The Act of Killing is the Best Documentary of 2013 by Far

act of killing

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.

I hiked in Bolivia

I made this brief video on a trip I took to Isla del Sol, La Paz and Mt. Sajama while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia. The views were breathtaking and truly made me feel alive. I think I shared it awhile back, but came across it again today and thought it deserved going on my blog. Enjoy!

You’re in command.

This is prose I wrote while serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia.

Sounds like, but it’s not raining on the roof
I get what I got by remaining aloof
Sharp or flat, give me a tune
dark and black, she simply assumes
what must fix us and make us well again
literally swelling, but still faking you’re celibate.
Quit making demands into diamonds. It’s like sifting sand.
You won’t find or entwine – just pay it no mind
the rocks in your socks nor the trot of the fox.

Pillage the defenses. Mend nothing less than zero fences
you can’t change what you are even if you’re thrown from a car,
raising the bar or bathing in tar. War will mar far from recognition what you
dar al mar. Your secrets and stories are simply subpar.
Science will someday pry us out of these lazy senses and consciences
don’t even mention mental retention or belief suspension
it’s not worth it, the berths that Perth works you usurp it.
The curse of the person whose sermon can worsen and poison the toys in the boys room

I think she might be arriving
Instead I wish she was diving into a pool filled with air
not water, but bare though still deep and quite quiet from peeps
of fair warning. Like the morning eleventh of month nine.
Blood caked, mentally raked, fingers full of grime and exploded stones of lime.
I struggle to find a humbling climb or a thought that doesn’t rot
but persists through time
I’ve stumbled on dimes and tripped on the Earth
gifts given they were, but now seem to be curses
like bare legs, shaved, open not pursed
can’t resist missions or quizzes, I’m totally promiscuous with
trimmed nails, fists and my wits don’t miss.
Miss, I’m in complete agreement with myself when I’m sacrificing my health
or operating in stealth in order to minimize wealth
Let me in! I’m knocking on the door. I’m rapping and rapping
and struggling to win, but failing to lose. I’ve lost my muse
and missed my cues. Now whose kissed who’s due to lose?
Where once I fought and swam with kangaroos?
Calculated dates and raisins makes mates trite and paraded
what I wear is indicative of my mood
my unintentional expletive fits well into my restiveness
“pestilence” is a word I don’t really know, but I guess it works
to tweak the crooks and rewrite the books
that claim authority and anchor me down deep inside the minority.

Wishful blinking conserves feelings and potato peelings
hey Q-Bert instead of reeling in your next big catch
drag the nets and use the rice to expell your head lice
you’ll be dead if you’re right, cut in here by a murderous kite
run through the crowd. Drop the leash. Crash the china.
The bull conquers the lamb.

Aplomb bomb zombies run decidedly dreadfully
beddy bye time why climb the vine when
the weather’s just fine, I say
the grey skies are quite fetching in this mind of mine.
Feeling it out can whisk away words or pistols with bristles and
grizzle. Fuck your missiles. You’ll have to drown in the moat to storm my
castle. Put your lightening in your pocket snot rocket man
if that’s your plan who knows when you’ll land
giggle pig and play your fiddle
Your career is on the griddle because you can’t win in the middle.
Just can’t do it. Starting down that path always leads to black math
I don’t know who made giraffes. Get off my back you fascist fat prat!
Oh I’m sorry… I’ll just be outback skinning your cat.

Did you see that hammerhead swim by?
It didn’t even see me and I was right there watching him on TV.
Do they make females anymore? Where can you go to get the dough?
They say I’m broken and undateable.
Indecisive, unguided and an emotionally unstable bull

Fuck you, you’re right. I am. I’ll take the stand
It’s fine, totally fine. Say what you want, but you better have a plan
You couldn’t have felt what that felt like
That rush of fear-laced blood. That overwhelming calm that didn’t
allow me to think about the possibilities. The death and injuries
that were peeking around the corner, winking and grinning seductively.
My entire structure was altered like a puzzle completed that fell off a table.
I had to pick it up and put it back together again, but I’m still looking for a couple of pieces.
I think maybe they fell under the rug and got lost and mixed up with the
rest of the stuff that I put under there.

Dog hair and thought snares. Don’t even know how they got there
I bought rakes. After buttering up my pancakes I used the filling
to sop my bran flakes. I mean flakes of Brandon sent softly landin’
on the ottoman foot rest I bought for you. Actually, I bartered for it. Handed all my toy cars over but thought I would
get more for it. Profit has never been on my mind. That
would be nice.

