8 Picks With Joshua Oppenheimer: Nonfiction Film Recommendations From a Certified Genius

It’s fair to say that Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing created a bit of a firestorm when it premiered at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals back in 2012. An extraordinary, unforgettable gaze into the heart of darkness, the film was the result of almost a decade of effort by Oppenheimer and his team to document in a unique way a truly disturbing part of World history.

With his follow-up film, The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer builds upon his legacy with a film of quiet and grace that’s at times simply breathtaking. The film has been playing various festivals, starting off by winning the Grand Jury Prize at Venice, and Oppenheimer himself was granted the MacArthur “Genius” prize for his contributions to filmmaking.

As part a series here at Nonfics, we reached out to the extremely affable Oppenheimer for him to “Pick 6” nonfiction films that mean something to him, with a sentence or two on each. Naturally, he stretched the qualification of nonfiction and the number of picks to eight. Remember, this isn’t some “best-of” list, simply films that mean something important to the participants in question.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (Werner Herzog, 1970)

“It taught me that cinema has the moral responsibility to function as a dream, one that we instantly recognize as true and that thus jolts us out of our slumber. And upon waking, we see the world clearly for the first time — illuminated by the dream’s incandescent brilliance.” — JO

The Apple (Samira Makhmalbaf, 1998)

“It taught me that that our encounter with the world must always be one of horror, innocence and love. And that there is nothing more complex and multilayered than when people play themselves.” — JO

Animal Love (Ulrich Seidl, 1996)

“Here, Seidl teaches us that documentary should always be about fiction, and he does this by showing with such precision that love is built on projection, and projection is built on fantasy.” — JO

Land of Silence and Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1971)

“This is, perhaps, the most profound film about human perception ever made.” — JO

Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)

“Despite what everybody says about it, part of what makes this film great is that Lanzmann has the courage to make it intimate, a chamber piece about something unimaginably vast and horrible — and a film about now, the time of its making and not then. That makes it a film about memory, not the events of the Holocaust. And he understands implicitly, and ethically, that genocide must always resist summary.” — JO

Sweet Movie (Dusan Makavejev, 1974) and WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971)

“Because in these two masterpieces Dusan taught me that every film must have its exit into ecstasy, and that nothing is impossible.” — JO

Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)

“Because [Wiseman] patiently translates the vast and minute terror of modernity, in all its ecstasy, into a single, condensed and immersive experience for viewers.” — JO