Jakarta. Unlike fiction, documentary films seek to inspire their audiences by presenting a fragment of truth from our history and social dynamics. Due to its nature, a documentary film may take years of research and filming before it is complete. The long and meticulous work is what makes the genre special and deserving its own supportive ecosystem beyond established movie theaters.
Filmmaker Amelia Hapsari, who directed documentary "Jadi Jagoan Ala Ahok" ("Fight Like Ahok") about politician Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama during his years as district head of Belitung Timur in Bangka Belitung province, in 2006, said it is difficult for a documentary filmmaker to obtain funding. Many countries have established governmental programs to support documentary film production. Also international film festivals, such as the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA) in the Netherlands, Tokyo Docs in Japan and DocSpot Incheon in South Korea, have their own schemes to fund documentary filmmakers. None of the options, however, is available in Southeast Asia.
Amelia is the person in charge behind the first ever pitching forum for documentary filmmakers in Indonesia — Docs by the Sea. The program was organized by the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) in partnership with In-Docs, an organization to promote and educate documentary filmmakers, where Amelia works as a program director.
"This [program] fills an empty spot in the field of documentary film making in Southeast Asia ... I think it has something to do with Indonesia's democracy, because documentary films can only exist in a democratic climate," she said.
"We have a chance to lead with documentary films in Southeast Asia. No one else is doing this, so the international interest [in this program] is huge. In other forums, they don't always hear content from Southeast Asia,"
On Aug. 29-30, Docs by the Sea invited 35 decision makers from all over the world to the Voux Hotels and Suites in Nusa Dua, Bali, where they sat together and listened to 30 documentary filmmakers, of whom 10 were from Indonesia.
In the span of two days, each project had a 15-minute presentation in front of, among others, Tribeca Film Institute executive director Amy Hobby, Sweden's SVT commissioning editor Axel Arno, Finland's Rough Cut Service executive producer Iikka Vehkalahti, Taiwan's public television's documentary platform director Jessie Shih, Japan's NHK Enterprises executive producer Ken-ichi Imamura, and Sundance Film Festival documentary programmer Hussain Currimbhoy.
Stories presented at Docs by the Sea were diverse — from the life of a polygamous village chief in Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, who has 12 wives and more than 200 grandchildren ("My Big Sumba Family"), to a story about two Buddhist and Muslim women working together to build a clinic at a Rohingya village in Paung Toke, Myanmar.
Ricky Pesik from Bekraf said that a sustainable financing scheme is the most important thing to support the development of the documentary films industry.
"If nurtured, documentaries may increase our economic value. Documentary content always gets great responses from the global community, especially millennials. Bekraf is working to establish an ecosystem for Indonesian documentary films. Our deputies for international marketing, research and education will follow up on this program to facilitate our filmmakers," he said.
Film producer Mandy Marahimin said In-Docs has been very helpful in promoting documentary works in Indonesia and a program like Docs by the Sea will further give them international exposure.
"If we don't have a platform like Docs by the Sea, it's like living in a shell. We need to be networking and getting feedback about our projects. This we can only get in a pitching session. That's the most valuable thing. We need to get to know the international audience and understand our potential market," Mandy said.
Ricky added that since the film sector is prioritized and has a huge potential, he hopes Docs by the Sea will put Indonesia on the international map of documentary film making.