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The Act of Killing

In this chilling and inventive documentary, produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, the unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads are challenged to re-enact some of their many murders in the style of the American movies they love.

When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.

Proud of their deeds and completely unpunished, Anwar and his pals are delighted when the film's director ask them to re-enact these murders for their documentary - in any genre they desire. Initially Anwar and his friends enthusiastically take up the challenge using hired actors, making elaborate sets and costumes and even using pyrotechnics, but eventually as the movie violence is played out and reconstructed, Anwar finally begins to feel unease and remorse.

THE ACT OF KILLING is about killers who think they have won, and the sort of society they have built. Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan genocidaires, Anwar and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. THE ACT OF KILLING is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. A nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.

THE ACT OF KILLING won the 2013 European Film Award for Best Documentary, the Asia Pacific Screen Award, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards. It also won best documentary at the 67th BAFTA Awards. 


Screening as part of our Film Firsts Season, in partnership with Northumbria University


Event Information

Running Time: 1hr 57mins

BBFC Advice: 15

Director(s): Joshua Oppenheimer

Country of Origin: Denmark

Year of release:

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