The Act of Killing (2012)

The Act of Killing 2012tt2375605.jpg poster

  • IMDb page: The Act of Killing (2012)
  • Rate: 8.2/10 total 20,598 votes
  • Genre: Documentary | History
  • Release Date: 1 November 2012 (Indonesia)
  • Runtime: 115 min | 159 min (extended version) | Germany:95 min (TV version) | Finland:96 min (TV version)
  • Filming Location: Medan, Indonesia
  • Budget: $1,000,000 (estimated)
  • Gross: $484,221 (USA) (28 February 2014)
  • Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
  • Stars: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Syamsul Arifin | See full cast and crew »
  • Soundtrack: Cari Pacar Lagi
  • Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
  • Plot Keyword: Musical Number | Death Squad | Mass Killing | Surrealism | Ethnography

Known Trivia

  • An audience member after a screening in Berlin said that what director Joshua Oppenheimer had done was “like having SS officers re-enact the Holocaust.” Oppenheimer responded that it is not the same at all ‘because ‘the Nazis are no longer in power’, while the death squad members shown in the documentary are still being protected by the Indonesian government. 117 of 117 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • The co-director, as well as 48 other members of the film crew in 27 different positions, are credited as ‘Anonymous’ because they still fear revenge from the death-squad killers. The 41-year-old Indonesian who shared directing credit with Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn, could only wonder, ‘How could these people tell these horrible stories so lightly and so proudly? You just want to challenge them right away. But you have to keep telling yourself to be patient, to let them tell the story the way they like. Because then we can learn something about the whole system of destruction.’ 84 of 85 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • The Indonesian death-squad members shown in the film – who actually re-create real murders they committed almost 50 years ago – were paid a ‘modest per diem’ for their dramatic efforts. 32 of 32 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • The project started focusing on the family of the victims, but a lot were arrested as Joshua Oppenheimer was doing the interviews with them. In that process he started meeting torturers, so he decided to refocus the story on them. 28 of 28 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • Two of the world’s most honored documentary filmmakers – Werner Herzog and Errol Morris – are credited as executive producers. 34 of 35 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • Played for 52 weeks at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts from June 28th, 2013. 7 of 7 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • Some of the killers featured here are so-called ‘movie gangsters’ who said their murders had been inspired by their love of John Wayne, Marlon Brando, or Mafia and American B-movies. 13 of 20 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |
  • One of the films chosen for the 42nd annual New Directors/New Films showcase in March 2013, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. 4 of 9 found this interesting Interesting? Yes No |

Plot: A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.  »

Story: A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.


Synopsis: Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodelling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, because Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers.

MEDAN, INDONESIA 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. Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide.

THE ACT OF KILLING is about killers who 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. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries. THE ACT OF KILLING is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. And THE ACT OF KILLING is 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.

A LOVE OF CINEMA In their youth, Anwar and his friends spent their lives at the movies, for they were “movie theatre gangsters”: they controlled a black market in tickets, while using the cinema as a base of operations for more serious crimes. In 1965, the army recruited them to form death squads because they had a proven capacity for violence, and they hated the communists for boycotting American films – the most popular (and profitable) in the cinemas. Anwar and his friends were devoted fans of James Dean, John Wayne, and Victor Mature. They explicitly fashioned themselves and their methods of murder after their Hollywood idols. And coming out of the midnight show, they felt “just like gangsters who stepped off the screen”. In this heady mood, they strolled across the boulevard to their office and killed their nightly quota of prisoners. Borrowing his technique from a mafia movie, Anwar preferred to strangle his victims with wire.

In THE ACT OF KILLING, Anwar and his friends agree to tell the filmmakers the story of the killings. But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary: they want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. The filmmakers seize this opportunity to expose how a regime that was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable, would project itself into history.

