As we move toward the filming date for our project, it is time to put all the ideas we have had into writing, so that we can narrate our film with these individual contributions. We have decided that we will all be concentrating on the aspect of reenactment in The Act of Killing. Here come our first drafts on this. I (Philipp) have the role of an editor at the moment because I am designated to write the epilogue, so I had to read the others texts before writing mine – but I also used the chance to write up some feedback on the other´s contributions.
At this point, the schedule is as follows:
1. Tommorow, Wed 15th of March, 1pm: Meeting at Strand to finalise the texts and coordinate them for the film.
2. Saturday/Sunday film the film on the reenacting aspect of the film that reenacts historical reality.
3. Philipp edits the film on the on the reenacting aspect of the film that reenacts historical reality.
4. Fri 24th of March, 3pm: we configure the reflective part of the presentation.
5. On that weekend we run a dress rehearsal of the presentation
6. Tue 28th of March: We present!!!
Georgia – Historical Narratives and Reenactment
This documentary is a window into a horrific period of Indonesian history, the 1965 massacres, and it is a mirror reflecting the difficulties of a society in confronting the past.
[can give historical detail of 1965, PKI v New Order – if Evan’s section lacks it, ideally his section should provide subtitle of film’s subject]
Joshua Oppenheimer’s use of re-enactment is impressively done—as a central device and theme. However we can locate this documentary in a history of re-enactments, or re-stagings of 1965. In the first instance, these re-stagings emerged to prop-up the New Order’s military regime. Then in the wake of their fall in 1998 re-stagings of 1965 were a destabilising force, or a way to provide a counter hegemonic narrative.
So how did the state restage the events of 1965 to favour them and disgrace the communists? “1965” has long appeared in New Order discourse as a trope signifying threat, betrayal, and anti-nationalism. The nationalists established a hegemonic national narrative of a communist Goliath versus a republican David, replicating the narrative of western countries in their containment of the USSR. So first and foremost, Oppenheimer draws on the state’s use of re-enactment to create and sustain its official narrative.
The Israeli historian, Ariel Heryanto, has written much about national memory and genocide. On the subject of the Indonesian massacre he reminds us that the consistent triggering of traumatic memory through reenactment or restaging was effective in discouraging or neutralizing potential opposition throughout the New Order period:
We can see this restaging of official narrative in the documentary. [Congo Anwar] and his entourage attend a party rally under the banner of Pemuda Pancasila, the youth wing of a major paramilitary organization. Like most [nationalist parties] they renew this heroic narrative by parading and speech-making that centres on crushing, expelling, or exterminating the PKI, and in doing so they restage former glories.
In this documentary however re-enactment has the opposite effect to the one the killer’s desire –
There’s a scene midway where the son of a murdered communist plays the role of his father, tortured and executed decades earlier by the killers playing themselves. It’s emotionally tense as he gives his account of the night his father vanished to possibly his (real life killers) in the scene.
Executioner [Adi Zulkadry] reminds the other killers
If the film is a success, it will disprove all the propaganda about the communists being cruel. And show that we were cruel! We must understand every step we take here. It’s not about fear, it’s about image, the whole society will say: We always suspected it.
When the state had utilised re-enactment so well to prop itself up for decades, why does it have the opposite effect in this documentary? The simple answer is a shift in social and political context. The regime fell in 1998 heralding an age of more open broadcasting and press media. In particular, the rise of human rights culture in East Asian from the 90s through the millennium provided political indonesians a [mandare] to examine the massacre in a humanitarian context – terms like ‘crimes against humanity’ , ‘war crimes’, ‘genocide’ and ‘state sanctioned torture’ began to enter Indonesian political discourse.
Immediately before this documentary–– there was a storytelling based erosion of the official narrative in the form of personal accounts. We must not forget that storytelling is the most basic form of restaging events and personalities.
Anthropologist Robert Lemelson’s documentary, 40 Years of Silence (2009), explores some of the same themes as The Act of Killing, but from the perspective of the victims of the anti-PKI[communist] slaughter.
Accounts of 1965 in the form of novels, biographies, scholarly and media articles, many of them Indonesian, have begun to painstakingly reconstruct the local dynamics of the mass killings––including North Sumatra, the focus of Oppenheimer’s film––they have an investigative purpose.
It must be stressed that most Indonesians are disassociated from this secret history, and also how dangerous it is to facilitate a counter-narrative and tarnish national memory. Most of the the on location crew did not wish to be credited, ‘Anonymous’ is supplied instead.
