A Conversation with Edwin
Interview by: Alexis A. Tioseco
AT: The main thing that the film deals with is Chinese Indonesians. Is that something in her life and your life Ė you are Chinese Indonesian? [E: yes] Ė that has been a very big issue?
E: We have something in common and that is racial issues. We are both living in a very marginal society. We both feel the same [way]; that we are treated as outsiders in our own country, in our own society. So thatís the pointówe need to make this film happen because Indonesia needs a portrait of this situation before they forget the pain. Because we are all feeling the pain [from] our childhood, for no reason, and we are trying to fight it, and ask why this happened to us, and hope that it does not happen again in the future.
AT: One of the important events in terms of this racial tensionóand this is to be featured in your filmóis the 1998 racial riots. But many people might say that since then itís calmed down, and it doesnít seem to be as big an issue. Do you agree?
E: No. Itís like in A Very Slow Breakfast we are pretending that there is nothing happening, but I believe if somebody started it again, it could happen again someday.
AT: If somebody started the acts of violenceÖ
E: Yeah. We are Chinese, and we donít have any guts to defend ourselves because we are a minority, and the government creates the [impression] that we only move in economic areas.
AT: The government creates the impression that the Chinese are just here to make money.
E: Yeah, and so if the Indonesian economy is going down it should be the fault of the Chinese. We are not allowed to have [representation] in politics, or in the militaryówe donít have any generals in the military. So we cannot speak for ourselves because we donít have any representation in politics.
AT: In your individual and personal lives, you and Ladya, have you felt a lot of discrimination or tension?
E: Just a few days ago, she was telling me stories about when she was in High School, and the riots happened. She and her friend, who is Chinese Indonesian, were afraid to go home, because after school finished they had to catch the bus [to go home], but there was no bus at all, and Jakarta is like hell. I imagine it was quite a horrific situation for them. High school teenagers, [from a] very Chinese-looking community, and they are alone in this bus station during this period of tension; itís quite a horror.
And for me, when I was a child, people were throwing stones at me because Iím Chinese. Actually I didnít look like I was Chinese, because Iím quite dark skinned, because I was playing around outside all the time. But I always go home with my sister, who [looks] so Chinese, so people always harass her. I cannot try to fight this situation, thinking about my sister. So we [would] just run, and we would try to find a way where we wonít see any people, because we always felt unsafe when there were people around us. I donít know, [I remember] that kind of feelingÖ
And my father is a doctor. To become a Chinese Medical Doctor was quite difficult in those days. I could see that he was often hiding his cultural identity. If his friends are coming [over to our home] he doesnít want to introduce my sister, because she looks so Chinese.
AT: Is it just the two of you [siblings]?
E: Yes, just the two of us.
I feel so angry. But I cannot blame my father because itís difficult for him to maintain the family with this situation surrounding us.
AT: So your father is Chinese, and your mother isÖ
AT: Chinese. Theyíre both Chinese?
E: Theyíre both Chinese, but my father is like me with dark skin, my mother looks Chinese. So they pretend like my father is not Chinese, but my mother is. Until three years ago, Iím still afraid to tell this reality to people, even to my friends.
AT: The reality of your parents, of your family?
AT: But they know youíre part Chinese?
E: They know, now. But no, they didnít know before I told them.
AT: They assumed you were Indonesian?
E: Yes, because Iím quite dark. I was afraid to tell the background of my family because Iím still thinking that it could affect my father. But I donít care anymore. My father seems okay lah, right now. I mean his responsibility is now less because my sister is finished her Uni and is now working, and the friends of my father are now old people, so maybe weíre not in the same situation as we were in the 80s.
AT: You mentioned to me that you told your father about the film?
AT: Did he read the treatment?
AT: What did you tell him?
E: I just told him the title Ė Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly.
AT: And he respondedÖ
E: He responded as if I am making a film about him.
AT: Why did he get that from the title?
E: Because heís quite blind now. He had a failure in an eye operation, and he can only see in one eye. But that one eye has a cataract, so itís very blurry. He doesnít recognize me from three meters [away].
AT: Is he also a dentist [like a character who goes blind in Blind Pig]?
E: No heís a doctor. Pathologist. He works in a lab.
AT: Are there biographical aspects to A Very Boring Conversation as well?
E: A Very Boring Conversationóno! [laughs]
AT: The film, is it meant to be mother and son?
E: Mother and son relationship that could change to man and woman relationship. But itís not about my mother [laughs].
