Jakarta. With diversity still under siege in Indonesia and Islam being used by some as a political tool, the people behind "Mencari Hilal" ("The Crescent Moon") say their film is now more relevant than ever.
This film, which stars Deddy Sutomo, Oka Antara, Torro Margens and Erythrina Baskoro, follows Mahmud (Deddy), a conservative Muslim father and his young liberal son Heli (Oka), as they embark on a journey in search of the hilal, the new crescent moon that determines the beginning of Islamic months.
The story begins when Mahmud hears the Ministry of Religious Affairs spends Rp 9 billion ($650,000) on its isbat meeting, where it is decided whether or not the fasting month of Ramadan has already ended. Mahmud then recalls a humble tradition of just looking for the crescent moon at an Islamic boarding school that he went to when he was young. Even though he is now terribly ill, Mahmud is determined to see the crescent moon one last time.
"The Crescent Moon" is the first narrative film of Yogyakarta-based director Ismail Basbeth, who has been making films for ten years, but mainly short and experimental ones.
During a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday, Ismail admitted that he was hesitant to get involved in this production. However, after reading the first draft of the script, he said his ethnic Arab and Muslim background led to a natural attraction to the story.
"The message in 'The Crescent Moon' is bigger than the film itself," he said. "I am a young man and a Muslim, and I think there is an increasing urgency to talk about Islam as a peaceful and loving religion."
Ismail, who ended up sharing the scriptwriting credits with Salman Aristo and Bagus Bramanti, said the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office in France earlier this year also served as an inspiration.
At the same time, Ismail also did not want to make just another religious drama that merely aims to "glorify Islam."
"There were long and endless debates and it took a while until we settled on the final script, but I am lucky my producers allowed me to make the film that I wanted to make," he said.
"The Crescent Moon" is produced by five production houses; Multivision Plus, Studio Denny JA, Dapur Film, Argi Film and Mizan Production.
It received seven nominations at the Indonesia Film Festival (FFI 2015), for best film, best director, best leading actor, best original screenplay and best art direction and sound.
The film was released nationwide in July and is still being screened at international film festivals.