This week is the last for the 2015 True Life Fund. This year’s Fund benefits Adi Rukun of The Look of Silence, who shattered decades of silence surrounding Indonesia’s mass killings of 1965-66 through an unprecedented series of confrontations of the still powerful killers.Because we feel so strongly about this incredible story and man, we are sharing one final series of reminders about contributing to the Fund. Please consider donating. Every little bit means something.
In our in-depth interview filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer told us the devastating story of one scene in The Look of Silence filmed by Adi himself, the day Adi first showed the footage to Joshua and the prison of fear created by decades of fear. We wanted to share that story again today:
You know, the whole strand with Adi’s father is really leading up to one critical scene which Adi shot. It’s the only scene in the film he shot and I think it is probably the most divisive scene in the whole movie for audiences. It’s the scene at the end where Adi’s father is crawling, lost. That scene was shot quite awhile before the rest of the film, apart from the old footage that Adi’s watching.
Towards the end of shooting The Act of Killing I gave Adi a camera for him to use as a kind of notebook to look for images. When I returned to Indonesia after editing The Act of Killing to make The Look of Silence Adi said, “you know Joshua, there’s one tape that I never showed you. And I want to give it to you, because I think it’s the most meaningful thing that I’ve filmed, and I didn’t give it to you because I wanted to keep it.” And trembling he took out his camera and took out the one tape that he hadn’t given to me. He put it in and showed me that scene and as soon as it started to play he started to cry. He said, “I shot this at the end of Ramadan, when the whole family comes together. And it was the first day that my dad couldn’t remember who anyone was. It was terrible, and we were all trying to comfort him and he was really scared, but because he was panicking he couldn’t calm down enough to remember any of us, so we just made it worse. He thought we were all trying to harm him. So we didn’t know what to do. And I thought at some point the most loving thing I could do was to film him. And I started to film him”– he’s crying as he’s telling me this — “and I was filming him crawling around the house lost, the house he’s lived since he was a child. That he was born in. And I felt then that I don’t want my children to inherit this prison of fear. I feel like my father’s stuck in a prison of fear, but because he’s forgotten the son whose murder destroyed his life and caused the fear, it’s like he’s locked in a room and can’t even find the door, let alone the key or the lock. He’ll never be able to work through that fear. It’s too late for healing.” That was when he proposed to me, “I need to meet the perpetrators. Because if I meet the perpetrators, confronted by my own humanity, they will acknowledge that what they did was wrong, and finally we can all, us and the perpetrators, get out of this prison of fear and live together as human beings.”
If you think about it, that’s such a symptom of desperation, to think that the only way out of fear is to go and risk your safety to confront the men who killed your brother, to say “please recognize that this is wrong, so we can live together.” I knew that that story would not make it into the film, that we didn’t have the material to tell the story I just told you. But I felt that if I constructed the film as a kind of poem, a very careful visual poem about memory and fear and what it does to a human body, what it does to the wrinkles in Rohani’s brow, what it does to the body as you see the water pour down Rukun’s 103-year-old torso, if I was very focused and precise, we could build up an intuitive, poetic core of the film, that would allow viewers to feel the meaning of that scene, even without that story.
This week will be the last we’ll be accepting donations for the 2015 True Life Fund, our annual fundraiser benefiting a subject of a documentary film. This year the fund is supporting Adi Rukun of The Look of Silence. Over the next few days, we’ll be asking one final time for you to consider making a contribution, which you can do on our website here.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s new film is momentous in several inseparable dimensions. Politically, it is proving decisive in overturning the secrets and lies that continue to surround Indonesia’s genocidal anti-communist purges of 1965-66, atrocities supported by the United States as Cold War statecraft. Aesthetically, it constitutes a deeply poetic and haunting representation of the effect of decades’ of routine trauma and implicit terror. Yet both of these triumphs rest on a personal foundation, the story of one man who has lived his entire life in the shadow of a murdered brother and finally decides to risk everything to free his family from this prison of fear.
