Students at the Science FIlm Festival in Malinau, North Kalimantan. (JG Photo/Lisa Siregar)

Science Film Fest Brings Knowledge, Festivity to Indonesia's Remote Areas


DECEMBER 13, 2016

Jakarta. When elementary and high school students at Malinau, North Kalimantan, were invited to the first ever Science Film Festival held at the district's government facility and respective schools in November, most of them had never attended a communal movie viewing experience before.

More than 2,000 students turned up on the first day of the festival on Monday, Nov. 21. Loud cheers erupted during trailers prior to the film, and they enthusiastically reacted to any action in the picture — all of them are dubbed into Indonesian. A session at Science Film Festival Indonesia plays four to five short films about material science, from an experiment with drones to self healing tarmac, and is followed by a few scientific experiments.

Maria Rosalina, a 12-year-old studen from SDN 005 elementary school in Seluing, Malinau, said she was excited to see films with her classmates. It was not only her first experience of "going to the movies," but also the first time she saw a fun yet educative film about science and experiments.

"This is my first time seeing a film with a lot of people. I usually watch sinetron on television at home, or movies on my brother's laptop," she said.

Maria is not alone. Five-year old Rofan Given from TK Pratama pre school and 15-year old Ines Clarita from SMU Negeri 8 high school said the same.

"I loved the films, but it was so much fun doing those experiments. Our teachers had never done that to our class," Ines said.

Malinau is a district of more than 73,000 people without a cinema or theater facility. The area is mostly known as the partial home of Kayan Mentarang national park, the largest conservation area in Kalimantan and among the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia, which also expands to the district of Nunukan in East Kalimantan. Formerly known as a village and then a subdistrict, Malinau only became a district 17 years ago.

The Science Film Festival is an initiative by the Goethe Institut in Southeast Asia, Africa and Middle East to screen short and educative films and motivate students to learn about science and technology. This year, the annual event kicked off on Oct. 1 and will wrap up internationally on Dec. 18.

The festival in Indonesia took place on Nov. 9-25 in 26 cities, some of which are new destinations for the event including Malinau, Waikabubak in East Nusa Tenggara, Banyuwangi in East Java and Tasikmalaya in West Java.

Organizer Elizabeth Soegiharto said science and technology are so celebrated in Germany and many of science shows that were screened in the festival are easily accessible for children as part of their home entertainment.

The interest to showcase films in this festival is also huge. This year, the festival received 181 submissions from 46 countries.

"Based on my observation, they rarely watch cartoon, animation or shows like sinetron in their past time. Some of the films that we brought to Science Film Festival, such as the 'I Got It' series or 'The Show with the Mouse' [Die Sendung mit der Maus] are hugely popular for children in Germany," she said.

The Indonesian festival is organized by the Goethe Institut with a big team of volunteers from Paramadina university, who have been working with the Institut since 2010. Gilang Hendyanto, Paramadina student and festival volunteer, said that the festival takes nearly a year to prepare. He decided to volunteer because he likes the format of the event, which includes science shows and fun experiments to get children involved.

"I came from Sidoarjo [East Java] and like most remote spots in Indonesia, we see school as something conventional. We learn something by reading books and there is no other model of study, let alone experiments. Science Film Festival offers an alternative form of education not just for the students, but also the teachers, that science can be taught through films and simple experiments," he said.

When Gilang first joined the festival as a volunteer in 2013, he was impressed and immediately felt the need to bring the program to his home town. This often happens among volunteers. He then invited Zamroni, teacher and owner of an alternative night school in Sidarjo, to the festival in Surabaya in an effort to spread the fun concept of learning that the festival carries. The following year, the Science Film Festival expanded to Sidoarjo and saw 800 visitors during two days of event.

Gilang, who recently graduated from the internet and technology program, said the work was stressful and yet addictive because the final result of seeing happy students at the festival always pays off.  Furthermore, he gets to talk to teachers who are enlightened about learning methods after seeing their experiments.

Dwi Nurwahjudi, headmaster of SDN 009 elementary school in Malinau, said he was happy to see the experiments that Gilang performed with fellow volunteer Vito Ramdani at the school and invited the team to come back to his school next year.

"We didn't know that it was that easy to teach students about the concept of weights, the drowning and the floating objects and by using simple materials too," he said.

Science Film Festival is currently the biggest access-to-knowledge program by the Goethe Institut. Last year, the Science Film Festival saw over 750,000 visitors in 16 countries, including 60,000 in Indonesia. Even so, Elizabeth said the measure of success of the festival goes beyond the numbers because they see the festival as a long form of educational investment for their young spectators.

"I believe some of those children will remember they see good films in the festival and gain knowledge from the program," she said.

Science Film Festival Indonesia 2016 is a collaboration between the Goethe-Institut in Jakarta, Bosch, Siemens, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Jakarta, Schulen: Partner der Zukunft, Sahid Hotels, The Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia, Satya Wacana Christian University Salatiga and Paramadina University.

The Jakarta Globe is a media partner of the festival.