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Shadow Play: Indonesia's Years of Living Dangerously

Written, Produced and Directed by Chris Hilton
A co-production of Hilton-Cordell/ Vagabond Films and Thirteen/WNET New York in association with Arte France, SBS, YLE, and the Australian Film Finance Corporation

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In terms of the numbers killed, the anti-communist massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century … the Indonesian coup is certainly one of the most significant events of the 20th Century, far more significant than many other events that have received much more publicity.- CIA Directorate of Intelligence (1968)

SHADOW PLAY is the full and frank account of the events that led to the slaughter of up to a million people in Indonesia.

On the night of September 30, 1965, six of Indonesia's senior generals were dragged from their beds and brutally murdered. The murders set in motion a power struggle that would lead to the overthrow of President Sukarno by General Suharto.

SHADOW PLAY looks at how Western powers manipulated key figures in Indonesia to keep Southeast Asia from falling into communist hands. At the heart of the story is Achmad Sukarno, the dynamic figure who led the Dutch East Indies to independence.

Sukarno's courting of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) rankled Western powers. With the establishment of the British state of Malaysia on Indonesia's border and the escalation of the U.S. military campaign in Vietnam, Indonesia and the West became increasingly polarized.

Then, on September 30, junior army officers supposedly under control of the PKI killed the generals. Twenty-four hours later, General Suharto put down the 'coup.' In the weeks that followed, Suharto's powers grew, extending to the control of the press, which spread stories of communist women torturing and mutilating the generals.

Soon a nationwide purge was on, leading to mass arrests in Jakarta of anyone with even tenuous ties to the PKI. In the countryside tens of thousands of people were tortured, shot, and buried in mass graves. Six months after the murder of the generals, with hundreds of thousands of Communists and their alleged supporters dead, General Suharto deposed President Sukarno and began a dictatorship that would last until 1998.

Looking back on that pivotal year, SHADOW PLAY examines how British propaganda specialists worked with General Suharto to whip up anti-Communist sentiment and solidify the army's position as heroes. It also reviews newly released communiqués from U.S. and Australian ambassadors. These documents reveal that Western powers allowed Suharto to carry out mass murders so that the Indonesian domino would fall on the Western side of the Cold War divide.

Indonesia is still fractured by the events of September 30, 1965. Mass graves are being opened and bodies exhumed for the first time. One of them belongs to Ibnoe Santoro, a student who was executed and dumped in a hole. His brother, Joyo Santoso, finally feels free enough to talk about what happened. But, as his family and others seek to re-bury the bones of their murdered relatives, many Indonesians violently refuse to allow it, for they are still wary of Communism and those with alleged ties to the PKI.

Also interviewed is Dr. Sumiyarsi, now in her seventies. She was arrested without warrant, detained without trial, and imprisoned for 11 years for allegedly being associated with the PKI. "My only crime was that I was a member of the Indonesian Scientists Organization," she says.

Through recently declassified documents, interviews with newly liberated Indonesians, and discussions with officials, journalists, and survivors of prison and torture, SHADOW PLAY offers a startling new interpretation of the events that shaped modern Indonesian history and changed the destiny of Southeast Asia.

"Groundbreaking... presents new evidence that international anti-Communist forces, including the U.S., helped bring down the Sukarno regime."—Asian Pages

"The cinematic equivalent of the exhumation of all the bodies in the mass graves in the mountains of Java."—New York

"This strong, stark documentary makes its point."—Sunday Courier News (New Jersey)

"Supported through interviews with a variety of governmental and private persons..., as well as recently released documents of several governments... the film would be useful in classes."—Professor Clark E. Cunningham, University of Illinois, for AEMS 'News and Reviews'

2003 Association for Asian Studies Conference Film Festival
2001 Amsterdam International Documentary Festival

55 minutes / Color
Release: 2002
Copyright: 2002

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Study guide available

Subject areas:
Asia, Cold War Era, Communications, Comparative Government, Human Rights, Indonesia, Media Studies, Political Science, Southeast Asia

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