Adi Rukun’s screen presence doesn’t conform to typical reassuring notions of the heroic. Calm, powerfully empathetic and deeply wounded, he gradually but decisively confronts the perpetrators responsible for the crimes against his family and so many others. These killers have remained both powerful and grotesquely triumphant for nearly 50 years, making these confrontations unprecedented in Indonesian history. Adi’s demand for the truth provides a compelling example of humanity’s capacity for resilience in the face of unfathomable horror.
Adi Rukun in The Look of Silence
The men who killed Adi’s brother lived all around him, as part of his community. As a result, the release of The Look of Silence has forced Adi to relocate his family. In establishing a new life for himself, his parents and his children, Adi is now finalizing plans to open a brick-and-mortar optometry business in his new community. True/False could not be prouder to help support this man and say thank you for his willingness to share his story with the world. If you haven’t already, please consider joining us in donating to the True Life Fund and supporting this cause. Every little bit means something.
Kirby Dick’s explosive new expose of campus rape culture, The Hunting Ground, is coming to the Missouri Theatre April 9. Dick, who received the True Vision Award at T/F 2006, fearlessly challenges a status quo where one in five women in college are sexually assaulted, yet only a fraction of these crimes are reported, and even fewer result in punishment for the perpetrators. A post-screening discussion will include Dick (via Skype) and Colleen Coble, director of Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Tickets are $10 for everyone and available now at the Ragtag box office, open 10am M–F & 30-minutes before the first show on Saturday & Sunday. Tickets will be sold at the Ragtag box office till 5pm the day of the show. The Missouri Theatre will open at 5:30 for seating and cash only ticket sales. Sorry, no passes, discounts or internet sales.
In the midst of True/False 2015, we received the sad news of the death of Albert Maysles, the seminal filmmaker who, in collaboration with his brother David, created undeniable vérité masterpieces throughout the 60s and 70s. To help come to terms with this loss, our other half Ragtag Cinema will be hosting 1975’s Grey Gardens. This film is the Maysles’ intervention into the world of the Beales, a mother and daughter eager to reflect on past glories amid the perverse splendor of their rundown Long Island mansion.
Grey Gardens will play two times only, on Monday. March 30 and Thursday, April 2 at 7:30 pm. Don’t miss your chance to see this fascinating work on the big screen.
Throughout this year’s festival, the talented T/F photo team was on high alert, capturing vital images of the weekend. We asked the members of our team to pick their favorite two pictures from True/False 2015 and collected them below underneath each photographer’s name. You can click that name and link over to their own site to check out more of their work and hire them to document your own event. You can find more photos from T/F 2015 on our website here as well as in the Facebook albums here.
We’re excited to be partnering with Flaherty NYC and programmers Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez to present Rebels of the Neon God, a collection of films about youth culture, the relentless search for authentic forms of rebellion and the detritus left behind, this Tuesday at 7 at Anthology Film Archives in NYC. All three filmmakers will be present for a post-screening Q and A moderated by Robert Greene. Dusty Stacks of Mom (T/F 2014), the final film in the program, will be performed live by filmmaker Jodie Mack!
Films in Rebels of the Neon God:
The Blazing World (T/F 2015)
Directed by Jessica Bardsley
(USA, 2013, 18 min., DV)
A troubling relationship arises between the character played by Winona Ryder in the film Girl, Interrupted, the genuine depression experienced by the actress, and the shoplifting of which she was accused. Consisting entirely of clips stolen from existing films, this video essay, which ultimately turns out to be profoundly personal, explores possible links between depression and kleptomania.
image from The Blazing World
Directed by Scott Cummings
(USA, 2014, 30 min., digital file)
An experimental exploration and celebration of the Juggalo subculture in Buffalo, New York. Surreal scenes shot in long and static takes of Juggalos engaged in their favorite activities, first and foremost of which – causing mayhem. Among these seemingly random acts of preening, backyard wrestling, explosions, hedonism, violence and destruction, a tentative narrative begins to emerge.
image from Buffalo Juggalos
Dusty Stacks of Mom (T/F 2014)
Directed by Jodie Mack
(USA, 2013, 41 min., 16mm)
Performed Live by Filmmaker Jodie Mack!