I get this feeling of oneness sometimes. Honed and cocked
in sound peace of mind. As soon as it hits it starts to slip
away like a misfit from a crowd. My mind’s mental hands
reach out like sticky hands that you can buy for a quarter
(you used to be able to get them for a dime at one time)
from those red-bottomed, glass-topped vendor-less vendors
that have a star-shaped, metal-knobbed handle. The sound was
a metallic click – a procession of them that led to the little cheap plastic bubble coming down the shoot. Slip open the
metal flap carefully and get your prize. That rubber, sticky, gooey
slappy hand. Noe you’re in command.

Worst dream ever.

This is prose I wrote while serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia.

Does fire have weight? If it does this match should topple over any second now and drip fire all over my table.

I still have plastic covering on my mattress that is sometimes revealed when I roll and turn, toss and readjust in my sleeping bag.

So I was in a Peace Corps like office setting. I had gone upstairs from buying tickets. I saw bags, nifty and well-sorted for traveling. They were lined up like I’d line ’em up in a wooden cubby. Somebody’s parents were visiting. There were momma bags and poppa bags and sister bags and brother bags. It couldn’t have been my family. I don’t have the latter two and my parents aren’t coming til next year.

I was in a line in a big cafeteria with metal counters made of bars so you can slide your tray along with your hip while you search for your money. The cashier’s always in a good mood. Usually wearing an apron – navy blue. Or black if they’re trendy.

Went upstairs and it was dark. Hard to see my watch because the damn Indiglo is busted. Finally a street light or something glinted across and I could see it was time to go. We were going to miss our bus.

“Tiff! We gotta go,” I kind of yelled, emphasizing her name and trailing off at the end.

“I know. Give me one second,” she said from somewhere distant in my brain.

Then time skipped forward like it does and I was talking to Mark. I didn’t recognize his voice at first. I haven’t heard it or played it in so long. I was on my Nokia phone and suddenly Chris Scott was there rough-housing with me making a conversation definitively impossible. But I didn’t care because Mark wasn’t there when I previously thought my life was more important than his.

I mercifully let Mark go. Chris continued to wrestle me into submission. He’s a lot bigger than me and he’s always been able to handle me physically if he wanted to.

My right hand won’t stop shaking in certain positions.

He’s got me in a vice grip laying on the part you normally sit on on a couch. His legs are propped in the air against the part you usually put your back on. He starts to grow an erection and it’s obscenely touching my thigh, but there is nothing I can do about it. Oh yeah, I made one last desperate move. I wasn’t going down without a fight and after I hung up on Mark I had both hands free so I tackled Chris into the position we were in now. Tiffany was standing on the other side of the coffee table which completed the couch’s tandem.

I was thoroughly disgusted and told him so, but was helpless to move and he just did that Chris Scott chuckle. That makes (made) me want to bite his nose off and spit it back in his face. Can’t even do that now I’m so pinned.

The scene changes like someone turned a page in a book and I’m packing my stuff hurriedly because now I’m making us late.

Something happens here. Spooks me. Can’t remember now. Maye it’s outweighed by what happens later. Maybe Chris Scott’s boner thing was enough to trim me with warm fuzzies.

All of a sudden I gotta go pee. So bad that I can’t quite hold it and little spurts and dribble are seeping through despite my best efforts to hold them off.

One candle just went out!

I reach down and grab myself and run sort of crab-like to the bathroom where I proceed to tap dance while I unfurl my urine-clogged member. Out it comes like a broken and destroyed dam. I’m relishing the release of pain when a pebble or some sort of airborne object that came from an impossible angle due to the geometrical shape of the bathroom. I was sure that it was supernatural and quite vindictive. Being exposed didn’t make things easier. Thus I screamed, “Who the fuck is there, goddamn it?!?” Which woke me up into a room full of unfamiliar, thoroughly foreign darkness. I had just enough time to realize I was laying on my right side in a long rectangular room with the head of the bed nuzzled into one corner. I thought to myself that it was odd to have screamed in my sleep. “Never done that before,” I thought. Just as I began to go over what had happened in my dream that would elicit such an unprecedented behavior a door in the other corner of the long shoebox room opened and a backlit figure came in and walked straight toward me. I thought it was Tiff – maybe I had fallen asleep waiting for her and now it was time to go, but she was letting me rest. After hearing me scream she came in to check on me.

Nope. Not that.

As the ambiguous figure approached, the light from outside started to fill in the room and my eyes began to adjust. Whoever the fuck it was was wearing a black robe and had their face painted like a clown.

