Tag Archives: Joshua Oppenheimer

“We need gangsters to get things done”

Act of KillingFrom the first scene, a bizarre musical number involving dancers emerging from the mouth of a giant fish, to the last, an old man being physically sick at the memory of his actions (whether genuinely or not is unclear), The Act of Killing is a riveting, at times, unbelievable piece of documentary film making.

In 1965, the height of the Cold War, a section of the Indonesian military staged an unsuccessful coup. It was very quickly blamed on the influence of the then powerful Indonesian communist party. A massive campaign of killing targeted anyone suspected of being a communist, including trade unionists, farmers, intellectuals and ethnic Chinese, or anyone unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of a score that needed settling.

Up to a million people were murdered. The main assailants were paramilitary death squads. The killing was out of control and chillingly low-tech in its nature. As the film states at the beginning, the men who carried it out “have been in power and have persecuted their opponents ever since.”

US director, Joshua Oppenheimer, asked two of these men from Medan in North Sumatra, to recreate their actions on film. They do it with an enthusiasm that is sometimes hard to watch.

You can read the rest of this review here at the website for Overland Magazine.Read more

Crime time at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival

grisgrisThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) approaches and, and as was the case in 2012, the good people at MIFF HQ have been good enough to give me media accreditation to cover some of the crime films on the program.

When I started to write this piece on my crime cinema picks for MIFF 2013, I realised nearly all my choices were films set outside of the Anglo world. This is in line with my usual practice of viewing films that I think are unlikely to get a mainstream release here. But it also reflects my growing interest in how developing or countries from the global South view and define crime cinema and crime and noir narratives.


One of my favourites from MIFF 2011 was the Congalese film Viva Rivathe story of a small-time gangster who returns from neighbouring Angola with a truckload of stolen petrol he hopes to sell Kinshasa at top dollar. I’m hoping that Grigis, a 2011 France/Chad coproduction is as good.

Directed by French-Chadian Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, it focuses on a young physically handicapped Chadian man who earns a living as a photographer and dancer in nightclubs, but yearns to make enough money to pay Mimi, one of the hostesses in the bar he works in, to marry him.… Read more