Last Friday Freedom Film Fest 2015 (FFF 2015) kicked off with a screening of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence to a full house. The much anticipated companion piece to his Oscar-nominated documentary, The Act of Killing. Anna Har, director of FFF 2015, explained why The Look of Silence had been chosen as the documentary to launch this year’s FFF. She said, “This year our theme is ‘Unseen, Unheard, Untold’. We want to encourage Malaysian filmmakers to make documentaries that open up perspectives to stories that have been previously untold. And this documentary, which could possibly change the way history is viewed in Indonesia, is a great example of that. So that’s why we chose it.”

Joining Anna on stage to mark the official launch of the 13th Freedom Film Fest were special guests: YB Tuan Haji Saari bin Sungib, Assemblyman of Hulu Kelang; YB Ong Kian Ming, General Manager of Penang Institute, Kuala Lumpur Branch and Member of Parliament of Serdang; Mr Rolf Stehle, Director of the Goethe Institute; Mr Jerald Joseph, Board of Director of Pusat KOMAS; Mr Ivo Apolov, representative of the delegation of the European Union to Malaysia; and Harun Rahman, president of the Malaysian Documentary Association (MyDocs).

The special guests were there as official partners and supporters of the Freedom Film Fest. While the funding that our partners provide is essential, their support in capacity building has also been invaluable. For example, Harun Rahman from MyDocs recently led a workshop on pitching for aspiring filmmakers. Collectively, the continued support of our partners has helped FFF grow. From it’s humble beginnings as a small screening event, we now hold screenings throughout Malaysia. This year, we created the first film grant for Singaporean filmmakers.

After the launch, the lights dimmed and the audience finally got to watch the much anticipated screening. While many were eager to watch it, this was definitely not an easy documentary to watch. The film tells the other side of the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66. It sheds light on the stories of families of the victims that are still seeking truth and reconciliation, 50 years after the event. In comparison with The Act of Killing where it featured surreal scenes of the killers recreating their favourite gangster movies to demonstrate the murders they carried out, the companion piece, The Look of Silence is firmly rooted in realism.

There were many disturbing and tense moments as Adi Rukun, the protagonist, confronted his brother’s killers and asks for the truth. The camera often pauses for long moments on Adi’s expression as he watches footage of the killers describing the murders. Just watching the footage, and having no personal connection to the murders, made me angry. So it was a wonder to me that Adi kept his cool, dignified, and gentle demeanour while confronting the killers.

By the end of the screening it was clear that the film had affected people. It was hard not to feel emotional after watching the killers relish retelling their accounts of the murders, and to know that none of them have been punished for their acts. Plus, many of them now hold positions of power! At the same time, the audience was clearly moved by the bravery and dignity displayed by Adi in confronting the killers. They expressed their admiration for Adi, and the filmmakers during the Skype Q&A with Anonymous (the Indonesian co-director who cannot be named for safety reasons), and Adi.

During the Q&A, Adi was firm that the film was not about revenge, but rather to unearth the truth that has been long buried in Indonesia. He mentioned the impact of the film – sparking intense debates in Indonesia and police reports lodged during screenings of the movie. A scenario that many people in Malaysia are familiar with. But it is clear that despite the restrictions, many Indonesians are starting to speak out and talk about this long silenced incident.

My friend Jeamme who watched The Look of Silence at the screening, and had previously watched The Act of Killing in New York remarked how different the two experiences were. In New York, the rest of the audience who were American mostly commented on the film making techniques. Whereas, at this screening she could tell that the audience was responding more emotionally. Our close proximity to Indonesia, similar language, and experiences of tragedies that have been hushed up hit a nerve with the Malaysian audience. It’s been several days since I saw the documentary, but some of the scenes have stayed with me.

We hope that members of the audience will be inspired by The Look of Silence to make a documentary that tells an unheard truth in Malaysia. As the debate in Indonesia proves, documentaries can definitely be an agent of change. If you need help funding your documentary, submit your proposal to our film grant and you could be awarded an RM 8,000 grant to help with production costs. Deadline for submission of film proposals is 4 April 2015.
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Deborah Augustin

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