Joshua Oppenheimer

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Joshua Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer in 2015
Joshua Lincoln Oppenheimer

(1974-09-23) September 23, 1974 (age 49)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Alma materHarvard College (B.A.)
Central Saint Martins (Ph.D.)
OccupationFilm director
Years active1995–present
Notable workThe Act of Killing
The Look of Silence
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship
Marshall Scholarship
European Film Award
Grand Jury Prize (Venice Film Festival)

Joshua Lincoln Oppenheimer (born September 23, 1974) is an American film director based in Copenhagen, Denmark.[1][2] He is known for his Oscar-nominated films The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014), Oppenheimer was a 1997 Marshall Scholar[3] and a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur fellowship.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Oppenheimer was born to a Jewish family,[5] in Austin, Texas, and grew up in and around Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, New Mexico.[6] Oppenheimer received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) summa cum laude in film-making from Harvard University and a PhD from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, while studying on a Marshall Scholarship. He is Professor of Film at the University of Westminster.

His first film The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase (1997) won a Gold Hugo from the Chicago International Film Festival (1998).[7]

From 2004 to 2012, he produced a series of films in Indonesia. His debut feature film about the individuals who participated in the Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66, The Act of Killing (2012), premiered at the 2012 Telluride Film Festival. It went on to win many prizes worldwide, including the European Film Award for Best Documentary, a Panorama Audience Award, and a Prize of the Ecumenical Jury from the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.[8] The film also received the Robert Award by the Film Academy of Denmark, a Bodil Award by Denmark's National Association of Film Critics,[9] and the Aung San Suu Kyi Award at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival 2013[10]

Oppenheimer appeared on The Daily Show on August 13, 2013, to talk about The Act of Killing.[11]

The Act of Killing won the BAFTA for Best Documentary, European Film Award for Best Documentary, the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Documentary, and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.[12]

Oppenheimer's next film, The Look of Silence (2014), is a companion piece to The Act of Killing. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards. It was screened in competition at the 71st Venice International Film Festival[13][14] and won the Grand Jury Prize, the International Film Critics Award (FIPRESCI), the Italian online critics award (Mouse d'Oro), the European Film Critics Award (F.E.D.E.O.R.A.) for the Best Film of Venezia 71, as well as the Human Rights Nights Award.[15] Since then, it has gone on to win a further 70 international awards, including an Independent Spirit Award, an IDA Award for Best Documentary, a Gotham Award for Best Documentary, and three Cinema Eye Honors, including Best Film and Best Director. Cinema Eye Honors named him a decade-defining filmmaker in 2016, and both his films as decade-defining films.

In a 2015, interview with The New York Times, Oppenheimer stated that the West shares "a great deal" of responsibility for the mass killings in Indonesia, noting in particular that "the United States provided the special radio system so the Army could coordinate the killings over the vast archipelago. A man named Bob Martens, who worked at the United States Embassy in Jakarta, was compiling lists of thousands of names of Indonesian public figures who might be opposed to the new regime and handed these lists over to the Indonesian government."[16] In 2014, after a screening of The Act of Killing for US Congress members, Oppenheimer called on the US to acknowledge its role in the killings.[17] In October 2017, the U.S. government declassified thousands of files related to the killings, with officials citing the impact of Oppenheimer's films.[18]

In July 2016, he was named as a member of the main competition jury for the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.[19] In September 2017 he was the guest director for the Telluride Film Festival.[20]

In 2021, film production company Neon announced Oppenheimer will direct a feature-film musical starring Tilda Swinton, Stephen Graham and George MacKay.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Oppenheimer is openly gay and lives with his partner Shu in Copenhagen, Denmark.[22]


Year Title Notes
1995 Hugh Short film
1996 These Places We've Learned to Call Home Short
1997 The Challenge of Manufacturing Short
1997 The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase Short
2003 The Globalisation Tapes A collaboration between the Independent Plantation Workers' Union of Sumatra, the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF), and Vision Machine (Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer, Michael Uwemedimo, Andrea Luka Zimmerman). He was the producer.
2003 A Brief History of Paradise as Told by the Cockroaches Short
2003 Market Update Short
2004 Postcard from Sun City, Arizona Short
2004 Muzak: a tool of management Short
2007 Show of Force Installation
2012 The Act of Killing documentary film
2014 The Look of Silence
TBD The End Musical


