Interview recorded November 26, 2006 at Brew & Co. Menteng, Jakarta during the Jakarta Slingshort Film Festival.
Refined yet playful in aesthetic, often with leaps in logic, Edwin has carved out a unique place - and represents a unique voice - among filmmakers in Southeast Asia. Hailed by many as one of the finest short filmmakers in the region (he has exhibited his work in Rotterdam, Oberhausen, and the Director's Fortnight at Cannes respectively), there is a force to his aesthetic, a punch to his imagery and use of sound, and a certain degree of modernism in his insistence on working with celluloid. I sat down with Edwin in November of 2006 to discuss each of his major short films, not receiving his film degree, his collaborators, and finally, Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, his eagerly anticipated first-feature film.
Alexis Tioseco: We'll go through your films. So we'll start with A Very Slow Breakfast. You made it in what year?
AT: And it's not a school project?
E: It's not a school project.
AT: You shot it on what format?
AT: When we spoke previously, you talked about it having to do with the family, specifically the Asian family now. What is it you want to say?
E: Actually it's about a dysfunctional family. And here in Indonesia I see a lot of couplesó husband and wifeó that are pretending. Something has happened in their life, and I think it's a problem, but they keep it a secret, as if it's okay. It affects the children, [who are forced to] just pretend that everything's okay, so the neighbors, the people, the parents of the couple won't know. Because divorce is not good in Indonesia, not allowed in Indonesian.
AT: . by law can you be divorced? Because there is no divorce in Philippine law.
E: Actually yes, but the culture and religion, especially in Muslim and Catholic (religion) it's kind of taboo. So if theirs a problem, they pretend they can fix the problem, but actually it's become, the pretending has become, routine. That's the basic idea of A Very Slow Breakfast.
AT: Do you think it's something that happens more in Jakarta, or also in all parts of Indonesia?
E: In all of Indonesia I think. Though in big cities like Jakarta, they are still pretending, in smaller cities or villages, it's more complicated. But maybe in the city the problem is more complex. People in the village, they have problems but not as complex, I think, that people here in the capital city. It depends.
AT: What makes it more complex in Jakarta, than in the village.
E: The society is. how can I say it. [pause]
AT: People mind each other's business more?
E: People like to hear good things about you, and if your image is bad, it affects your job.
AT: So it becomes very important. image, face.
E: Image, yeah.
AT: And for this film, does it have a very personal aspect for you and your family?
E: [Pause] I've seen this kind of family in my childhood, in my own family. But I think it's the usual thing. that it happens like that. But now I realize that it's not the fault of the individual. It's because of the situation, the society, and even because of our history.
AT: In the film, one thing I thought was quite striking was how the father just gives the money, and is not minding anything else. The son has his dandruff problem, but he doesn't mind it. Is that something that's very strong, an important a mentality that's very prominent in Indonesian families, that the father really just works to provide, and if he does, he thinks he'd done his job.
E: Yeah, it's the image of leadership in family; the father should make money, and give the children money for their school, for their entertainment. It's kind of a responsibility, but it becomes a routine responsibility.
AT: And the mother is fairly absent in the film?
E: In this film I want to portray a family where this the major authority is in the father, and [the] mother usually can not do anything even [if] she knows that something bad is happening in her family. She tries to respect her husband and it happens quite frequently in Jakarta also.
AT Also, one of the things that I thought was most important, was that it's breakfast, its supposed to be the start of the day, and the brother puts the money in the jar, and he doesn't need it - because he has other money thereó and he goes back to sleep. But this is after breakfast. Is that something you'd like to say?
E: It's just the end of the routine. When we are with a group; we are with family, but [it is] when we are by ourselves that life actually starts. But this group thing, these family gatherings, it's always in our life. You can sometimes that you are bothered by these things, but it happens in our lives, you cannot do it alone, individually, and not care about your family.
AT: The act of him going back to sleep? Or going to lie down?
E: It's just the way I want to end this routine. Sleep is like releasing, you can run away from your routine. And I enjoy sleeping, that's why I'm late [for the interview today].
AT: Me too. In Dajang Soembi, on one hand it deals a bit with familyófather, son, wifeó but on the other, you've told me previously that it was a bit of an allegory for Indonesia. And at the same time it's this fable that you're utilizing, and the fact that you use the silent film aestheticóyou've said that this is the first Indonesian silent filmóto express it..