It was impossible to tell if it was Tiffany. It was impossible to tell if it was male or female. I didn’t say anything, waiting for some trigger of recognition to fire. My surroundings, this person, something. Nothing. Clown face leans over me, my breathing quickens and puts both hands on my shoulders and gently, firmly holds me down.

“Tiffany?” I ask hopefully.

Just a shake of the head slowly.

I reach up with my hands to its arms. Definitely man. Definitely strong and inescapable. My vision has finally adjusted and that white paint fully occupies my vision. I am overcome with horror and fear.

I open my eyes and I am in Huari. But it doesn’t really click. They close and I’m back. It’s face is even more demented and terrifying. I open my eyes again and my conscious memory spins into action and quickly reminds my mind and body that the first opened eyes did, in fact, see home. My eyes opened for good this time and I breathed, but did not feel safe for about ten minutes. Almost called Tiff to ask if I could come over. It’s after 1am though and I’m a big boy.

A dog barked more eerily than I probably would have normally thought. I finished Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle before going to sleep. Don’t see how that would figure in.

Then rolled on my back to see a black shadow in the corner of the ceiling like a huge bat turn into liquid and slide down the wall reviving my sense of uncalm.

My eyes are my enemy tonight.

Light some candles. Write it out of your system, I commanded myself. Peace can envelop me now anytime. Just gotta fix my bed so the plastic isn’t showing anymore more and blow my nose first.

I can write.

While visiting my family for Thanksgiving I came across a couple of notebooks that I used to keep notes while in Bolivia. A couple of the passages really struck me. It’s interesting to me to read these journal entries five years after I wrote them. Frankly, it’s hard to believe I wrote them. I’m going to share a couple with you. I’d love to know what you think.

My hair fros out when the snare goes out
and the kickdrum kicks like a flare shot out
sandals flippin’ and floppin’
bodies always droppin’
a veces me pareces in my movies at night
just might help the bodies be re-animated
Someday I’ll be painted while I sit or while I sat
displayed in a gallery for Mallory
for only twice than less than half her salary
plus one calorie
burned from her hypodermic intake insulin pancake.

Mix that shit up
put it in a cup
then throw a one-way sender all into a blender.
Lose the love of your life thrice,
think twice and go on a bender.
Mind closed off, men working here.
Peers peer well into the well
and smell shiny, twinkly, sparkly glistening darts
of refracted light during lite diets and flying sideways.
Get a grip.
Not manual
E-manuel from the Bible.
A grip of friends?
It all depends if those feet can dig deep
and ribs rise and fall without a care.

I want to die running away from someone, anyone
preferably a law enforcement agent of some brand.
I’ll be running slow motion
when their pistols open fire and catch me mid-stride.
My path to glory and supposed destiny will only be
a few visible feet in front of my divide.
I’ll reach out for it with my dying breath,
but will be unable to grasp what is left-
what I wanted to achieve for no more than a few escaping minutes.
The love of my life will, of course, bear witness
to this entire tragic affair.
Tears will be streaming down her cheeks-
her ragged cheeks that are simply exhausted
from loving a man who loves her only second
to the worthy cause for which he has been fighting for decades.
She’s been there since the beginning though
and she knows she is integral
to the fight
that he selflessly continues despite
his family’s best interest.
The tears flow while she tries wholeheartedly,
yet it is indescribably futile
and she knows mere moments remain before everything,
EVERYTHING they’ve both dedicated their lives too
ends in a cacophony of gunshots
and a symphony of deep seeded tragedy and what nots.
She’ll press her hand to the gaping, spurting wound
her face to his to hear his final struggled breaths.
She’ll swoon.
Her hand finds his and interlocks with ease.
He is strong, but not as strong as once before.

Once before on a bright, sun-drenched day
he won her back on a stroll around an algae
encrusted pond in an obscure park
tucked away in a functional-
at least it seemed to them at the time-
suburban neighborhood.
They’d been through the wash
and had each taken a turn in the dryer-
mangling and testing each other’s feelings.
Sending each other reeling
through space and rhymes for various expanses of time.
But they always came back.
Sitting together on cylindrical pylons of cement
watching parents watching their kids play they feel deep within them that that would be them on some distant day.

So they fought each other tooth and nail
resorted to tactics unbecoming of one another
until one day in 2015 everything settled into place.
It seemed that the race was finally over.
The crowd that for so long had played a part
in off-track betting and proselytizing and hedging
and interfering had up and left.
They were deaf
from the silence that surrounded them without a sound.
Finally they were alone.
Just one simple not-so-bright light shone
down illuminating their faces that were already known
and written-more likely grooved into their bones
and DNA strands.
The scents and smells of the other was like a sixth sense-
their very own clone.

