Joshua Oppenheimer Interview: Making the Invisible Visible

“You have to find the traces of fear and silence that are visible, whether it’s in the furrow of someone’s brow or in the water as it flows down an aging torso.” Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer talks about the making of his beautiful and hair-raising Oscar-nominated documentaries.

While Oppenheimer’s two most-well known films focus on perpetrators living with impunity, his work generally centres on questions of the nature of being and time, an interest that led him to study theoretical physics and cosmology as a young man. “Gradually I discovered that these were philosophical questions – not precisely physical questions, but metaphysical questions.” Filmmaking, for Oppenheimer, is a way of continuing this exploration of how we experience the world, an attempt at creating a “life practice” that examines how we perceive and feel ourselves in the universe.

In the Oscar-nominated film ‘The Act of Killing’ (2012) Oppenheimer challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to restage their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish. Oppenheimer explains: “These performances of the present day lies, fantasies, stories, scripts that the perpetrators tell themselves so they can live with themselves” are what make up the film and become the basis of what the director sees as a new approach to non-fiction filmmaking in which everything is simultaneously real and fictional.

Joshua Oppenheimer (b. 1974) is an American producer and director, who has studied at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts as well as Central Saint Martins in London. Oppenheimer has been Oscar-nominated twice – for ‘The Act of Killing’ (2012) and ‘The Look of Silence’ (2014). For these two documentaries he has furthermore received several prestigious awards including a Panorama Audience Award, the European Film Award for Best Documentary, a Robert Award, a BAFTA for Best Documentary, the Grand Jury Prize at the 71st Venice International Film Festival and the International Film Critics Award (FIPRESCI). Other movies include ‘The Globalization Tapes’ (2003) and ‘The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase’ (1998). He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Joshua Oppenheimer was interviewed by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærksen at Cinemateket in Copenhagen, Denmark in April 2016.

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Produced and edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

Supported by Nordea-fonden



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