From left, presenter Nathalie Indry, film director Wregas Bhanuteja, author Eka Kurniawan, Gramedia Pustaka Utama literary editor Mirna Yulistianti and Gramedia Digital Nusantara chief operating officer Adi Ekatama pose for a photo during the Indonesia International Book Fair at the Jakarta Convention Center in Senayan on Saturday (15/09). (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

Wregas Bhanuteja to Adapt Eka Kurniawan's Short Story Into Film


SEPTEMBER 19, 2018

Jakarta. Acclaimed filmmaker Wregas Bhanuteja, whose short, "Prenjak," won the Leica Cine Discovery Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, is set to make a short film based on Eka Kurniawan's story "Tak Ada Yang Gila di Kota Ini," ("No One Is Crazy in This Town") on the mistreatment of mentally ill people.

The story is part of Eka's book, "Cinta Tak Ada Mati," consisting of 13 short stories, published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in 2005. The book was reprinted this year.

In a talk held during the Indonesia International Book Fair at the Jakarta Convention Center on Saturday (15/09), Wregas said he was offered this project by Gramedia Digital Nusantara chief operating officer Adi Ekatama.

Adi, who was present at the talk, said he came up with a filmmaking project early this year for the people working for Jurnal Ruang, Gramedia's online platform that discusses books and films.

"I told them that since it would be our first film, it was best not to aim high and make a feature film. Try a short first. Since we deal with books and literacy every day, it's best to do an adaptation," said Adi, who is the producer of this project.

Adi has been following Eka's works and he decided to show some of the short stories to Wregas, who is his friend.

Wregas initially wanted to film an adaptation of Eka's 2014 novel, "Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas," which Annie Tucker translated into English last year as "Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash." However, someone else was already working on it.

"Tak Ada Yang Gila di Kota Ini" became Wregas's choice because of the intense anger he felt while reading the story. It tells the story of a group of people in authority, though it is not clear whether they are from the police or another government body, assigned to exile mentally ill people from the city during the holiday season every year because tourists may feel uncomfortable in their presence.

"There's an authority oppressing the powerless, who are the insane people," Wregas said.

He added that he saw so much potential for the story to be turned into a feature film. However, echoing Adi's statement about Jurnal Ruang's debut project, plus budget constraints, they opted for a short film. That choice has its perks.

"Eka considers short stories as a medium in which to experiment. The same goes for short films. They have more room for experimentation with styles, characters and dialogues than feature films," Wregas said.

Eka said he was happy to hear that Wregas wanted to make a film of his story. Like Wregas, it was anger that fueled his desire to write it.

"The story was actually written based on my experience. I saw once in a city that insane people were being hauled into a pickup truck, and read some news of it happening in other cities. Those people were usually captured in traditional markets or at bus stations and then dropped off in the woods, or in another city, and so on. It's like hiding trash under the carpet. Like Wregas, I felt angry about those actions," Eka said.

Different Medium, Different Treatment

Wregas, who is co-writing the final draft of the script with his friend and collaborator Henricus Pria, admitted that he did not consult Eka until writing the fourth draft.

"What I held on to was the feeling that came when the powerless couldn't obtain freedom while the people superior to them kept oppressing them. I just discussed the script with Adi, then talked to Eka after the fourth draft," Wregas said.

Eka said he is not worried about how the movie will turn out, because he believes his work and the film must be judged differently.

"When a literary work is about to be adapted to film, it's important to have trust in the filmmakers. I think there's a chance that this will turn out better that what I imagine," Eka said.

One of the differences is making the authorities work for a hotel company.

There are also parts of the story that will be toned down. There is a scene in the story where mentally ill people are recruited to participate in a sexually charged performance. Wregas said once he found the purpose of that scene, he decided to visualize it in a different way, while still evoking the same feeling.

Wregas is known not to hold back with nudity. His award-winning film "Prenjak" features a woman selling matches to a man who gets to light the match under her skirt to look at her genitalia.

However, for this film, Wregas found it more interesting to make the nudity less explicit and more symbolic.

"The vulgarity still can be seen through the atmosphere of the film, but not the visuals," he said.

Eka, having not set any expectations for the film, said he is looking forward to see the surprises the director will bring with his own interpretation of the story.

"I wrote what I saw, but there were additions to that. When I wrote this, I just recalled the memory of seeing insane people getting into a pickup truck. When Wregas wrote the script, I think he was doing the same thing – capturing the essence [of my story] and adding something from his imagination," Eka said.

As for the cast, Wregas still would not dish the details. He said most are stage actors from his hometown, Yogyakarta. Filming is set to take place in the city in mid-October this year.

Since short films are not screened in commercial cinemas, the film will enter micro-cinemas and festivals, but Wregas and Adi have yet to select specific festivals.

"When Eka wrote the story, he didn't think it would be adapted for the screen. The same goes with making this movie. It would be too much pressure if we were thinking about festivals now. We're just focusing on realizing this film first," Wregas said.