And so the filmmakers challenge Anwar and his friends to develop fiction scenes about their experience of the killings, adapted to their favorite film genres – gangster, western, musical. They write the scripts. They play themselves. And they play their victims. Their fiction filmmaking process provides the film’s dramatic arc, and their film sets become safe spaces to challenge them about what they did. Some of Anwar’s friends realize that the killings were wrong. Others worry about the consequence of the story on their public image. Younger members of the paramilitary movement argue that they should boast about the horror of the massacres, because its terrifying and threatening force is the basis of their power today. As opinions diverge, the atmosphere on set grows tense. The edifice of genocide as a “patriotic struggle”, with Anwar and his friends as its heroes, begins to sway and crack.

Most dramatically, the filmmaking process catalyzes an unexpected emotional journey for Anwar, from arrogance to regret as he confronts, for the first time in his life, the full terror of what he’s done. As Anwar’s fragile conscience is threatened by the pressure to remain a hero, THE ACT OF KILLING presents a gripping conflict between moral imagination and moral catastrophe.


By director Joshua Oppenheimer

The Act of Killing reveals why violence we hope would be unimaginable is not only imagined, but also routinely performed. It is an effort to understand the moral vacuum that makes it possible for perpetrators of genocide to be celebrated on public television with cheers and smiles. It is a call to reexamine easy reassurances that we are the good guys fighting the bad guys, just because we say so.

Some viewers may desire resolution by the end of the film, a successful struggle for justice that results in changes in the balance of power, human rights tribunals, reparations, and official apologies. The film alone cannot create these changes, but this desire has been our inspiration as well, as we seek to shed light on the darkest chapters of both the local and global human story, and to express the real costs of blindness, expedience, and an inability to control greed and the hunger for power in an increasingly unified world society. This is not a story about Indonesia. This is a story about us all.

{tab=FullCast & Crew}

Produced By:

  • Anonymous known as line producer
  • Anonymous known as producer
  • Christine Cynn known as co-producer
  • Christine Cynn known as producer
  • Torstein Grude known as co-producer
  • Torstein Grude known as executive producer
  • Werner Herzog known as executive producer
  • Maria Kristensen known as associate producer
  • Anne Köhncke known as producer
  • Errol Morris known as executive producer
  • Joshua Oppenheimer known as co-producer
  • Lizzy Ratner known as associate producer
  • Andre Singer known as executive producer
  • Signe Byrge Sørensen known as producer
  • Joram ten Brink known as executive producer
  • Joram ten Brink known as producer
  • Bjarte Mørner Tveit known as co-producer
  • Bjarte Mørner Tveit known as executive producer
  • Michael Uwemedimo known as producer

FullCast & Crew:

  • Anwar Congo known as Himself – Executioner in 1965
  • Herman Koto known as Himself – Gangster and Paramilitary Leader
  • Syamsul Arifin known as Himself – Governor of North Sumatra
  • Ibrahim Sinik known as Himself – Newspaper Publisher
  • Yapto Soerjosoemarno known as Himself – Leader of Pancasila Youth
  • Safit Pardede known as Himself – Local Paramilitary Leader
  • Jusuf Kalla known as Himself – Vice President of Indonesia
  • Adi Zulkadry known as Himself – Fellow Executioner in 1965
  • Soaduon Siregar known as Himself – Journalist
  • Suryono known as Himself – Anwar’s Neighbor
  • Haji Marzuki known as Himself – Member of North Sumatra Parliament (as Marzuki)
  • Haji Anif known as Himself – Paramilitary Leader and Businessman
  • Rahmat Shah known as Himself – Member of Parliament
  • Sakhyan Asmara known as Himself – Deputy Minister of Youth and Sport

..{tab=Supporting Department}Makeup Department:

  • Anonymous known as makeup artist

Art Department:

  • Anonymous known as carpenter
  • Anonymous known as prop master


Production Companies:

  • Final Cut for Real
  • Piraya Film A/S (co-produced with)
  • Novaya Zemlya (co-produced with)
  • Spring Films (in association with)

Other Companies:

