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2016 / The Look of Silence

Joshua Oppenheimer

Joshua Oppenheimer

The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, is the 2016 recipient of The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize. Through Oppenheimer’s footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered — and the identities of the killers. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who confronts the men who killed his brother and asks them to accept responsibility for their actions. This unprecedented film initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.

“The Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize is given to a documentary film each year that in the view of the judges best reflects the legacy of Ron Ridenhour — journalist, whistleblower, truth-teller, and social activist. This year’s selection represents a deep and committed search for truth,” said the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize selection committee. “The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, examines the legacy of genocidal violence that targeted alleged communists in Indonesia in the 1960s. However, since the perpetrators stayed in power, that period was cloaked in silence. Additionally, Oppenheimer reminds us that much remains unknown about America’s role in Indonesia, as an effort is underway to declassify files from that period. In light of the bravery and dedication shown by the protagonist, by Oppenheimer and by the entire filmmaking team (many of whom stayed anonymous for fear of reprisals) the Ridenhour jury can’t imagine a film more worthy of the 2016 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize than Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence.”

“We are deeply honored to receive an award named for a man who, like the protagonist of The Look of Silence, chose to break the silence around atrocity,” said Joshua Oppenheimer. “The Indonesian genocide began 50 years ago, but in a terrible way it hasn’t ended. Perpetrators remain in power, and millions of survivors still live in fear. But the genocide is American history, too. The US helped engineer the killings, and for decades supported Indonesia’s military dictatorship. Following in the footsteps of Ron Ridenhour, we must acknowledge our role in these crimes, and take responsibility.”

Documentary Film Prize Remarks

Transcript of Documentary Film Prize Remarks

SARAH MARGON: Hi, thank you. Good afternoon to everyone. I’m so pleased to be here today to present this year’s documentary film prize to Joshua Oppenheimer for “The Look of Silence,” his second film relating to the 1965-1966 mass killings of hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia. “The Look of Silence” tells the story of willful societal blindness, and one man’s quiet, consistent determination to make the invisible more visible by piercing the national silence that has surrounded the killings for decades.

It is a story of the film’s protagonist, Adi Rukun, taking on the silence of millions. If you have not seen “The Look of Silence,” please, please go home and watch it tonight. It will shake you to your core because it is not only a visually beautiful movie, but it is deeply compelling and humanizing.

Because this film was made, Adi’s story, his voice and his effort for justice have reached audiences far and wide across Indonesia and even more internationally. The issue remains a very raw one in Indonesia now. In making these films, Joshua has helped to end the culture of silence in Indonesia. He’s catalyzed a movement for justice. His first film, “The Act of Killing,” was essentially banned in Indonesia. By contrast, “The Look of Silence” has been distributed by the National Human Rights Commission and has been sent to universities and high schools around the country. It is known now in large part because of these films, that Indonesians want the horrendous crimes of the past addressed. Not just those who were personally impacted, like Adi’s family, but ordinary Indonesians who want a society based on the truth and the rule of law.

And the Indonesian government is starting to listen. Earlier this week, there was a public discussion with government endorsement about these killings for the first time ever. This is a hugely important step towards greater transparency into what happened during that time.

Because of his determination to see meaningful accountability in Indonesia, Joshua has also been working to shed light on the role of the United States and what it did in the 1965 killings. It is here that I’ve had the great pleasure to work with him closely on visits to the White House, State Department and with members of Congress in an effort to get classified files released to show just how involved the U.S. really was in supporting the perpetrators. Getting these documents released is, of course, only one part of the larger truth telling effort, but it is a critical element in revealing the full story.

So without further ado, it is my great pleasure to present the 2016 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize to Joshua Oppenheimer for “The Look of Silence.”

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: I’m so sorry I can’t be with you in person, but I’m deeply moved to receive an award in honor of Ron Ridenhour. Like the protagonist of “The Look of Silence,” Adi Rukun, Ron Ridenhour dared to break silence around atrocity, making possible truth and encouraging his struggle for justice.

The Indonesia genocide began 50 years ago, but in a terrible and important way, it hasn’t ended because the perpetrators remain in power and millions of survivors still live in fear. Just recently, on April 15th, a group of survivors who were preparing for historic government sponsored symposium on the genocide were attacked by paramilitary thugs associated with the perpetrators. Yet despite the persistence of intimidation and fear, I’m honored that my two films, “The Look of Silence,” and “The Act of Killing” before it, have helped inspire a movement for truth, justice and reconciliation where before there was silence or even noisy celebration.

Yet, the silence in the film’s title also refers to our silence. Because the Indonesian genocide is not just Indonesian history, it’s American history as well. We provided weapons, money and other support to the death squads, as well as lists of thousands of names of public figures that our government wanted killed. We in the U.S. must, therefore, do the same work as the Indonesians. We must declassify the documents that reveal our role in these crimes and we must take responsibility.

I want to dedicate this award to my incredible Indonesian crew who risked their safety for over ten years to make these two films, and then to bring them out safely and widely across Indonesia. And above all, I want to thank the courageous, loving and wise protagonist of “The Look of Silence,” my dear friend, Adi Rukun. This award is for you. Thank you so very much.