  • Acting on AIDS: Sex, Drugs & Politics (Acting on AIDS). London & New York: Serpent's Tail, 1997, ISBN 1-85242-553-9, ISBN 978-1-85242-553-1. (With Helena Reckitt, co-editor.)
  • Going through the motions and becoming other. (With Michael Uwemedimo, co-author). In: Chanan, Michael, (ed.) Visible evidence. Wallflower Press, 2007. London, UK. (In Press)
  • History and Histrionics: Vision Machine's Digital Poetics. (With Michael Uwemedimo, co-author). In: Marchessault, Janine, and Lord, Susan, (eds.) Fluid screens, expanded cinema. University of Toronto Press, 2007, Toronto, Canada, pp. 167–183. ISBN 978-0-8020-9297-7.
  • Show of force: a cinema-séance of power and violence in Sumatra's plantation belt. (With Michael Uwemedimo, co-author). In Critical Quarterly, Volume 51, No 1, April 2009, pp. 84–110. Edited by: Colin MacCabe. Blackwell Publishing, 2009. ISSN 0011-1562.
  • Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence. (With Joram Ten Brink, co-author). Columbia University Press (Feb 28, 2013), ISBN 0231163347, ISBN 978-0231163347


  1. ^ "Joshua Oppenheimer: 'You celebrate mass killing so you don't have to look yourself in the mirror' | Film". The Guardian. February 22, 2015. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  2. ^ Cohn, Pamela (December 18, 2012). "BOMB Magazine — Joshua Oppenheimer by Pamela Cohn". Archived from the original on January 6, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  3. ^ "Centric Core". September 23, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  4. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (September 17, 2014). "MacArthur Awards Go to 21 Diverse Fellows : Alison Bechdel, Terrance Hayes Among 'Genius Grant' Winners". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  5. ^ Bloom, Nate (February 25, 2016). "The tribe at the Oscars, 2016". Times of Israel.
  6. ^ Fraley, Jason (February 20, 2014). "Oscar nominated doc 'Act of Killing' has local roots". WTOP.
  7. ^ "Awards for The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  8. ^ "Awards from 63rd Berlin International Film Festival for The Act of Killing". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  9. ^ "Robert Award & 66th Bodil Awards for The Act of Killing". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  10. ^ "The Act of Killing modtager Aung San Suu Kyi Pris". Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  11. ^ Stewart, Jon (August 13, 2013). "Joshua Oppenheimer". Comedy Central. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  12. ^ "Oscars: Main nominations 2014". BBC News. January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
  13. ^ "International competition of feature films". Venice. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  14. ^ "Venice Film Festival Lineup Announced". Deadline. July 24, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  15. ^ "Roy Andersson film scoops Venice Golden Lion award". BBC News. September 7, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  16. ^ "Joshua Oppenheimer Won't Go Back to Indonesia". The New York Times. July 9, 2015. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  17. ^ Sabarini, Prodita (16 February 2014). Director calls for US to acknowledge its role in 1965 killings. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  18. ^ Krithika Varagur (October 18, 2017). "How The US Came to Declassify 30,000 Pages of American Embassy in Indonesia Files". Voice of America.
  19. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (July 24, 2016). "Laurie Anderson, Joshua Oppenheimer, Zhao Wei Set For Venice Jury". Variety. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  20. ^ Josh Rottenberg (August 31, 2017). "Oscar buzz to run high as the proudly low-key Telluride Film Festival gets underway". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ Katz, David (May 10, 2021). "Documentary auteur Joshua Oppenheimer returns with the mysterious musical project The End, starring Tilda Swinton". Cineuropa - the best of european cinema. Archived from the original on October 5, 2021. Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  22. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (June 7, 2015). "Joshua Oppenheimer: why I returned to Indonesia's killing fields". The Guardian.

External links[edit]

External videos
video icon Joshua Oppenheimer on "The Act of Killing": The VICE Podcast 034 on YouTube