Pitching forum for Southeast Asian documentary filmmakers, Docs by the Sea, took place in Kuta, Bali, on Aug. 2-9. (Photo courtesy of Docs by the Sea)

More Southeast Asian Voices Emerge in Second Docs by the Sea

AUGUST 12, 2018

Kuta, Bali/Jakarta. Workshop and pitching forum for South East Asia-based documentary filmmakers, Docs by the Sea, returned to Bali last week. The forum is organized by In-Docs and Bekraf and is the only one of its kind in the region. Its biggest achievement so far is in allowing more stories from Southeast Asia to be told to a world audience.

This year, filmmakers from 11 countries workshopped and pitched 31 documentary projects in Kuta, Bali, on Aug. 2-9. There were mentors to coach the filmmakers in storytelling, editing and pitching.

There were 15 projects from Indonesia in the forum. In the last three days, every participant was given an opportunity to pitch their project to 38 industry stakeholders from 14 countries.

At the closing ceremony on Friday (10/08), Docs by the Sea gave a total of 27 recognitions – financing, co-production deals, screening, more pitching opportunities – to various projects.

Prizes come from In-Docs' partners for the event, including the Tribeca Film Institute, Al-Jazeera, International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA), Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), Docs Port Incheon, Tokyo Docs Prize, Current Time TV and Go-Jek's Go-Studio.

In-Docs program director Amelia Hapsari said this year's event is a big jump from their inaugural event last year. Prior to the August event, In-Docs and Bekraf also organized the If/Then [Short Story Development Lab] with New York's Tribeca Film Institute in May.

The initiative took place after a Tribeca representative came to the inaugural Docs by the Sea event last year and saw the huge potential of Southeast Asian filmmakers.

"I can say that after our inaugural event, the industry now has more trust in us. We have more prizes to announce this year, and more institutions showing commitment to help filmmakers in Southeast Asia," Amelia said.

The star project from Indonesia this year is "How Far I'll Go," a short documentary by Ucu Agustin about two blind teenage girls from Indonesia and the United States who both struggle to make a better life for themselves.

Ucu, who as a documentary filmmaker has dealt with issues of social injustice and gender inequality, received the If/Then Shorts prize, Tokyo Docs Prize and a Go-Studio Co-Production Fund prize at Docs by the Sea.

Both prizes from the Tribeca Film Institute and Go-Studio promise mentorship and funding until the film is completed. The Tokyo Docs prize is a ticket to attend a pitching forum at Tokyo Docs 2018.

Other interesting projects from Indonesia include the feature-length "Sculpting the Giant," "Don't Talk About Freedom" and "Help is on the Way?" Each of the films received two prizes, including a co-production support from Go-Studio.

Sculpting the Giant follows the final phases of a long-delayed mega-project, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue in Bali, only recently completed after 28 years. The prize from AIDC allows directors Rheza Arden Wiguna and Banu Wirandoko to attend a pitching forum at the Australian International Documentary Conference in 2019.

Don't Talk About Freedom puts the spotlight on the long forgotten 1973 rock album "Philosophy Gang" by Harry Roesli and his band. Harry is a self-proclaimed rebel who used his military family background to lead a resistance against President Suharto's oppressive military dictatorship. Director Gerry Apriyan received $3,000 in cash from Current Time TV, an independent news network from Russia.

Help is on the Way? tells the story of a busy au pair school in Sukabumi, West Java, where hundreds of women learn how to become housemaids before they are sent to work abroad. The school teaches them language skills and elderly care, as well as connecting them to employment agencies who can grant them a job.

Director Ismail Fahmi Lubish told the Jakarta Globe he also took part in Docs by the Sea last year but did not score a deal due to his poor presentation skills. As part of his prize, Ismail will have his film screened at the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) in 2019.

Filipino filmmakers also thrived in Docs by the Sea. One of the six projects that received recognition this year is "Touch the Color" by Baby Ruth Villarama, which follows two sisters who both serve life sentences for keeping a missing boy. After 18 years in prison, they finally get a chance for parole, but only when the mother of the boy agrees to forgive them. Villarama received a cash prize from In-Docs and mentorship and distribution support from Tribeca Film Institute. She is now also eligible to take part in a pitching forum at Docs Port Incheon in South Korea later this year.

Amelia said Docs by the Sea provides a safe space for documentary films in all stages of development, especially when the nature of the story requires the filmmaker to be discreet until the project is finished.

Winners "Miss Universe in Jail" and "Press Play: How to Expose the Truth" from the Philippines are examples of this case. "Miss Universe," directed by Max Canlas, looks upon the treatment of gay inmates in a prison near Manila. "Press Play" by Jayson Bernard Santos exposes how family members of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos are slowly regaining power in the Philippines.

Amelia said she is hoping that twice as many films from Docs by the Sea this year will get to be produced and receive more financial or distribution support.

The forum's big scores this year were the new partnerships with Go-Studio, Ideosource Entertainment and Aurora venture capital.

Last year, Indonesia's Shalahuddin Siregar won funding worth $10,000 from the Danish Embassy for his "Pesantren" ("Boarding School"), a documentary about life inside an Islamic boarding school in Cirebon, West Java. In November last year, Pesantren also received a distribution deal from International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA), one of the world's biggest documentary film festivals.

At Docs by the Sea this year, the film – still in production – received a co-production deal from Go-Studio.

Meanwhile, another Filipino project, "Audio Perpetua," also received a co-production deal from Finland and more than $60,000 in financing from Kone Foundation.

"It's important to understand that the benefits from a pitching forum are not always directly visible. It may take weeks or months before support for a project is announced," Amelia said.