When you think about film screenings your mind might wander to Cannes and Sundance. In Indonesia, film screenings are no longer reserved to the limited audience of celebrities and film critics. Last Saturday, one of the hippest pubs in Jakarta, Potato Head, invited the public in a celebration of the accolades of the Indonesian film industry. The event, dubbed as the Director’s Night, showcased five short films by four prominent Indonesian directors proceeded by a musical and visual performance by local eccentric musician Zeke Khaseli.
The first film to be screened was “Scent of Passion,” written and directed by Nia Dinata. The film is a brief story about the turbulences in marriage after an old flame comes up in the happy picture. “Scent of Passion” is an interactive Web series project by Nia Dinata, the first of its kind in Indonesia, where viewers get a chance to decide the fate of the characters in the story. Nia provides two alternate endings for online viewers to vote from and executes both. The alternative ending shown at Potato Head was the ending Nia chose to screen at film festivals. The other version can be viewed on her site.
One of the most prominent Indonesian women directors, Nia Dinata has raised social issues in her movies: 2001′s “Ca Bau Kan” (The Courtesan) which merited an award for Best Promising New Director in the 2002 Asia Pacific Festival in Seoul narrates the story of the Chinese-Indonesian community; the question of homosexuality was raised in “Arisan” (The Gathering); polygamy of different social classes in Indonesia in the film “Berbagi Suami” (Love to Share) which is a relatively taboo subject in a country such as Indonesia, where the threat of religious intolerance is on the wake.
“Roller Coaster” by director Edwin was next to be screened. The story recounts two teenagers, boy and girl, who are high in pursuit for thrills and decided they can get relieve that thrill by seeing each other naked. A scene in the film created quite a stir from the audience, who were mostly Indonesian, as they started giggling laughing as the characters started undressing themselves. This reaction shows how displays of nudity and sexuality are met with laughter and blushes from society. “Hullahoop Sounding,” also directed by Edwin, met the same reactions as the story focuses on Lana, a phone sex operator who hullahoops to get the moaning that excites her clients.
The atmosphere changed as Indonesia’s weirdo rocker Zeke Khaseli went to bring musical performance. Living up to his name as Jakarta’s Weird Kid of alternative rock, people were bewildered and entertained as Zeke’s crew dressed in various animal masks and costumes began lurking in every corner, moving to the beat of Zeke’s tunes of his latest album, “Fell in Love With the Wrong Planet.” Adding an out of this world element to the event, Zeke and his band were masked themselves as they performed.
“It was actually a decision made by one of the film directors, Edwin, who showed “Roller Coaster” and “Hulahoop Sounding.” Edwin is a very talented film director, a lot of his films are quite controversial and deep,” aid Emmelyn Gunawan, head of public relation of Potato Head. “He specifically wanted Zeke to play and I thought it was a quite an interesting performance, very engaging and fun to watch,” added her.
Then the event proceeded with Joko Anwar’s “The Waiting Room” which raised the issue of abortion. The 10-minute story tells the indecision of a young woman waiting in an abortion clinic while the man sitting next to her convinces her to proceed. Anwar, who recently released his latest movie “Modus Anomali,” is known for his choice of not sticking to a specific genre. His shifts from comedy, to noir, to the recent psychological thriller keep fans and movie goers questioning his next move.
“Dara,” a 26-minute thriller, was chosen to close the Director’s Night. This short film was a prelude to the hit slasher film “Rumah Dara” (Macabre), a story about cannibalism, remembered to be the goriest slasher films to date in Indonesia. Directed by the Mo Brothers, the movie stirred mix reviews — some praise it for introducing a new genre of film in the local film industry while others call it an immoral story with no plot. However you see it, the film has received international attention among other awards: actress Shareefa Daanish received a Best Actress award in the Puchon International Fantastic Film Awards in 2009, through her portrayal of Dara, the main character. Another accomplishment for the Indonesian film industry, indeed.
“Our objective from the beginning was always to promote Indonesian films and to show to our Potato Head guests and the extended public that the local films are as solid as the ones made internationally,” continued Emmelyn. “I think by having more events that supports other realms in arts and design we would be building a lifestyle brand that is Potato Head and grabbing a range of audiences from different industries.”
“This is the very first time a movie is screened in a restaurant. For the rest of my life as a director it’s always been in a screening room or auditorium. This is my first experience screening in this kind of setting,” said Nia Dinata.
A few Indonesian directors have paved a way for Indonesian films to go international. The development of technology and social media give Indonesians the opportunity to create and introduce Indonesia to the world. Since film screenings are now open to public, people should take the opportunity to learn and see a different aspect of directors, outside their feature films.
“It’s nice. In general it’s hard enough for general public to see short films. Not many people have the chance to attend film festivals or visit cultural centers. It’s a nice way to have these short movies exposed to different kind of public. The viewers might have not been exposed to directors outside their feature films. This way they get to see another side of the film directors work,” added Nia.
“I’d like to see more of these kind of programs,” said attendee Bima Yudhistiranto, 22. “I thought it was confusingly funny, informative and a good introduction to Indonesia’s indie agenda.”
“Seeing movies with other movie enthusiasts is very exciting because they appreciate not only the outcome of a movie but also the process. They appreciate the work. Therefore they’re more expressive; laughing, screaming, clapping together. It’s how films should be enjoyed, with the right kind of people, and that’s the best part of going to film screenings” said Nadia Edward, 21.