Tragically they would not-and could not touch.
They tried at first, thinking it was a cruel joke to be so close.
Finally, physically and visibly within reach
with no contracts to breach.
All the saints dead and alive tried
through prayer
to clear the air
that stood defiantly by and between

“Let them know peace,” a voice said.
And it was mine.
I narrowed my eyes
and focused my concentration.
I beamed thought rays from my forehead to hers.
I lost every single one of my nerves.
I blathered and sputtered.
I couldn’t accept the end lying there
in the unconscious eyes, ears and arms of my long-lost best friend.

But just then
I heard
the sound of a cricket chirp which assured
me that the Earth
was still passing by while the universe expanded.
I’m nothing I thought, and exhaled seeing my love above me
smile and recede into sounds of rustling branches
and shaking leaves.

Since then
it’s just been
leaving the sink on
to let the water run, brush my teeth and get ready for bed.
Try to silence the thought marathon
currently running through my head.
Other people fuck and make love sounds
in the rooms down the way.
Can’t stop ’em though.
Feelings on the sidelines are never allowed to play.

Walking a line and drying clothes all at the same time.
Wandering outside, taking it in
Mars has tracks on it from landing craft,
but I can’t keep track
of expanding paths and synapse math.
There’s something surrounded by bone up there
that wants to go home down there.
But where?
I can’t stay here anymore?
I can’t stay here anymore.
Can’t you just stop?
But where does it end?
I have to keep going.
My homing signal has been assumed missing
and while you keep guessing I’m out here in the clear
totally tamped down and flattened.
Sometimes, you see, I’m re-animated by free wit, will and stimulation.
But it doesn’t come without proper accreditation.
Change the laws and just let. Me. Be B. Brandon.
I’ve written my name a lot.
So. Have. You.

Not Just Another Wedding Film

Bleibaum/Mallott Wedding from Brandon Smith.

Bowers/Thomas Wedding from Brandon Smith

Most independent filmmakers cringe at the idea of making a wedding film. And for good reason. Generally, all creative control on the filmmaker’s behalf goes out the window in favor of how the bride and groom want the end product to look. Not the case with my friends Amanda and Aaron, Todd and Kathy. Here’s the skinny: each couple saw the work I did for my other long-time friends Lance and Jenny and wanted something similar. It’s certainly not uncommon to receive RFP’s from friends based on recommendations from other friends when you’re in the freelance game. It’s a tough line to walk when mixing money and friends though. Fortunately, both couples had money set aside in their wedding budget to pay me, but one of the most important parts was this line in an email I received from Amanda: “I just want something on video to watch years down the road of one of the best days of our lives. Can you help us out?” I was intrigued. What filmmaker doesn’t want to make something timeless? Add in the fact that both couple were willing to let me follow my own vision with how I wanted to capture the day and I was sold. Giving me their trust was a huge compliment. I felt free to shoot, unfettered by any restraints. When I started to edit, their trust gave me the confidence that what I was doing was right because I was expressing myself using their wedding as a platform. I felt engaged as an artist. One of my biggest problems with wedding videos is that they’re generally pretty unwatchable for anyone but the couple and the couple’s immediate family. So I challenged myself to make something that would be palatable to an audience outside of each couple’s inner circle. Also, I wanted to use it as a calling card for the world that I’m willing to shoot your wedding if you’ll give me complete creative control. You have to trust me. If you want to be able to make suggestions and have any sort of control, hire a videographer. If you want something that’s going to be timeless and interesting to your grandkids and beyond, hire a filmmaker. So did I succeed? Let me know in the comments.


I was invited to attend a wedding in the Finger Lakes on June 29th. I’ve been dealing with a lot of complicated issues since the accident last September so attending was exactly what I needed. Not only did I get to witness a joyous couple wed, I got to spend some quality time with a few friends who I’ve known since my time in Bolivia as a US Peace Corps volunteer. I rode to the ceremony with Dan Wright and met up with Kerby & Amber Smithson. We all had a blast. There was much laughing and positivity. I had seriously doubted humanity’s capability of kindness before this weekend, but spending time in a loving, idyllic environment with close friends offered me verifiable proof that life is worth living.

As they say, “pictures are worth a thousand words” so here is over 10,000 words to see just a glimpse of what I saw.

I'd say they're a happy couple.

I’d say they’re a happy couple.


Who doesn’t love a giant red ampersand?


Father-daughter dance


Evan serenades his new wife


And then he kissed me


So idyllic.


Family comes first


What does this rock feel like?


Are you coming from heaven, Mr. Waterfall?


Leave no trace, but barefoot footprints.