When was the last time you saw a good Indonesian film? One that kept its viewers close? A film that was not only entertaining, but also evoked feelings and provided food for the mind?
Even though you might have in your head a list of Indonesian films you enjoyed, the number is probably small given how few local productions see the light of day each year.
But Festival Film Solo, a competition for short films held earlier this month in the Central Java city, tried to provide an alternative for film enthusiasts. The organizers settled on the short film genre because they strongly believed that shorts are one of the main motors of the Indonesian film industry.
Already in its third year, FFS has been a success. A Mecca for Indonesian short-film makers and their enthusiasts, the event attracted some 5,000 spectators who came to see 48 films during the event that ran from May 1 to 5.
An enthusiastic audience at the Indonesian Institute of Art (ISI) in Solo, where the main screenings took place, set this festival apart from the average visit to the XXI Cinema megaplex.
Films by two directors — Yusuf Radjamuda, 33, and Andra Fembriarto, 26 — were highlights of the festival, because of their focuses on family and religion, respectively.
Yusuf, better known as Papa Al, made a black and white film with no dialogue entitled “Halaman Belakang” (“The Backyard”). The 12-minute film won the Ladrang category, which is open to public contestants.
“Halaman Belakang” features a simple scene of a child playing alone in the backyard of his house while his mother is busy with housework.
Even without dialogue, the film conveys its idea of the interpersonal distance that can exist between family members. In one sequence, the father is present only for a moment, though the sound of smashing plates, signals a fight between the couple before we hear the sound of a motorcycle speeding away.
The mother seems to try to hold back her anger, but eventually takes out her frustrations on the laundry and a mattress airing in the sun. Mother and child are seem largely oblivious of each other. The mother acknowledges her little boy only once, and then only briefly, when she takes away a bottle of talcum powder he is spraying to the air.
The boy plays without a smile, let alone laughter. We see him peering through a window at soap bubbles and an aluminum can he had been using as a shooting target.
Although viewers can’t be sure of how the child is feeling, a sense of loneliness pervades the scene, as if he is waiting for something or someone.
And yet the short film is infused with hope, as beautifully depicted in the last scene, when the child is sitting on a window pane with a small toy piano in his hand. He looks to the right, as if expecting someone he misses to return.
“Halaman Belakang” is the portrayal of a family’s sad solitude without exploiting their sorrow and quarrels.
The judges considered it to be the best in the competition in making the most of the short-film medium.
“ ‘Halaman Belakang’ has achieved a technical and artistic proficiency in short-film storytelling that best conveys the idea behind a story, with outstanding results,” said Hikmat Darmawan, representing the other two judges, Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Ifa Isfansyah.
While “Halaman Belakang” breathed serenity into the theater, the films by Andra repeatedly dissolved the audience into laughter and applause.
In “Pohon Penghujan” (“Raining Tree”), Andra reveals a fantasy, a genre not many filmmakers have yet explored in Indonesia except in the form of action or horror stories.
That is why Andra felt that Indonesia needed a new interpretation of the fantasy genre, an interpretation relevant to contemporary Indonesian viewers that is also strongly related to their social identity.
The film follows an annoyingly cheerful little girl trying her best to get the attention of a solitary young man who is sitting under a tree in the rain. Her intention is mysterious, but her actions test the young man’s patience to the limit.
Andra’s second entry, “Sinema Purnama” (“Full Moon Cinema”), was praised by the judges and labeled as “important to watch.”
“We bestow special appreciation to the film ‘Sinema Purnama’ for its political engagement that is relevant and vital in today’s world,” judge Hikmat said, when announcing the winner for the Ladrang category.
The film presents issues that are sensitive, even taboo, in a brave and honest way as it seeks to make an important political statement. It seeks to boost the public’s political maturity and offers a fascinating parody about Indonesian independent film.
Andra’s film depicts a religious subject humorously, because to him religious issues in Indonesia border on ridiculous.
“[When watching] this film, I hope viewers will laugh and also feel that their common sense has been a little bit nudged, and come back realizing that life is something we should enjoy together,” Andra explained.
The satirical comedy puts into focus a man named Ahmad who is organizing an Islamic film festival as a means of jihad. The films he selects convey the hard-line version of Islam. No one comes to his event — except a young widow called Sari, who offers to help him organize the festival. But one day, Ahmad is urged by his friend to take part in a raid of a kafir (infidel) group.
Ahmad is faced with a big personal dilemma. In his eyes, a good Muslim must be like his religious teacher, whom he idolizes, a man with four wives and who zealously leads attacks on anyone he deems offensive to Islam. But he recently learned that Sari is a Christian — and an infidel according to the logic of hard-line supporters.
In the end Ahmad decides not to join the jihad. He sees the festival through to the end. Even Sari, though previously angry after being called an infidel, decides to attend. For a short time they even hold hands.
And while the true nature of their relationship is unclear the viewer can’t escape a feeling of mutual respect the pair have for each other.
This open ending in fact feels rather satisfying. Stories of interreligious romance tend to focus on the suffering of couples unable to be with each other or on the wrenching adjustment of converting to another religion.
This film seems to dispense with that predictable story line and instead focuses on individuals who can embrace their own faith strongly without putting their personal relationships in danger at the same time.
“Sinema Purnama” has done just that. As has the Film Festival Solo, by bringing these topics into the Indonesian public sphere.