Werner Herzog talks death, chickens and The Act of Killing in Reddit AMA

Filmmaker discussed the dangers of making the controversial documentary

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The Independent Culture

The Act of Killing filmmakers Werner Herzog, Errol Morris and Joshua Oppenheimer have taken part in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, discussing the dangers of making the documentary, truth and the deathly stare of the chicken.

The trio collaborated on the remarkable film, which challenged former Indonesian death-squad leaders to re-enact their mass-murders through cinema and earned a nomination at this year's Oscars.

The Act of Killing was the focus of the AMA, with Oppenheimer commenting on the reaction from its stars: "The perpetrators in general hate it. Anwar is moved by it, and stands by it, saying "The film shows what it it's like to be me." The military hates it. Herman loves it, has left Pancasila Youth out of disgust, and is one of the only people to have the courage to screen the film publicly in Medan, the city where it was made."

As for whether he felt in danger making it, he said: "I only really felt danger when the men in the film were questioning the process. For example, when the deputy minister of youth and sport is directing a re-enactment of a pogrom and calls CUT, saying this will be bad for his image. He had a contingent of the army standing by, and they would have arrested my crew at a moment's notice.

"Luckily, however, he realised that he is a minister in the government because he is a feared gangster. If he cleans up his image too much, he'd be out of a job, so he changes his mind and decides to continue with the shooting.

'The Act of Killing' documents the men responsible for the Communist Purges of 1960s Indonesia, mass executions in which more than one million people died

"The bigger fear was psychological. This was an intense 8 year journey into a very dark place with Anwar and his friends. Many of us in the crew had nightmares - for me they began when I filmed Anwar butchering the teddy bear, perhaps the most haunting scene in the longer director's cut of the film. I feel I got through it because of the support and love I felt from my Anonymous crew."

Herzog meanwhile discussed whether he worried about being dishonest in his films, hitting back: "I am not embellishing anything, I am simply after a deeper stratum of truth. I am not an accountant of truth."

He also had a great exchange regarding chickens, with one Reddit user quoting him as saying: "'Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.' - Werner Herzog

"Werner, it's a cruel world we share, but your films terrible beauty have given me hope in the nothingness when I needed it. Thank you."

Herzog replied: "With a chicken leg on your plate, and a good stein of beer in your fist, the world starts to look better," before Oppenheimer chimed in: "Werner is Bavarian. I would note: chickens are living manifestations of death, bred only to be domesticated and killed. When we look into their eyes, we see the part of ourselves of which we are most afraid - our ultimate destination. Death."

Read the full thread here.