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Filmmaker Chris Hilton on the Anti-Communist Purges in Indonesia in 1965-66

Shadow Play (2001)

Shadow Play (2001)

So it is not as though you edited out certain bits that you thought might be too controversial in the American context.

I did remove some parts that would be less palatable for an American audience, such as the text of a couple of cables from the American Embassy in Jakarta, just more evidence that the American administration was really anxious that the Indonesian army should move against the communists and really finish them off. There is a CIA officer in the longer version who says something fairly cynical, something like, "It was just really great that all these communists were finished off with Soviet weapons and not American ones; there is a fantastic irony in that."

Comments like that -- which were damning, not at an argumentative level but at the level of tone and attitude -- were edited out.

And what kind of reaction do you expect from your viewers in the United States?

I don't really expect it to be wildly controversial because we're just quoting what has been on the public record. The most controversial parts are about giving money to militia groups who then went on to kill the communists but that was already out last year. It was run in the Washington Post and a couple of other papers. This had been stringently denied for so long.

When this cable was finally declassified it was finally proven. Even the State Department history said this but there was a great deal of controversy when this assertion had been previously made in the press in the absence of hard evidence.

It will probably be enlightening for American people to see how their foreign policy affected other nations in a broad context, and to reflect on their own position in the world. But in terms of headline-grabbing revelations, we could only go on what had already been declassified. We were not able to find a smoking gun; we weren't able to get the CIA guy to admit to anything and yet we know that there are hundreds of pages that are blacked out still. When they requested money in Jakarta to give to the death squads, the four-page reply came from William Colby of the CIA, which hasn't got one word declassified, so the CIA could have been giving very detailed instructions about how to arm and train death squads, but we do not know, and may never know.

For more information about the documentary, please visit the Shadow Play website on PBS.

Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of Asia Society.