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“The Act of Killing” director picks up a MacArthur “genius” grant

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

Austin-born Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the Oscar-nominated, Drafthouse Films-distributed documentary “The Act of Killing,” has won a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a MacArthur “genius” grant.

The 39-year old filmmaker won critical accolades for “The Act of Killing,” his 2012 film on the death squads that flourished after the 1965, overthrow of then-President Sukarno in favor of the U.S.-backed President Suharto. As many as two million “enemies of the state” died.

Oppenheimer interviewed hundreds of former death squad members, some of whom participated in on-screen re-creations of their crimes. A reflection on journalism, voyeurism, complicity and violence, “The Act of Killing” is pretty amazing.

As the Foundation puts it, “The audience becomes engaged in a profound drama about recognition and self-knowledge, as we see both the subjects’ attempts to restage their crimes and their reactions to what has been filmed when Oppenheimer plays it back for them.”

Oppenheimer’s latest film, “The Look of Silence” (2014), centers on the survivors of these atrocities as they examine the role of their neighbors in the governmental genocide.

Also in Oppenheimer’s MacArthur cohort is cartoonist Alison Bechdel, author of the modern classic graphic novel “Fun Home” who also invented the “Bechdel Test” for fiction in general and movies in particular. To wit: Does the work features a) at least two women 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man? If so, it passes. If not, it fails. The Bechdel test is not a measure of a work’s inherent feminism, per se, but man, does it come in handy when thinking about such things.