Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

POV: The Act Of Killing

A scene from "The Act of Killing." The film explores a horrifying era in Indonesian history and provides a window into modern Indonesia, where corruption reigns. Not only is the 1965 murder of an estimated one million people honored as a patriotic act, but the killers remain in power.
Courtesy of Carlos Arango de Montis
A scene from "The Act of Killing." The film explores a horrifying era in Indonesian history and provides a window into modern Indonesia, where corruption reigns. Not only is the 1965 murder of an estimated one million people honored as a patriotic act, but the killers remain in power.

Airs Monday, October 6, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

The award-winning POV (a cinema term for “point of view”) series is the longest-running showcase on television to feature the work of America's best contemporary-issue independent filmmakers.

Anwar Congo driving a car. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Congo and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters ("free men," as they called themselves) who controlled the black market in movie tickets to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals in less than a year.
Courtesy of Carlos Arango de Montis
Anwar Congo driving a car. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Congo and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters ("free men," as they called themselves) who controlled the black market in movie tickets to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals in less than a year.
Anwar Congo getting made up. In a mind-bending twist, death-squad leaders dramatize their brutal deeds in the style of the American westerns, musicals and gangster movies they love — and play both themselves and their victims.
Courtesy of Carlos Arango de Montis
Anwar Congo getting made up. In a mind-bending twist, death-squad leaders dramatize their brutal deeds in the style of the American westerns, musicals and gangster movies they love — and play both themselves and their victims.
Anwar Congo behind camera.
Courtesy of Carlos Arango de Montis
Anwar Congo behind camera.
Anwar Congo receiving a medal.
Courtesy of Carlos Arango de Montis
Anwar Congo receiving a medal.

Nominated for an Academy Award®, “The Act of Killing” is as dreamlike and terrifying as anything that Werner Herzog (one of the executive producers) could imagine. The film explores a horrifying era in Indonesian history and provides a window into modern Indonesia, where corruption reigns. Not only is the 1965 murder of an estimated one million people honored as a patriotic act, but the killers remain in power.

In a mind-bending twist, death-squad leaders dramatize their brutal deeds in the style of the American westerns, musicals and gangster movies they love — and play both themselves and their victims. As their heroic facade crumbles, they come to question what they’ve done.

"The Act of Killing" raises many questions, but perhaps the most awful is this: If, as Anwar Congo says, there are people like him everywhere in the world, will we ever live without terror?

"There is no easy resolution to 'The Act of Killing,'" says director Joshua Oppenheimer. "The murder of one million people is inevitably fraught with complexity and contradiction. All the more so when the killers have remained in power, when there has been no attempt at justice and when the story has hitherto only been used to intimidate the survivors. Seeking to understand such a situation--intervening in it, documenting it--can only be equally tangled, unkempt."

"I have developed a filmmaking method with which I have tried to understand why extreme violence, which we hope would be unimaginable, is not only imaginable, but routinely performed," he continues. "We attempt to shed light on one of the darkest chapters in both the local and global human story, and to express the real costs of blindness, expedience and an inability to control greed and the hunger for power in an increasingly unified world society. This is not, finally, a story only about Indonesia. It is a story about us all."

Winner, 2014 BAFTA Film Award, Best Documentary. Visit theactofkilling.com for more about the film, and you can follow @TheActofKilling on Twitter.

Past episodes of POV are available for online viewing. POV is on Facebook, Google +, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter.

The Act of Killing - Trailer

"An Oscar® nominee and the most honored documentary of 2013

The Act of Killing: The History

The Act of Killing: How to Kill with Less Blood