AT: Because I was thinkingóDajang Soembi, A Very Boring Conversation. Mother and son.
E: I adore older women; I adore the complexity of this creature. The older the woman, the more complex their character. If I have to choose my lead actors, I choose that it should be women. Thatís because they are a creature that has the ability to adapt to [any situation]óthey are strong, they can have all the problems, but handle it as if there is no problem. And they can make other people believe that they are okay.
AT: I agree. I had kind of skipped this one, earlier, but in A Very Boring Conversation, what is it that you wanted to express?
E: In A Very Boring Conversation I just wanted to practice my dialogue skills. It has no serious theme but I wanted to make it more low profile than my other films. I want people to connect [with it]. As you can see with A Very Slow Breakfast people are like ďWhat is this?Ē and with Kara, Dajang Soembi, but with A Very Boring Conversation want people to understand the film, so I want to make [clear] the communication between the film and the audience. That was my point [in making the film], itís my practicingÖ
AT: Because in your feature you will have to have dialogue?
E: Actually thereís limited dialogue too, but I still have to practice [lessening my] distance with my audience. For me, Indonesian audiences, they like my films. Because of the images, the shocking materials, but I donít believe they know what Iím saying. So [with this film] Iím trying to get this closer to them.
AT: So with this film do you think they understand what you want to say?
E: I think itís better than previous films. People could connect [to the] situation, even though the blinking light is quite surreal, but maybe they can accept it because itís me, and they know what my previous films are like. But the dialogue is quite easy [to understand].
AT: This idea of it being mother/son that could turn into a man/woman relationship. Why? Where did that come from?
E: [Pause] Itís not a mother/son relationship; the character is not the son of the woman. He is a friend of the daughter. Sometimes it happens, I mean when you adore someone who is distantly relatedóyou can see me with my Auntie, at the start I adore her as a parent-like figure, but in the end you are beautiful, you are a women for me. And it happens in our society, our status [or the nature of some of our relationships] is changing, sometimes a person could be like your father, sometimes he could be your friend, your brother. I like the idea of this unstable status. Iím not committed, or agreeing with something that is established by societyóthat you are the father, and for the rest of your life you are only a father [in your relationship with your son]. The difficulty, the challenge in this short film medium is to show this change in [a relationship] in only ten minutes. I wanted to challenge my crew, how can we show this change in the status [in only ten minutes]Ö
AT: We talked yesterday and I asked you about your shorts film, and about putting them on a DVD to be sold, and you said that you didnít want to. Can you explain again why you donít want to?
E: Because on all these films I have a commitment with the crew that this is not based on money, so if you are interested, you come and we make the film. So if we sell the DVDóeven if itís just a small amount of moneyóits like betraying our spirit, because at the start it is a different thing if you make a film for money, then you have to think [about] everything from the start, think like this is for money. You have to prepare all of these materials to be money-oriented. If in the beginning we agreed that this is for ourselves, for improving our skills, not for money, then we have to keep that [commitment] till the end, even if people are offering you distribution option. I respect people that make films for money, but for these films we did not make them for money.
AT: Were you offered distribution?
AT: For which films?
AT: Who is it from?
E: Singapore. Objectifs Films. But they want the license to all of the locations. But I cannot say that that I can guarantee that that is okay, because I shot in McDonalds with no permission, so I told them this may not be good for your company. Iím not refusing them for their money, the chance for distribution is good for us, but we have problems, the first one is the commitment to not make money for Kara, and the other one is [that itís] too risky for Objectifs Films to have this film, because we made it with no permits.
AT: So for these films, you will just burn it yourself and pass it to people?
AT: The crew, were they paid on the shoot?
E: They all gave money for the film. Not a big amount of money, but Sidi gave film stocks; the best that they can give, I think they give. The Art Director he built the set with his own money. Of course I gave money to him, but I think it isnít enough. Like A Very Slow Breakfast I gave [him] only one million rupiah [$100 US] but I think the set cost him two and a half million rupiah [$250 USD] so the rest he spent his own money. He always says that he didnít spend any of his own money, but he did.
AT: With Blind Pig, do you imagine a wide release in Indonesia?
E: Iím not imagining a lot of theaters around Indonesia. It will still have an independent distribution system. But I donít mind ifóI just need this film to be done, to be made. I donít care if people see this film or not.