  • Gi’Lyd!  sound editing (as Gilyd!)
  • Storyline Studios  sound editing (as Storyline)
  • Hinterland  post-production services
  • NR2154  graphics
  • 10dot1  final cut pro technical support (as 10.Dot.1)
  • Postyr Postproduction  trailer
  • Vassdal & Eriksen  accounting
  • Beierholm  accounting
  • Lyberg & Partnere  insurance
  • Pusat Produksi Negara Indonesia  film and footage: Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI
  • Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI)  produced by: Dialog Khusus TVRI Sumatera Utara (as Televisi Republik Indonesia Stasiun Propinsi Sumatera Utara [id])
  • Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI)  courtesy of: Dialog Khusus TVRI Sumatera Utara (as Televisi Republik Indonesia Stasiun Propinsi Sumatera Utara [id])
  • Cable News Network (CNN)  archive material courtesy of
  • Final Cut for Real  archive material courtesy of
  • Britdoc Foundation  special thanks (as BRITDOC)
  • Sheffield Docfest  special thanks (as Sheffield Meet Market)
  • CPH: DOX  special thanks (as Copenhagen Dox)
  • CPH:FORUM  special thanks (as Copenhagen Dox Forum)
  • DOXBIO  special thanks (as Dox Bio)
  • European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE)  special thanks (as EAVE 2010)
  • European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE)  special thanks (as EAVE 2010 Group D)
  • Kong Gulerod Film  special thanks
  • Producentforeningen  special thanks
  • Radiator Film  special thanks (as Radiator Film)
  • Vision Machine Film Project  special thanks
  • Danmarks Radio (DR)  special thanks
  • MEDIA Programme of the European Union  special thanks (as EU MEDIA Development)
  • Det Danske Filminstitut  with the support of (as Danish Film Institute)
  • ES Broadcast Media  with the support of (as EU Media Broadcast)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)  with the support of
  • University of Westminster  with the support of
  • Nordisk Film- & TV-Fond  with the support of (as Nordisk Film & TV Fond)
  • Norsk Filminstitutt  with the support of (as Norwegian Film Institute)
  • Stavanger Kommunes Kulturbyfond  with the support of (as Stavanger Kommunes Kulturbyfond 2010)
  • Stiftelsen Matriark  in collaboration with
  • Freedom of Expression Foundation  with the support of
  • ZDF/Arte  in collaboration with
  • DR K  in collaboration with
  • Norsk Rikskringkasting (NRK)  in collaboration with
  • Yleisradio (YLE)  in collaboration with
  • Sveriges Television (SVT)  in collaboration with
  • Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep (VPRO)  in collaboration with
  • Kudos Family  in collaboration with (as Kudos Family Distribution)
  • Against Gravity  in collaboration with

Additional Details


  • Final Cut for Real (2012) (worldwide) (all media)
  • Cinema Delicatessen (2013) (Netherlands) (theatrical)
  • Det Danske Filminstitut (2012) (Denmark) (theatrical)
  • Drafthouse Films (2013) (USA) (theatrical)
  • Edko Films (2014) (Hong Kong) (theatrical)
  • Neue Visionen Filmverleih (2013) (Germany) (theatrical)
  • Transformer (2014) (Japan) (theatrical)
  • ZED (2013) (France) (theatrical)
  • Against Gravity (2013) (Poland) (all media)
  • Atnine Film (2014) (South Korea) (all media)
  • Filmfreak Distributie (2013) (Netherlands) (DVD) (director’s cut 2-disc edition)
  • Films We Like (2012) (Canada) (all media)
  • I Wonder Pictures (2013) (Italy) (all media)
  • Koch Media (2014) (Germany) (DVD)
  • Koch Media (2014) (Germany) (DVD) (Blu-ray)
  • Madman Entertainment (2013) (Australia) (all media)
  • Yleisradio (YLE) (2013) (Finland) (TV)
  • ZDF/Arte (2014) (Germany) (TV)

..{tab=Other Stuff}Visual Effects by:

  • Odd Brandtzægg known as IT engineer
  • Christopher Berge Hove known as visual effects
  • Tom Christer Lilletvedt known as visual effects (as Tom Chr. Lilletvedt)
  • Emil Thorbjørnsson known as motion graphics artist


Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database

Not rated yet!


Release Date
Movie Media
Movie Status
Movie Rating
No images were imported for this movie.
Starring: —

Leave a Reply