Shadow Play







IDFA 2001, main competition


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.

For a long time in Indonesia, we have been watching a shadow play. We have seen the Wajangs or shadow puppets acting out a drama and though we were unable to catch the words, we thought we could follow the story.

The terror campaign of 1965-66 was the bloody birth of the General Suharto’s New Order in Indonesia and set the tone for the way most Western governments have dealt with Indonesia until the eruption of violence in East Timor in 1999.
Now, decades later, and since the fall of General Suharto, Indonesians can begin to confront their hidden history.

SHADOW PLAY is a full and frank account the slaughter of more than 500,000 people in Indonesia, and the period of history that triggered it, as Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, was swept from power. The film follows the personal story of the American-educated Ibnoe Santoro who was swept up in the carnage in 1965 and whom we see finally exhumed from a mass grave. But his family’s attempts to give him the dignity of a proper burial stir violent patterns from the past.

We also follow the stories of two survivors of Suharto in their seventies, one an English woman, Carmel Budiardjo, who returns from forced exile after 30 years, and the other Dr Sumyarsi, a doctor who spent 11 years as a political prisoner.

The massacres received very little publicity at the time (or since) and the film explains how this came to be. Through interviews with journalists covering the story we reveal the secret war of propaganda and media manipulation waged by the Indonesian army and actively aided by the governments of the United States, Britain and Australia. With the Vietnam War escalating in 1965 the anti-communist west was obsessed with deposing President Sukarno and ridding South East Asia of communism.

SHADOW PLAY is a powerful film which portrays the human cost of this forgotten footnote of the Cold War and its ghosts which are very much alive in Indonesia today.

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Hilton Cordell Productions
Vagabond Films

executive producer

Joop Van Wijk

Creative producer

Chris Hilton


Chris Hilton


Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Omar Dhani
Linda Hunt (narrator)
Kemal Idris

Production design

Simon Smith


Sylvie Le Clézio


Karin Steiniger

Sound design
Special thanks

Rogier Smeele