When director Joshua Oppenheimer set out in 2002 to make a documentary on a workers’ union in a Belgian plantation in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, he found that his subjects were too afraid to speak. In 1965, some of them were relatives of those massacred in a nationwide anti-communist purge and the perpetrators bullied them into silence. So instead, Oppenheimer interviewed former leaders of the death squad members and found them more than happy to reenact the killings for the camera.
“The Act of Killing” is a powerful exploration of the effects of total impunity on genocide. On Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., a director’s cut of the film will be screened at the Harvard Film Archive and Oppenheimer, who graduated in 1997 from Harvard with a degree in filmmaking, will participate in a panel discussion beforehand starting at 6 p.m.