I saw the Director’s Cut of this film at Union Docs in Brooklyn on Sunday night, March 9th. I wish you all could have been there w/ me.
The film ended around 10:15pm and Joshua Oppenheimer stayed for about an hour and a half afterward to answer questions. After reading the article written by Jill Godmillow (which criticized the intent of the film) I was readily prepared to ask him some pointed questions. Specifically, I wanted to ask if he had considered the part at the end of the film where Anwar Congo begins retching because of his memories could, in fact, be more acting. Someone else asked this and I’m glad I didn’t. Josh said that he’s “100% sure Anwar wasn’t acting. If you think that then you’re unable to empathize with him as a person. I spent 5 years with him so I know that moment was real. It was the last moment we shot together because I felt they would not be able to go any deeper into the story after that moment.”
He explained the scene where Herman and others go into small shops run by Chinese merchants and extort money from them. He told us that after Herman would take money from someone, he would ask Herman to walk about 50 meters ahead of them so he could take long shots. While this was happening, he would give the shopkeepers the money that they just coughed up back. He would explain to them what he was doing and asked them to not tell because it could put him in danger. Wow.
I asked a few questions too. Here they are with answers in bold.
1. Did the film they (the perpetrators) were working on ever get completed, and if so what was the reaction to it from the Indonesian people?
No. This was simply a story telling device. The film never got made. It was just a method for the perpetrators to fully explain in detail what they did. It had the added benefit of getting them to reenact their atrocities.
2. Why was Herman dressed as a woman so many times?
He was an actor in theater group akin to kabuki theater or Shakespeare’s globe where all the actors are men and are thus forced to play female roles.
3. How did they come to understand the translation of gangster to be “free man.”
This is similar to the semantic difference between terrorist and freedom fighter. The Indonesian word “gangster” comes from a Dutch phrase, “vrij man.” This word is used for gangster, but it literally translates as “free man.”
He had many more insights about what he learned and talked at length about his story. I learned a lot. His descriptions of why he shot this film and what it means were articulate and vivid. It has been reviewed well in Indonesia. He explained that the most popular news magazine in Jakarta, that for decades had supported the extermination campaign, flipped its stance after the film came out. They interviewed hundreds of perpetrators and published a volume of all their stories. The film is making a big impact on the country and how folks see their future. This fact stands in direct conflict of Jill Godmillow’s assertion that the film is “preaching to the choir” and is thus pornographic.
Finally, after all was over I went up and shook Joshua’s hand. I gave him my Hotel/Motel business card. He autographed my DVD. This experience and seeing the film for the third time confirmed in my mind that this film was far more groundbreaking and socially relevant than “20 Feet from Stardom.” That was the safe pick for the Academy and they should be ashamed.