Jakarta. The role of women and the representation of female experience are important but rarely discussed issues in discourses on Indonesian film industry.
This is despite the fact many of the big names in the local film scene are women: Mouly Surya, Nia Dinata, Nan Achnas, Kamila Andini, Shanty Harmayn, Mira Lesmana, Sheila Timothy, just to name the directors and producers.
According to a recent study by Evi Eliyanah, a PhD candidate in Gender, Media and Cultural Studies at the Australian National University, Indonesian women are taking a stronger stance and continue to make headway in the local film industry.
Under the Orde Baru (New Order) regime, Evi said only four female directors were regularly employed by the industry.
But between the end of Order Baru in 1998 and 2010, there were 25 women out of a total of 184 directors involved in making mainstream movies.
Dian Sastrowardoyo is one of the biggest film stars in Indonesia, male or female.
Best known for her role as Cinta in the classic teen romance "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?" ("What's Up With Love?", 2002), the actress, model, businesswoman and mother of two has now also ventured into film production.
The multitalented actress has announced a collaboration with BASE Entertainment in which she will co-produce three films in the next three years.
Speaking at a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday (27/11), the 36-year-old said this will be the first time she takes on the mantle of a creative producer in major film projects.
She also revealed that Shanty Harmayn, a big-name producer and founder of the Jakarta International Film Festival, will help ease her entry into film production.
"I have always wanted to work behind the scene [in a film]. The first time I met her [Shanty] ages ago, I knew she would be the perfect mentor [in film production] for me," Dian said.
The two met 17 years ago in the set of Dian’s first film, "Pasir Berbisik" ("Whispering Sands," 2001), where Shanty was the producer.
The pair worked together again in Teddy Soeriaatmadja's surrealist film Banyu Biru ("Waking Banyu") in 2006.
Dian first dipped her feet into film production by co-producing "Drupadi" – a short film adaptation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata – with Mira Lesmana and Wisnu Darmawan.
"I learned a few things in that project, but I still have to learn the ropes. There are still so many aspects of film production that I didn't even know exist," Dian said.
"I will have to make creative decisions, as well as master all the business aspects of producing a film, including distribution, promotion and financing," she said.
Dian is known as an artist with a brain. She has a degree in philosophy from the University of Indonesia and a master’s degree in economics.
The actress said her education has been a big help as she takes baby steps in film production.
"I can actually leverage the skills I already have in film production. I also want to pave ways for the generation after me in the industry," Dian said.
Shanty Harmayn, the chief executive of BASE, echoed Dian’s optimism, saying that the actress has all the talents she needs to become a great producer.
"Her acting background and her experience as an entrepreneur give her a lot of advantages. She knows the details and has a bird's eye view of the industry," Shanty said.
Dian is also successful businesswoman. Her businesses include a startup called Frame A Trip that connects you with a local photographer to help you take Instagrammable photos during your vacation, healthy catering company 3 Skinny Minnies, shoe company Chevalier and Vyladira, a line of premium mukena (praying attire for Muslim women).
Dian's first project with BASE will be the comedy heist feature "Guru-Guru Gokil" ("Mad Teachers"), to be written by last year’s Piala Citra Best Original Screenplay winner for "Night Bus," Rahabi Mandra.
The film will start shooting sometime in the middle of next year.
Staying True to Her Roots
Dian said although becoming a producer is one of her lifelong dreams, she won’t leave her acting career behind.
She said being a producer actually helps her learn more about acting.
"It’s impossible for me to quit acting. There's no reason why I can't do both [producing and acting]," Dian said.
The actress, who is being nominated for Best Actress in this year's Piala Citra for her role as a foodie and bird flu researcher in Aruna & Lidahnya, said the biggest challenge in film production is the fact that it takes a huge chunk of her time.
"It won't be an easy path, but uncomfortable is good. I learn and grow from difficult times," she said.
"I always tell myself that if I want something done, I have to do it myself," Dian said. "So when I start seeing more women are getting opportunities to work both on and off screen, I thought, why not become a film producer myself?"