Hurrah for the SOAS Indonesian Film Festival!

Realise I have not posted in ages but over past few days l have been at some of the discussions and screenings for the SOAS Indonesian Film Festival in London (the events have also been sponsored by the Indonesian embassy) and I just wanted to get some thoughts down.

Some highlights for me have included:

A talk from Katie Diesta Whitcombe about the film Cin(t)a as a site for exploring religious tensions. Within it she looked to unpick the interrelationship between state Pancasila ideology and a legal framework that makes inter-religious marriage difficult, and the social and cultural dynamics that make conversion and inter-religious (and in the case of the film Cin(t)a also interracial and inter-class) marriage such an emotive issue. 

A lively debate following Liza Ramli’s paper on Orientalism in Ayat Ayat Cinta. The discussion, (and viewing the film for a second time prior to the seminar) reminded me of the multilayered identity issues running through the film. With the hero an Indonesian Muslim studying in Cairo, and the film exploring his romantic relationships with the Egyptian coptic Christian Mariah and the German Muslim (of Turkish heritage) Aisha, the film has multiple strands of tension and fusion between differing identities – ethnic and religious (not to mention class and gender). Added to which I get slightly disorientated by the fact that almost everyone in the film (whether Egyptian Mariah, German Aisha, or other Egyptians) speaks Indonesian.

Further discussion of The Act of Killing (for which see my previous post) with papers by Gerald Sim and Eric Sarsono. One point raised in the discussion following these papers was the success of Oppenheimer in getting access to the US media (inlcuding the Daily Show and NPR). In my previous post I cited some examples of coverage in UK media where there was a lot of attention to the film, but I was not aware of the coverage in the US. Also interesting was a discussion of differential audience reactions – with one comment mentioning the the tendency for western and Indonesian audiences to react quite differently to it (with an almost confessional reaction from some Indonesian viewers) and another suggesting there were also generational differences to reactions within the Indonesian audience.

Watching the 1998 film Kuldesak followed by a Q&A with one of the directors Riri Riza. What came though for me was the peculiar sense of transition. The film is an omnibus with four directors who were working to get established in the film world at the end of the New Order era, a time when film making was controlled under the auspices of government instituted ‘union’. Filming began in 1996 but the film was not released until after the fall of Suharto in 1998. So in the late New Order period the filming took place with borrowed equipment and essentially underground (given the onerous paperwork required to film legally at the time). However now the directors are now estblished figures in Indonesian film (Riri RIza for example having directed the blockbuster Laskar Pelangi) and the actors and musicians involved are also well known. Yet at the time none of the actors was paid and the technicalities/comlpications of getting rights for copyrighted material (including music from future superstars such as Slank and Ahmad Dhani) contributed to the strange situation whereby the film was not released on DVD. The messiness of this story (and there is much much more which has been said about it elsewhere – including in a talk by Dag Yngvesson which unfortunately I was unable to attend) seems to me to echo the messy transition to a more open political system with its mix of echoes of and breaks with the past.