AT: Itís for youÖ
E: But I care enough that this film has to exist. Yeah, hopefully there is some little promotion that makes people notice this film. And if there is some difficulty in distribution, then maybe they can access the DVD, or the archive. Not for now, but maybe in the future.
AT: So people can watch it sometime, when it reaches them, but for now you just need to make it.
AT: For yourself.
E: For Indonesia. And if Indonesia isnít ready for it now, maybe someday. This film will be a very important film for Indonesian history, I think, because thereís no explicit explanation about this situation in Indonesia. Even Tegu Karya who is Chinese Indonesian, he always portrayed the problem of Chinese Indonesians in a different way. The main problem of Chinese Indonesians are always featured in every film, but not explicitly. Not in Chinese characters, but in minority characters. But not Chinese.
AT: So the big question, two questions. Why cinema, and why do you make films?
E: Thatís a tough question. Iím always thinking that Iím not choosing this. Cinema, films, is like another big creature. It exists and it picks somebody to make the film. Iím not thinking that I pick cinema, but that cinema picked me. Maybe cinema wants me to tell something. Itís not my decision to make film. [pause]
Something pushed me unconsciously to make films.
AT: And then the reason that you make themÖ
E: Just the beliefÖsomething abstract, I cannot explain. I mean, for these short films, I cannot make money at all. Iím not famous. But they exist. Itís kind of strangeÖ
Iím very contemporary, so when I view Indonesia, itís like a mix of a lot of problems. Everything is so abstract, so surreal, so beautiful, and you hate it and you love it at the very same moment.
I donít travel to see Indonesian traditional dancers; Iím not interested actually. One traditional thing that I like, in Sembawa, they have people jumping to pass through the high stones. Itís quite mystical. I like Indonesia; there are lots of mystical things happening in Indonesia. Traditional, contemporary, everything involves mystics. It still happens. Music, traditional music Ė Iím not a specialist to talk about or to see these styles. Maybe Garin [is].
AT: I showed a friend of mine your films, and he was impressed with the technique, but he was asking: where is the ďIndonesianĒ voice? And I told him that I think part of the point of the films is [to talk] about contemporary Indonesia, so in films like ďKaraĒ for example, which says that no matter where you are, you canít avoid having this western sensibility, western influence reaches you, and thatís part of the film. Because he spoke of looking for a particular Indonesian or Asian voice in the aesthetic. Is the filmmaking a bit western? Maybe. But our generation has grown up with this.
E: My first film is a Hollywood film. My first comics is Superman. Our generation.
AT: You have people who are writing film criticism, pushing film culture, and one of the people in Indonesia is Paul Agusta, who is German-Irish-Indonesian, and in the Philippines, myself, and I am Italian-Chilean-Filipino. He spent time in the US; I spent time in Canada. Itís quite funny.
Youíve been in the Berlin Talent Campus in 2005, and also in 2005 the Asian Film Academy in the Pusan Film Festival. What were these two experiences like? How did they affect you, if they did, and how have they contributed to your filmmaking? Because you mentioned that Berlin wasnít very practical and that you learned more in the Asian Film Academy.
E: It just makes me confident to make films that I want to. Because all these Ė AFA, Berlin Talent Campus Ė the most important thing of everything that happened there is motivation. They talk about their motivations in making films, and they are motivating us to make our own films. They donít push any particular techniques; so they just make it free. It liberates me and Iím ready and open to all kinds of situations in Indonesia that can make my films happen. I donít stick to any one theory of technique. In Berlinale you see lots of teachers, mentors, with different backgrounds and you see the filmmaking process in different ways, so I made small notes that said filmmaking should be fun and should express your surrounding. So itís not as simple as learning from someone abroad, it must be more flexible.
AT: You had mentioned before about how you felt before going abroad, that you are an Indonesian filmmaker, and Indonesia is small.
E: Before I was thinking that Indonesian filmmaking had been left behind, so far away. That it was very uneducated, still experimenting, but when I attended festivals I saw that we were all the same in personality. Technically, yes Ė films from America, the UK, France Ėyou can see they are more advanced than us in Asia, but in the way that they treat the film medium and the way they express the problems they face, itís all the same. So it [traveling] improves your confidence to make films. You donít feel that you are left behind anymore, and thatís the important thing.
AT: Because what is important isnít necessarily the budget or the production valueÖ
E: Öbut the energy of the cinema that you have found together. If you can feel the energy in the film, thatís it. No techniques, no blah blah blah; just the energy. You can always see that energy, right?
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