Kamila Andini, emerging young film director, of Java, Indonesia, who had a lot of film festival success with her first feature film “The Mirror Never Lies”, back in 2012. Most of this interview took place before the film travelled the Asia-Pacific Film Festival Circuit. However, the situation within her country is still the same as described and discussed.
Kamila Andini and the struggle for Indonesian Indie film makers
Cynthia Webb, Jakarta, Indonesia.
‘Maybe I am crazy, but I will prove myself,’ said Kamila Andini, the twenty-five year old film director, of “The Mirror Never Lies”, her first movie which opened in five cities in Indonesia. It only had a total of fifteen thousand tickets sold, between 5th and 25th May, 2011 before its screening ended.
Cinema 21 (the dominating cinema chain at the time) has the right to stop screening the film any time and they’ll do it if the cinema is not at least half full. I even had to buy and give away tickets to try to boost audience numbers,’ said Kamila, who likes to be called Dini. She was hoping that word-of-mouth would build audience numbers, but Cinema 21 did not want to wait. She only had enough funding for ten prints of the movie, whereas usually a minimum of twenty-five copies are required for Indonesian multi city release. Everything depends on the number of ticket sales in the opening period.
She says that most Indonesian film reviewers do not really know how to interpret and review an alternative type of film, so reviews did not help either.
This “so far” history of her film is making it difficult to find investors for her next project, however her debut feature film’s journey is not yet finished and neither is Dini’s dream.
Dini continued, ‘Most investors are looking for a business proposal, and it is pretty hard when someone asks me how much profit they will get. I don’t know if I can give them anything, and sometimes I even have to use my own money to get the project completed. There are only a couple of people who will invest in films just because of their interest in the film industry,’ explained Dini. ‘It’s all based on audience numbers and Indonesian audiences do not know how to watch alternative cinema. It took three years to make this film, and most of that time was spent finding the funding.’
Her funding eventually came from the Indonesia office of the World Wildlife Foundation, and other environmental departments, the Wakatobi district government, and some corporate producers.
Indonesia is a very challenging country in which to live and work, if one has aspirations to be a film-maker who produces the kind of film which gains respect internationally. Having interviewed or talked with quite a few of Indonesia’s top film directors, I always hear the same despairing story. It seems the only way is to “break on through to the other side”, and enter the film in overseas film festivals, and gain a reputation that way, as did Dini’s father, Garin Nugroho.
There is no government support for the film industry in the form of funding. Many countries whose films are doing well internationally, both with the critics and the box office, have a government funded film institute, or some kind of system to encourage film-making, such as in South Korea, China, and Australia.
A general Indonesian audience is not very cinema-literate, accustomed to teen romances, horror and sex movies, (that have escaped the censor’s office in a severely watered-down condition), ghost movies, and Hollywood block-busters . They have little or no experience of film-festival quality movies.
Dini told me, ‘We have to compete with these films, and I don’t know what is going on in our censorship office that some of them are even getting on to the screen. Here she was referring to the violence in some films. They make money because of cheap production values and large audiences who want something entertaining and do not want to have to think. There is no room for other types of films. I want to make a balance. We have to show people how to appreciate different kinds of films, not only the ones that are pure entertainment.’
She’s right. Cinema can be so much more and her film “The Mirror Never Lies” is one such film. It carries strong environmental and conservation messages, and it is a valuable record of the lifestyle of the Bajo (or Bajau) people of the region of Wakatobi, South East Suluwesi, one of the world’s diving paradises. They are sometimes known as sea-gypsies, and are also found in the southern islands of The Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia. Dini and her crew filmed on location in a Bajo “village” of bamboo houses built over the water, on supports driven into coral reef.
She chose this subject for her first film because she is a keen scuba diver, and appreciates the beauty and purity of the ocean.
‘I started with what I know. That’s what got me going’, she laughed.
It is a film of ravishing images of wide skies, sunsets, the sparkling ocean, and the world beneath. The cinematography is beautiful and many of the actors are the Bajo people themselves.
There were moments when I felt I had to freeze the frames and look longer at some of the beautiful imagery that Dini and the director of photography have captured, and I was wishing that I was seeing the film on the big screen.
It’s as if we, the audience are just dropping in to stay a while with these unique people and live their amazing way of life with them, as is the character Mr Tudo, a researcher from the city. It all progresses in a quiet way, day to day, in harmony with the cycles of life and the weather. The editing expresses the pace of lives which are determined by Mother Nature, rather than by human forces.
The film tells the story of a young girl, Pakis, whose father has gone missing at sea. She longs for him to return, and finally comes to terms with the fact that he isn’t coming back. Not much is going on compared to a Hollywood blockbuster, but if you go with it you can learn a lot.
The purity of the Wakatobi environment contrasts powerfully with the lives of Indonesian city dwellers and they would be fortunate to see the film and think about environmental issues, which have reached crisis point in their country. Many Indonesian city dwellers never get a chance to travel, even within their own country, so this film could be inspiring for them to see this unique part of their amazing archipelago.
Dini grew up in a film environment, and she later studied Sociology and Media Arts at Deacon University in Melbourne, Australia.
‘I’ve been in the film industry since I was in high-school, doing workshops and making short films. I am one of the youngest Indonesians to make a feature film. It was not easy. I am lucky and also a bit crazy, trying to do this in a country which has a “film climate” like Indonesia. Usually a film-maker starts doing the clapper board job and works their way up. Many young people my age are still in the learning process. I have my father’s name behind me, so I had the chance to make this film early and I want to make more films to prove myself as a director,’ said Dini. ‘Every country in Asia has its problems for film-makers. We have to find a way.’
To her, the Bajo people symbolize the fact that Indonesia is a nation of islands, and they, who understand the ocean intimately, remind Indonesians to look at the sea, not as a separator but as the linking and binding factor of the nation. She says that the mirror (in the film) is a symbol of hope, self reflection, and seeking.
Postscript June 2015
Dini is now married to Ifa Isfansyah, who is also a film-maker and they have a one year old daughter. He directed, “Garuda di Dadaku”(The Garuda on my Chest”), “Sang Penari” (The Dancer), and “The Golden Cane Warrior”. Dini has this year made a one hour short film called “Sendiri Diana Sendiri”. The film is a quiet protest against polygamy which still occurs in some Muslim marriages in Indonesia, although it is official ly frowned upon.
The DVD of “The Mirror Never Lies” will be on sale later this year.