AT: How do you combine these things, how do they connect with what you want to say? So you are using a fairly tale, or a fable, and a silent film, to say what you want to about Indonesia.
E: To be honest I think its coincidence. Because I'm just interested in this story, Dajang Soembi, only this part of it.
AT: The story [of Dajang Soembi] is much longer?
E: It's longer. It's [the film] is only the introduction in the book. The focus actually is only on the love story of the son and the mother. But I chose this, because we've never heard this before, but [also because] Indonesia has a very dark culture between father, mother and son. From this dark image, I'm translating into the medium, and we agreed that this is [a] silent film, black and white, gritty material. It also speaks for our political situation. I realized later -- after a long talk with friends -- [that] it's like our situation now, when [this] younger generation is not yet ready to take over the country. And the country is not safe. Still not safe. So it's like a coincidence.
AT: Did you have this conversation before you made the film or after you made?
E: After I edited the film. It [the short story] happened a long time ago, but its like history repeats [itself].
AT: What was your main reason for wanting to make it as a silent film?
E: The main reason is, besides the fact that the image that you see when you read the story is darkóI always see silent film as a pure cinema form. And it speaks for that period. If you make a silent film today, with contemporary issues, it still has a feeling that it happened long, long ago. It's like it is immortal. So maybe that's why we realized that these political things happened at that time also.
AT: And you mentioned also that there are no Indonesian silent-films?
E: Yeah, we checked our books, we have Indonesian silent-films but they were made by [the] Dutch or Chinese, with the point of view of a foreign culture. [The] Dutch made silent films, [gave the impression that] Indonesians are bad. So we have no silent films that are made by Indonesians, with a pure Indonesian point-of-view. And if you read, the first Indonesian movie, that is Darah Dan Doah (1950). We all agree that this is the first Indonesian movie; all made by Indonesians, and it gives a strong statement that this is the Indonesian situation. And it's a talkie, it's black and white and it's a talkie.
AT: What year was it made?
E: 1949 I think [Editor's note: the fallible imdb informs that it is 1950]. I haven't checked the independent side; I've just checked everything that's written. Maybe there are some silent films, but I'm not so sure that people wanted it to be a silent film as a silent film. I treated Dajang Soembi as a silent film; we are pretending we are living in that year, so we designed all the shots, we designed all the posters, the form, the music [in the vain of a film from the silent era], we even premiered at JIFFest with string quartet. We are pretending like we did not make this film, we just found the footage, we edited it, and we made the film [as if it's] real.
AT: When you screened it, was it on film or projected video?
E: Projected video, because the material is not quite strong. We developed it by hand, not machine, because if you run it many times in a projector, [there will be] scratches, and the image will fade.
AT: So you developed the film yourself?
E: Yes, with the cinematographer.
AT: And then to get the look, you used expired film, or you scratched the film yourself?
E: No, we used good material, black and white [stock] that we bought from the Internet, we developed it with photochemicals for slide film, black and white. We did it in a bucket, but we didn't do it with proper timing and [in a] proper place, so the processing self-destructed. So we didn't scratch anything, we didn't plan to destruct the image.
AT: You wanted it to be clean?
E: We didn't expect to have clean material, because this is hand-processed. But we also didn't plan to destruct it; but it happened. Actually one reel is lost, we over-processed it and the image got very faded, [it was] white only. So we thought the film wanted to be made like that. We can't predict what will happen after shooting.
AT: What was on the reel that's missing?
E: You remember some still photos?
E: Those scenes.
AT: It's supposed to be those, but captured on film?
AT: That's the part which introduces the characters?
E: Yeah, and also the scene where Dajang Soembi is drawing pictures, and the paper flies because of the wind, and she swears that anyone who helps her get the papersó if he is a man, she will marry him, if she is a woman, she will be her sister. And the fucking scene, the making love scene between the dog and Dajang Soembi.
AT: That's also part of the one reel that's missing?
E: Yeah, but I found a littleómaybe about three seconds, and I put it in the flashback of Toemang and Dajang Soembi, and it's intercut with Sangkoreiang.
AT: But you intended for the lovemaking scene in the film?
E: Yeah. So the scene is Dajang Soembi posing as a dog, and Toemang comes in through her skirt, and makes doggie style.
AT: But he is there also in the.
E: Dog costume.
AT: Was Dajang Soembi made for school?