Interweaving the forms of personal filmmaking, abstract animation, and rock opera, this animated musical documentary examines the rise and fall of a nearly-defunct poster and postcard wholesale business; the changing role of physical objects and virtual data in commerce; and the division (or lack of) between abstraction in fine art and psychedelic kitsch. Using alternate lyrics as voice over narration, the piece adopts the form of a popular rock album reinterpreted as a cine-performance.
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning (T/F 2015) opens in New York City (at Cinema Village) and in Los Angeles (at Laemmle’s Noho 7) on December 18. In anticipation of its theatrical release, we’re reposting our interview with Knibbe from this past winter, when the film screened at True/False.
Director Morgan Knibbe’s ambitious feature debut examines a serious social problem, the difficult and often hopeless lives of recent immigrants to Europe, via an ambitious, literary approach. Those Who Feel the Fire Burning forces us to adopt the perspective of a ghost, a man who drowns while attempting his own journey to Europe. As the ghost we float over crowded streets, journey down back alleys and enter into private rooms, observing the lives of the marginalized and searching for some sense of connection.
I recently got the chance to speak with Morgan on Skype ahead of his film’s screening at T/F 2015. It plays for the first time ever in the United States tonight, opening night, at 9:30 pm at The Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note.
True/False: How did you first conceive this film?
Morgan Knibbe: The concept was to tell the story of a ghost through a collage of stories from different people, who together are one. A guy drowns, shifts into a new reality and is dropped by some kind of mysterious power in a new universe. This universe turns out to be something like Europe — or hell — but not what he expected it to be.
We tried to give a strong cinematic power to documentary images, to say something much more than just the documentary quality of the image itself. The ghost is a metaphor for the lives of all these different people that you see in the film. He begins by roaming the streets and looking for where he actually is. Where am I? Where are the people that I love? Are they still alive? Can I find them somewhere? He sees people who could possibly be from his country and starts observing them. He feels more and more detached from reality as he sees how these people are living life in extreme poverty where they were supposed to have achieved their dreams, in Europe.
The idea was to create a perspective for the audience as if they were experiencing it themselves. But it’s hard if you can’t live with one character. We didn’t want to follow one character from beginning to end, but a wide diversity of people from different cultures, because we wanted to emphasize how big and complicated this problem is. We wanted to bring along many different people from different cultures with different personalities, but with a common problem.
So I was thinking of a way to tell a story of a bunch of different people without a very rigid, classical narrative structure. Yet in the end we ended up with something similar, because the ghost goes through a development. He enters the story with a problem. He tries to solve the problem, but he can’t. Ultimately, he tries to deal with the given.
T/F: How did you know when you had the complete story?
MK: I had written down a lot of the story before we began shooting. My sound recordist Taco Drijfhout and I were very close and were always talking about the development of the story, what elements we needed to be consistent from beginning to end. It was always based on what the ghost is going through. The ghost and the people together somehow need to go through a collective experience, where they all slip down further into some kind of an abyss or hell. At some point people get so desperate they start using drugs. The situation gets when worse when many people die. Finally, people are really trying to flee reality by holding on to a religious ritual used in their culture to express grief. They feel a very strong collective power of grieving.
image from Those Who Feel the Fire Burning
T/F: Yeah, the film felt like it was building towards a feeling of religious transcendence, as both promise and peril. How do you see the religious aspect of the film?
MK: I really was inspired by a lot of religion during the making of the film. I thought I had a responsibility to understand what these people believe in. Most of them are Muslim, but they’re not all the same type of Muslim.
