Yogyakarta. Filmmaker Harry Dagoe Suharyadi found inspiration for his latest drama "Sunya," screened at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival in Yogyakarta on Wednesday (30/11), after reading a short story by Eka Kurniawan.
The short story, "Jimat Sero" ("Talisman"), was published in the horror short story anthology "Kumpulan Budak Setan" ("Satan's Slave Collective") in 2010. It follows a boy bullied in elementary school before receiving a talisman from a friend that protects him from physical attacks. The two grow up together as good friends until the protagonist realizes the price he must pay for using the talisman.
Harry read "Jimat Sero" during downtime at a friend's house and immediately called the author upon finishing the story.
"[After reading the story] I felt an inexplicable rush of emotion, a rush to turn it into audio and visual," he said.
Starring Erlandho Saputra and Eko Supriyanto, "Sunya" is not just a faithful adaptation of "Jimat Sero," but an exploration of cultural values. As the filmmaker was born to and raised by Javanese parents, "Sunya" reveals Harry's deep exploration of Javanese culture which he presents as a challenge to typical western aesthetics in filmmaking. The film carries strong elements of nature, spiritualism and black magic.
"There is something about Javanese culture that affects the rhythm of editing. There's hardly any eye contact between characters, but there's an intensity in their souls that I can capture," he said.
Scripted by Eka and Harry, "Sunya" took nearly five years to write as both wanted the script to subvert the predictable, three-part formula for cinema. Harry said the two of them were meticulous about the unusual structure of the drama because they wanted to break free from their own perception of cinematography and video editing. Harry, 46, has been making films since 1996. Eka, 41, previously worked as a video editor for television.
"There was a point where we almost gave up and then we decided to write the script separately. It took us a year to come up with something, and then it took another two, three years to complete the final script. It was an experimental collaboration full of internal conflicts," he said.
Even though the creative process was exhausting and took a lot of time, Harry said he was glad he got to keep his creative juices flowing. He had not felt this way since releasing his feature debut, "Pachinko and Everyone's Happy," in 2000. "Sunya" is Harry's first feature work in four years, after he released "Jenderal Kancil the Movie" in 2012.
"My last five films each belonged to a popular genre, they were all very conventional and there was a part of my soul that felt tired doing them," he said.
Harry said he does not mean to brand his past projects as inferior. He actually does not mind making formulaic movies, as long as he gets to do them the way he wants. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
"There was very little technical support that I could get [when making formulaic movies]. It was frustrating. I didn't even get to ask for more time because the only way for producers to get their money back is to keep production time short," he said.
"Sunya" is currently in the running for the Golden and Silver Hanoman Awards at JAFF, competing against nine other films including "Hush" by Djenar Maesa Ayu and Kan Lume and "Solo, Solitude" by Yosep Anggi Noen.
After JAFF, "Sunya" is set to screen at 17 international film festivals worldwide.