E: No, not for school. Me and [cinematographer] Sidi [Saleh] felt we needed to learn black and white cinematography, but the materials, the processing, they [the school] could not afford it. They have no access. So I researched on the Internet, and I proposed, "this is the cheapest way to make a black and white [film]". But they were not sure that it should be made into an important thing to teach in class.
AT: You mean you proposed it to the school, this is how you can teachóthis is the cheapest way?
E: Yeah. And we were ready for this. What are the chemicals, how many minutes is the developing time - everything is okay - but the teachers said we cannot do this, because it seems like a temporal [thing]. If you want to make it.
AT: . in the commercial film industry?
E: They are not saying [anything] about commercial films but they just refused [because they see it] to be complicated, I think. Black and white is quite complicated.
AT: For what class were you proposing this?
E: For cinematography.
AT: The class of Faozan [Rizal, experimental filmmaker and teacher at IKJ]?
E: No, I didn't propose it to Faozan because Faozan was not making the decisions for the curriculum or workshops, so I proposed it to the higher-level, the Head of Film Department.
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AT: So you and Sidi ordered it on your own?
E: Yeah. We just said Ė okay do you have money? I have money here Ė and we bought all the stuff.
AT: How much did you spend?
E: About $300 US with the chemicals; and with the bucket [for] processing.
AT: How much stock did you buy?
E: AboutÖ seven cans? I think five cans. Five cans.
AT: Each roll isÖ
E: Five hundred thousand rupiahs.
AT: How many minutes?
E: About ten minutes.
AT: So you had about fifty minutes of film?
E: Five cans and fifty minutes, but we used only about three and a half cans. So we have one and a half cans, still.
AT: And the project that you did do for school is Kara [Anak Sebatang Pohon/Kara, Daughter of a Tree]?
AT: Itís your final project?
E: It should be my final project.
AT: Should be your final project. And you were telling me that Kara, in your paper, in your defense for the film or your explanation, you talk about DV vs. Film.
E: The problem is not that Iím using DV and film; the problem that the school had is just the aspect ratio format.
AT: I see.
E: The school wants all of the projects to be finished in 1:33 aspect ratio. TV format. But thatís point number two [in our instructions], but in point number five they say that the film form and film style could be anything; itís free. So I skipped rule number two because of rule number five. Because aspect ratio is part of film style, itís in cinematography theory. So I insisted to have 1:66 aspect ratio because I want to tell it [with] more landscape coverage, with poetic feelings. I donít want to capture reality as real; I want to capture it in a poetic way. You can beat me if Iím wrong about this opinion on why I should use 1:66 only for poetic storytelling, I can accept that, but if you just disagree with my using this format because of your 1:33 rules, I cannot accept that.
AT: Pardon my memoryóthe ratio of the DV is 1:33?
E: The DV is also 1:66.
AT: Itís also 1:66. With regard to the filmóit starts off and you have the father and the wife running in the fields, you hear the sounds, and you see the landscape, go into the house. And all of a sudden Ronald falls from the sky. At first you show the shots of the sketches, the sketches of her, the husbands sketches of the wife, and then you show him cradling the baby, with Ronald in the corner. Then you close up on the wife, then on Ronald, then you hear the shrill, the scream, and then you have the girl, the face of the girl, grown, in aerial view, and sheís by herself. The most easiest thing to say is its about globalization, and how it affects us no matter how far off we are, but one of the questions I wanted to ask isówhat happened to the father?
E: What happened to the father?
AT: What happened to the father?
E: In that story the father is not important anymore, so I just skipped the story of the father [laughs].
AT: This one is your own script?
E: Yeah. If somebody asked me where is the father? The father doesnít care. The father only loves Ladya.
AT: Only loves Ladya. Who is the wife.
E: I want to portray a poetic couple. They are living by their love. So if one of them dies, the other dies. But I donít think I need to shoot how the father dies, [he] just vanishes. Skip the character. Because I have to focus on this them of globalization and media exploitation so I chose to focus on Kara, and not interrupt it with the father. Maybe because itís a short filmÖ
AT: After that, Kara is alone in the woods. She is eating, surviving on her own. And then there is a guy who pops up and takes photos every once in a while. She obviously doesnít like him; she throws an apple at him. At one point heís taking her photo in the middle of a field, and she disappears, he spins around and he canít find her. The camera follows his movements, spinning, and then all of a sudden youíre in the city and you switched to DV. Why did you switch to DV for the city?
