I've been watching movies for more years than most people have been alive — especially people born before 1952, which was the year I attended my first movie, “Singin' in the Rain.” And you'd think in that time that I would have seen everything that cinema has to offer.
But you would be wrong. Just when I begin to think that film has nothing new to offer, something such as the documentary “The Act of Killing” comes along. The film, which plays at 7 tonight at the Magic Lantern Theater, is a curious — poignant, powerful, quirky and frightening — look at a phenomenon that, sad to say, has become all too familiar to those of us who came of age in the 20th century.
In a word, that phenemenon is known as genocide. Or, to be more specific, murder on a mass scale.
What filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer does differently is to stray away from standard documentary form. Instead of detailing the facts of what occurred in Indonesia during the last few months of 1965 and early 1966, then augmenting his reporting with the testimony of talking-head experts, Oppenheimer goes in a different direction: He meets with some of the men, still celebrated as national heroes, and invites them to make a movie about their experiences.
My Movies 101 partners and I gave “The Act of Killing” three positive reviews. And I added an individual review for Spokane Public Radio, which will air tomorrow morning, that says some pretty nice things about Oppenheimer's movie. Here is one quote from that review: “Hearing Congo, and others, talk about what they did is unnerving. What’s worse is watching them dance and sing as they do it. What’s worse yet is watching them, when doing publicity for their film, being interviewed and treated as heroes on Indonesian television.”
And here is another: “Oppenheimer has been criticized for not taking a stronger editorial stand with his film. Really, though, he doesn’t have to. 'The Act of Killing' speaks for itself. And the language it uses tells a simple truth about humanity that, clearly, has yet to be learned.”
The film plays for one night, one screening only, tonight at 7 at the Magic Lantern. It isn't a comfortable view, but it is an important film. Take it from me, you've not likely ever seen anything like it.
Below: Joshua Oppenheimer talks about his documentary on “The Daily Show.”