Werner Herzog to Executive Produce Joshua Oppenheimer's 'Act of Killing' Follow-Up

Joshua Oppenheimer
Joshua Oppenheimer
 

Werner Herzog and Errol Morris have both signed on to executive produce The Look of Silence, director Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to his documentary The Act of Killing.

The two celebrated filmmakers and documentarians were early champions of The Act of Killing, which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August 2012 and was the subject of growing buzz on the festival circuit, gradually becoming one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed films of 2013. Both directors lent their names to the film as executive producers; Oppenheimer says they gave him notes and some editing suggestions. The film is considered a frontrunner in the best documentary category at the 86th Academy Awards, to be held March 2.

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The Act of Killing delves into the mass murder of an estimated 500,000 Indonesians during the so-called "communist purge" in the country in the 1960s, and it seeks to illuminate the pernicious legacy of the period in present-day Indonesian society and politics. But rather than depicting the events with archival footage and talking heads, Oppenheimer invited some of the original living killers to recreate their acts on camera, deploying the genre archetypes of their choosing. Herzog has described the results -- alternately horrifying and blackly humorous -- as "a new form of cinematic surrealism," one that reveals the perpetrators' self-conceptions of their crimes, rather than merely documenting what took place.

Oppenheimer -- originally from Texas, and now based primarily in Amsterdam -- spent eight years producing the film with a crew of over 30 Indonesians, most of whom have had to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals by the local paramilitary groups and politicians who are the heirs and beneficiaries of the genocide and political power grab that the film calls attention to. Oppenheimer says he still regularly receives death threats via Facebook and Twitter and wouldn't feel safe returning to Indonesia.

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"[These people] may wish the issues raised by the film will go away, but they won't, because The Look of Silence, which I shot before The Act of Killing was released -- knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to return to Indonesia -- will be released later this year," Oppenheimer told THR.

He says the new film isn't a sequel to The Act of Killing, but rather a standalone work that approaches some of the same humanitarian issues, albeit via different cinematic techniques.

"In some ways it's the film I set out to make at the beginning," he said. "It's about a family of survivors, who find out who killed their son through my work with the first 40 perpetrators I met and filmed before I encountered Anwar [the former gang leader and aging killer who is the focus of The Act of Killing]. The youngest brother in this family decides he will confront the men who did this to his brother and it's about that process."

The Look of Silence is due out in 2014. The release date will depend on which film festival hosts its world premiere, Oppenheimer said.

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