Saturday, May 18th: ‘Promised Paradise’

Promised Paradise
UnionDocs (322 Union Ave., Brooklyn)
$9 suggested donation

How can one believe that terrorism leads to heaven? Banned by the Indonesian government, this provocative documentary examines the psychology of extremism in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

Promised Paradise, a new film from renowned documentary filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, made international news earlier this year when Indonesian authorities suddenly banned it from screening at the Jakarta International Film Festival. The film follows a traditional Indonesian puppeteer and troubadour, the dynamic Agus Nur Amal, as he attempts to track down the terrorists who masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings (both living and dead).

During the course of his journey, he exposes the atmosphere of intolerance and confusion that pervades his country. At a puppet show for children, staged inside a cardboard television set, he re-enacts the September 11 attacks using a gyrating Osama Bin Laden doll. The children roar in laughter, until the play begins to show images of new bomb attacks in Indonesia – first on the Australian Embassy in September 2004, and later in Bali in October 2005. “Everything you see on your television is a lie: in this cardboard television the people are made of flesh and blood,” he tells his young audience.

In a chilling sequence, using ingenius editing, Agus confronts the notorious extremist leader behind the 2002 bombings in his prison cell. Freely quoting from the Koran, and referencing American foreign policy, he openly discusses his motives for the attack. To reach the remaining bombers, Agus attends the show of a local clairvoyant who claims to communicate with the dead. He asks him where the perpetrators of the suicide attack are now. The psychic’s refusal to answer before an audience is telling – so Agus requests a private session.

Using performance to inspire critical reflection, Promised Paradise delivers fascinating and revealing insight into the social and religious undercurrents dominating Indonesian society today and the Muslim world at large.

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