Indonesia’s status as one of the most high-frequency Twitter nations will be newly cemented in popular culture on Thursday with the release of the movie “Republik Twitter” (“The Republic of Twitter”). It’s not a true story per se, but every aspect of the film is based on the Indonesian tweeting experience.
This is most evident in the dialogue, in which Twitter references are oh so casually dropped at every turn. For those not up on the tweet nothings of the Twitterati, here’s a primer: “kultwit” is short for “kuliah-twit,” or lecture on Twitter; #nomention means talking about someone without mentioning his or her username; and #kode refers to a tweet with a hint of covert romance.
The movie follows Sukmo (Abimana Aryasetya), an undergraduate from Yogyakarta who travels to Jakarta to meet Hanum (Laura Basuki), a journalist. Sukmo is a popular tweeter with a large following thanks to his way with 140 characters or less.
Sukmo and Hanum know each other from Twitter, and after exchanging tweets for some time, Hanum asks Sukmo to come meet her in Jakarta. Sukmo’s friend Andre (Ben Kasyafani) and Hanum’s colleague Rika (Jennifer Arnelita) both think it’s a silly idea, but the two tweeters are charmed by each other’s online wit and decide to proceed.
Their first real-life encounter, though, fails to live up to their high expectations. Sukmo is nervous to see that Hanum is a lot more beautiful than in her Twitter profile picture. He also sees her at the cafe with another man, Gery (Gery Iskak), who unbeknownst to Sukmo had only accidentally run into Hanum.
Just when Sukmo is about to go back to Yogyakarta, he gets a job offer from to manage a political campaign for a politician, Arif Cahyadi (Leroy Osman). Arif is not social media savvy, but his consultant, Kemal (Tio Pakusadewo), thinks a digital presence is necessary to increase their chances of winning because he believes that public opinion on Twitter reflects the voice of the nation.
To impress Hanum, Sukmo accepts the job. Teaming up with some friends they meet at an Internet warung, they work hard to turn Arif into a trending topic on Twitter. Whenever they succeed, they get a bonus.
Meanwhile, Hanum is reporting a story about the use of social media in political campaigns, which again leads her to cross paths with Sukmo, and the two start helping each other out. But Sukmo doesn’t anticipate that this might lead to an ugly turn of events on his end.
“Republik Twitter” is the big-screen debut for Yogyakarta-based director Kuntz Agus, who previously worked on documentary and short films and is heavily involved in Yogyakarta’s documentary community.
“We called the film ‘Republik Twitter’ because it’s all about Indonesian Twitter users,” Agus said. “And like Kemal says in the movie, the voice of Twitter is the voice of the nation.”
The film does a good job capturing the country’s mobile phone addiction. Nearly everyone who shows up on screen is constantly tapping away at a smartphone.
Sukmo calls his age-group “the looking down generation” because of the way he and his peers are always looking down, eyes glued to their devices.
In one seen, Sukmo’s friend Andre gets in a fight with his girlfriend, Nadya (Enzy Storia), because she never pays attention to him when he speaks, instead choosing to focus on Twitter.
The film may exaggerate people’s love for the site, and as Kuntz said, what happens on Twitter stays on Twitter. In other words, in his opinion, the medium might be popular, but it’s not influential enough to result in real social change.
“It changes how we interact, but too few people use it for it to be turned into a real movement,” he said. “In my hometown in Boyolali [East Java], probably nobody uses Twitter.”
Kuntz said his decision to make a social media campaign consultant and a journalist the main characters reflected his desire to present as many visible aspects of Twitter in Indonesia as possible.
“I think journalists are sexy because they tell everything on Twitter except stuff about their personal lives,” Kuntz said.
The director added that it was his feeling that most Indonesians used Twitter as a tool to promote themselves.
“People dropping names and the places they go when it is not actually necessary to do it — it’s all about image,” he said.
Kuntz starting working on the movie in July 2011 with producer Ajish Dibyo and screenwriter ES Ito. Although the film’s main thrust is a Twitter-themed love story, it also reveals the business side of the medium. That involves “buzzers” with large numbers of followers, digital agencies that manage social media campaigns and fake Twitter accounts created to reach marketing goals.
“We did have intense conversations with Twitter celebrities, buzzers and agencies who deal with the growing digital market in Indonesia,” Ajish said.
Agus said the film was not a judgment on people who make money from having thousands of followers.
“As [the movie says], fake accounts are just like billboards and banners in a public space: it doesn’t harm anybody,” he said.