As I say, this film must be situated within the long history of re-staging and re-enactment to fully comprehend its profundity. We should not underestimate the modest dent that brave individuals have made in the official history which has led to the possibility of Oppenheimer’s film.
Pia – Human Geography of Power
Joshua Oppenheimer primarily intended to unravel events and social as well as spatial implications of the Indonesian genocide by accompanying and interviewing exiled and fled communist farmers. But he soon realized he was unable to gain valuable insights about the genocide by interviewing the victims since they are unable to freely visit historic spaces relating to the genocide and particularly cannot speak about the atrocities that occurred at the spaces without putting themselves at risk. Instead, Oppenheimer discovered that he was only able to access knowledge about the genocide through the element of re-enactment, instrumentalised by the perpetrators which were, on the other hand, able to easily inhabit, move through and talk about spaces that could be brought into context with the genocide.
As Human Geographer J. Pickles (2004) has pointed out, space perception and conception of spatiality, in this case between victims and perpetrators demonstrates the power divide and reinforcement of current hierarchy. In the documentary, the silence and immovability of victims in contrast to the outspokenness and mobility of the perpetrators expressed through re-enactment in space clearly reveal, when analysed in terms of Human Geography spatial vocabularies of power (Short 2004). The production and performance through space of power where a rarely seen glorification of the act of killing is able to prevail can be perhaps best understood by tracing the mobilization and effects of power over space (Allen 2003).
Evan – Reenactment in the Act of Killing in the context of other reenactments in documentaries
The Act of Killing is a 2012 documentary directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. It follows the individuals involved in the 1955-56 killings in Indonesia as they attempt to reenact the murders they carried out. What’s special about the film is that the viewer is given a glimpse into the preparation for the reenactments, almost like a behind-the-scenes look at what went into the making of the documentary. This meta aspect of the film allows us to see and hear the perpetrators as they ruminate and come to terms with what they did as they try to recreate what happened. This stands in contrast to other documentaries that simply show audiences the reenactments of the events they were dealing with. Many critics will argue that reenactments in documentaries put filmmakers in danger of capturing historical inaccuracies on film, that they are too melodramatic to have any real impact on the audience’s understanding of the events, or that they are too subjective.
Phil – Feedback and Structural Thoughts…
Ok folks, interesting interesting.
I read all the texts and have some thoughts to consider for tommorow. First of all some general things.
1. We should avoid all too academic language (furthermore, moreover) because we will be giving these as spoken word statements, not essays and it will be lame if we read them off.
2. They all need to be the same length and have a somewhat similar style.
3. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: I think before starting our monologues, we should introduce briefly what our subject discipline can bring to the discussion of this aspect. We need to keep in mind that primarily, we are showcasing the possibilities for our discipline here…
Something like: My name is Franz and I will be looking at the element of reenactment in the Act of Killing from the perspective of history because the discipline of history allows us to consider Oppenheimer´s reenactments in the context of the historiography of genocide.
(Something like that but less wordy)
Georgia: I think the crucial element to focus on here is historical narrative. I think the point is that the reenactment of the genocide in the film facilitated by Oppenheimer brings out the truth, whereas the state propaganda of previous years obscured the truth? This is a good point and one worth focusing on.
But you use the words restaging and reenactment ambiguously throughout – strictly speaking they mean playacting an event that has previously taken place. Do you mean to say that is what the government did? If not, what is it that they did? “When the state had utilised re-enactment” you say – have they though? Surely they just misrepresented past events in speech and images? Propaganda and reenactment are not at all the same thing.
The text is quite long and I would try and cut as much as possible, but hammer in the importance of the reeanctments of genocide in the film in the historical narrative.
Pia: Fancy geo terms haha, that´s what we need, subject specific analysis – but what on earth do they mean and why is it relevant? It seems that you are clouding the film in some subject framework – but how does this help our understanding of the film? Also, you say like 1 sentence about each of these theories each – I feel like that is not enough to do them justice or understand what they are about at all. And the first paragraph does not seem to be all that necessary because it only restates what will have been said by Evan – so I think focus entirely on the geo talk – but legitimise it, explain it?
Evan: Nice, very good intro, nothing in it that I would criticise – but I think it is too short, this could be twice as long. COnsider this: you will be first, so you will introduce the subject of analysis on a merely descriptive basis, but you must also bring in your own disciplinary analysis. There is a bit of both in your text – but I also think there could be more of both, espcially of film studies relevant analysis.