the five nominations for best documentary at the 86th Academy Awards on 2 March 2014.

Given the positive reviews it has garnered – the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, called it “utterly bizarre, unexpected and valuable” – its addition to the list was predictable, though the documentary itself is far from it.

The film deals with the Indonesian killings of 1965-66 – a violent anti-communist purge that ravaged Indonesia and left an estimated 500,000 people dead.

The principal director, Joshua Oppenheimer, compelled death squad leaders to shamelessly implicate themselves in the genocide by convincing them he was filming for a Hollywood-style production of glamorised brutality.

The documentary's shortlisting for an Oscar comes after a long battle for exposure in Indonesia, where the film was only shown at small, underground venues to avoid censorship and the potential for violent protest.

The Indonesian government must approve all films, and it tends to shut down any material that concerns the nation's conflicted past. In 2009, the national film board halted screenings of ‘Balibo’, which exposed the 1975 government's murder of several journalists.

‘Killing’, though, has been a word-of-mouth exception, reaching a large Indonesian audience and sparking a national discussion.

'Killing' was primarily produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen, an employee of Copenhagen-based company Final Cut For Real.

The Oscar nominations will be revealed on January 16.