Even though I am not religious, I think religious stories are often quite epic and impressive. I think Hell is a very interesting story. How if you do something wrong you can end up in a very horrible place, but actually that place exists here on Earth. That’s what we tried to play with.
Religious stories often carry metaphors for big human problems and dilemmas. We tried to take something from these religious stories which more or less affects all human beings, to reach a state of equality between the audience and the people in the film. To make it a universal problem. What is good and what is evil? Is there a creator? What is the purpose of life?
But the universal also lies in very small things. Like the way a father speaks to his son in a loving way, how a little girl eats chips or how a man wakes up from sleeping.
T/F: How did you go about creating the voice-over?
MK: The text is spoken and written by someone who more or less experienced this. It’s a man from Iran named Ali Borzuee.
We were doing additional dialogue recording and still looking for someone to be the voice. We knew that we wanted the ghost to have very rich sound, a wise voice of an old man who looks back on his life or forward to hell or heaven or wherever he’s going.
Ali is one of the people who would do ADR, but he also brought a poem that he wanted to recite. Everybody was listening very carefully, and he had to cry. It was very intense and we all decided I think we should ask this guy to do the voice-over for the film.
It took quite a while before we found the right way to write the text. At first I was writing it, but it sounded a little bit artificial. So we asked this guy to improvise. We gave him some specific prompt, for example you have to tell the story of how you first met your wife, you have to name a lot of things from the country where you first grew up. That worked well.
T/F: The idea of perspective in this film is really interesting to me. There is always a perspective in nonfiction film, but your film really forces you to think about it by making it explicit.
MK: What I always say about the way we made this film is that in a way we are really honest about the manipulation. It is a film that is supposed to be very cinematic, and the only way to do that is to manipulate. So the point was never realism or objectivity, because I think that’s a big problem with the way this kind of subject is portrayed normally. There’s always this kind of objectivity that people try to use. But I think that’s not possible. It’s an illusion. That’s why we tried to get rid of that and make a very strong cinematic experience. I think that’s a more honest way of filmmaking.
I am very curious about the manipulation of images and sounds when virtual reality is in a further state of development, a place where reality and virtual reality are harder to distinguish from each other. In a way film has this effect already. People easily think they watch reality or the truth, especially when the film is ‘documentary’. In fact it is a subjective representation of what other people think, or how they observe and listen. Or how they want you to think.
I understand that journalist want to fight for objectivity, but I’m not sure if their battle will be very effective, since they are fighting for something that doesn’t exist.
T/F: Are there any films or filmmakers that served as a point of departure for Those Who Feel the Fire Burning? Particularly in regards to this idea of forcing the audience’s awareness the film’s perspective?
MK: Definitely! Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders. Enter the Void and Irréversible by Gaspar Noe. Irréversible is the best film I’ve ever seen and was also a huge inspiration. He has this crazy way of sucking up the audience in a cinematic experience that truly evokes primal emotions within the audience, but at the same time he makes the audience work and think and search for answers. I think Gaspar Noe could have been influenced by some of Eisenstein’s thoughts about “cinema of attractions”, a theory about stimulating the audience’s primal feelings instead of taking them along a conventional narrative.
Filmmakers like Noe and Haneke use these cinematic tools to evoke primal emotions, but at the same time add artificial elements that somehow make the structure of the film visible, which is actually a filmmaker being honest about manipulation and giving the audience space to reflect upon the medium and themselves. But this balance is always difficult, because you can lose your audience.
The use of darkness and suggesting tracking shots was also a key concept for Those Who Feel the Fire Burning. Some tracking shots out of Children of Men by Alfonso Cuaron were an inspiration.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives was a huge inspiration, especially for sound design, as was the indie game Limbo. We wanted to create hell on earth, or some sort of state in between heaven and hell, limbo or the purgatory. To do that we wanted to lift the images out of the realism and create a feeling of a huge void in sound design.