You see, how I came about started from there. It is such an idyllic love story about how my father (he is Singaporean) flew all the way from Singapore to Indonesia to propose to my mother (she is Indonesian) on her birthday. The rest is history.
Indonesia is a country that usually only appears in the news for how picturesque Bali is, or after disaster strikes. Even though the nearest Indonesian island, Batam is only a 30-minute ferry ride away. This country is so close to me, and in my blood: there is nothing as familiar that resonates with me as this country that my mother fondly talks about. Even when I look at the many pictures of my younger self posing, with a toothy grin and the Indonesian landscapes behind me, Indonesia is still a country that is foreign to me.
That was until I decided to pack a bag and travel around Indonesia when I was 19 years old, solo. My first stop was Jakarta. The city known for its traffic jams. It was entertaining mixing with the city dwellers till I took a train ride to the other parts of the country. That’s was when I realized that every city I went to, the people I met were varied. The way they speak, their tradition and culture and even their clothes are infinitely different. No one is the same.
In the anime, One Piece, King Nefertari Cobra mentioned “Never forget. A country is its people.” People. At its core, a country is only identifiable through its people. If a country is without its people, it would just be a barren land. Indonesia is a country that you can never be bored of, a country so full of cultures and traditions.
This year in the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition Programmes, there are three very different short films from Indonesia. Wregas Bhanuteja’s In The Year of the Monkey tell a story of man and woman having a sexual encounter without any sex. This film reminds me of a module I took on sex tourism, where my lecturer was telling us about the different types of prostitution houses in South East Asia. There is this house where as you enter, it is pitch black and you have to buy a matchstick for a dollar each so that you can see the naked woman behind the black cloth. True enough, Bhanuteja was partly inspired by that.
Bayu Prihantoro Filemon‘s On the Origin of Fear tells a story of the 1965 coup where the voice artist plays the role of both the generals and aggressors. It is a historical event that shaped the way Indonesians would think and behave. This film was carefully crafted in a way that there was no intention of whose side the film is for but rather depicting the facts through the use of sound. Loeloe Hendra’s Lost Wonders reminds me of my Indonesian helper, where she had to leave her family to come and work for us. The film tells a story of a grandmother and her grandson searching for his father through the use of black magic. To me, how my helper’s children, like the boy in the film, grew up with the absence of a parent, is something many children, like myself, can relate to.
As I was watching these films, it reminded me of the time I was backpacking. Although I have no clue about the mythical or political elements in the films, each character in those three films, is someone I can identify with. We have to admit that as human beings, we are complex. That’s why stories can be extremely compelling. These three short films are inspired by events that happened in the past, present and even through the filmmakers’ own experiences. No matter where you are, I always believe that film is always about its people and for the people.
So thank you Indonesian filmmakers, for reminding me that.