I am sure everyone is familiar with George Santayana’s quote, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This phrase has particular salience for this film. This film concerns the long-term effects of the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966, where approximately 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed in a matter of months.
This violence was hidden from the world’s view for 35 years under General Suharto’s regime. In the years following the communist purge, there was an enforced silence about what had happened, hence the film’s title “40 Years of Silence.” It is only now, after the fall of the New Order regime in 1998 and the death of President Suharto last year, that Indonesians are starting to open up and come to terms with this horrific and tragic history.
The film is an intimate portrait of four families from very different parts of the Indonesian archipelago, all of whom were deeply affected by this event. Although they are from different parts of the Indonesian social world, all four characters witnessed their family members being imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
The film begins by telling these families’ stories pre-1965 via their personal reflections and memories of their childhood. The characters then describe their families’ experiences from 1965 and 1966, and discuss life during the New Order.
The film closes with the characters realization that the search for justice and a measure of peace must begin with themselves, their families and their local communities. The prospect for a national reconciliation process is far off, even in an increasingly open, democratic and free Indonesia.
The film tells a very poignant and moving story. It is our hope that more people in the world become aware of this tragic history. It is also our hope that Indonesians become more aware of this history, from the perspective of the victims. Understanding and telling this history is long overdue in modern Indonesia. It is also a vital process to ensure that this history is never repeated.