Oscar-nominated documentary scrapes at raw wound in Indonesia

Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:19pm EST
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By Kanupriya Kapoor and Jonathan Thatcher

JAKARTA/MADIUN, Indonesia (Reuters) - A chilling documentary about one of the worst massacres since World War Two is up for an Academy Award this weekend. If it does win, don't expect the Indonesian co-director to go on stage to receive an Oscar: he's worried for his life.

The nearly three-hour "Act of Killing" centres on one of the killers in Indonesia's bloody purge of what was then the biggest communist party outside China and the Soviet Union, as he re-enacts for the camera, with no apparent sign of remorse, the way nearly 50 years earlier he had dispatched his victims by strangling them with a loop of wire.

It touches on the darkest period of Indonesia's already violent early years as an independent state and which even after almost half a century is so raw a memory that it remains largely brushed from mainstream debate. The version in school textbooks still adhere to the line propagated by the autocratic leader Suharto who initiated the purge and who was forced to step down 15 years ago.

At least 500,000 people are thought to have died in the rampaging violence that started in late 1965 after then-general Suharto and the military took power following an abortive communist coup. A million or more people were jailed.

"It's a tragedy and we, just like anybody else, despise those in the movie and the reenactment of the atrocities. These people don't belong in Indonesia today," said presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah.

He added: "It requires a lot of revisiting but ... I don't think we are mature enough (yet) as a nation."

In a sign of how sensitive the topic remains, the Indonesian co-producer of the documentary and the other Indonesian members of the film crew say they do not want their names to be made public.

"Maybe we are too paranoid, but we discussed with various activists groups about the risk, the possibility of going from a threat to a real attack on our lives, and we really don't know what would happen if we revealed our names," the co-director told Reuters in a telephone interview.   Continued...

People watch "The Act of Killing" movie in Jakarta, February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Beawiharta