E: Ok. The city. I want to move from the poetic layer to the reality layer. We believe that everything you do with celluloid, with 16 or 35, or the celluloid medium, it always seems like Ďotherí reality. It is more poetic. Whatever you do, even if you scratch it like Dajang Soembi, it is still poetic, it is still Ďotherí reality, because of the techniques of the recording, there is a persistence of vision when you make the image like [makes sound] pakpakpakpakpak. It stays in your memory, twenty-four frames per second. I think that is the important difference between DV and film, because DV, the way it works, the way it gives colors. Itís hard to capture details with DV, it seems like only an impression. Like if you see in reality, if you are used to something, like letís say if you are in TIM [Editorís note: the film theater in IKJ] for one month and you know every corner. Then you lose the details, [what remains] is just the impression. Thatís DV. We donít need details. We are individuals with DV. I want to have the feeling like that when we shoot the sequence in DV. That is the difference when you use it.
AT: When you shot it, you didnít just use DV, but with the camera work you are disorienting. You put the camera upside down, youíre following all around and the camera is moving like that.
E: Thatís DV. So small, so easy. We donít care about the lighting; we donít care about the composition. Thatís life. Thatís real. When you watch reality you donít want to compose, you donít want to see this glass [touches glass on table] and compose it. You just want to see the glass. And if I look at it like this [turns head quickly], I still see the glass.
AT: Even if you turn your head quickly.
E: Yeah. Thatís the image of DV, the reality captured by DV. So I want to experiment with how this DV can be a tool for communication.
AT: Youíve made a documentary using DV. But is it something youíre very strict about in terms of making your fiction films, that you want to shoot them on film?
E: Yeah, if I have a story that should be shot on film, I should try my best to make the film on film.
AT: Have you made fiction [films] shot on DV?
E: Yeah. Fiction, itís a comedy-thing that I made with three other friends, co-directed, its DV, but we are having fun. So Iíd rather not say that itís purely my vision, [my] cinema, but itís a friendship thing.
AT: So each of these three, along with the fourth one that weíll talk about after, were shot onÖ
AT: 16 or super 16?
AT: Before we get to a A Very Boring Conversation perhaps you can talk about Kara, and explain what happened with the school and why, with this film, you didnít get to graduate.
E: I finished the film, but the report was just late because something happened in Berlin while I was in the Berlinale Talent Campus. I lost my bag actually, and all my papers were in that bag.
AT: Itís a print-out of your paper?
E: No, itís a material for writing it. I prepared this theory, these are printed papers, and I need these theories, [this] background. So I had to find it again, and because thatís copied from a book and not the Internet, and because I was in Rotterdam, it was very difficult. I tried to find the book in a library or a bookstore, but it was in Dutch.
AT: Itís from Bordwellís Film Art?
E: One of the books is Bordwell, one book ofÖ itís a DV technical theory. I forgot the name. Sidi gave me this book. I lost it. So I start from the beginning, making this, but I donít have enough time because of the Berlin Talent Campus and the Rotterdam Film Festival. I managed to finish it, but I couldnít e-mail it. So I had to finish it in Jakarta, and when it was finished they said that the deadline was over. It was three days late.
AT: How long after you arrived did you submit it?
E: I think one day, for printing.
AT: And they said ďitís three days late, we wonít take it.Ē
E: I tried to talk to the head of the departmentóthe Dean of the faculty. We have three Deans, but I only talked with these two Deans because these are the two that are responsible for the studentís things. Dean number three, who is Nan Achnas [Editorís note: director of the film Whispering Sands], she was trying to help me, sheís was ok with the delay, but the other Deans would not accept it, because it is quite an important thing, to be disciplined and to submit your material on time. My film was submitted before I left for Rotterdam, so they watched the film, so [the reason for] their decision is quite clear.
AT: Who were the other two [Deans]?
E: Old men [smiles]. The decision-maker is Dean number one, a very old man. Actually we are not close to each other. I havenít had any lectures by him. He is a scriptwriter. And Iím sure he didnít see any films of his students.
AT: And what were you thinking, how were you feeling after that?
E: Yes, it was my fault because of this lateness. But I thought, I studied there for five years, and Iím growing withÖ
Actually in this school, discipline had not been the most important thing, but that year they realized that they have to have alumni with good discipline. So it was like the program for the year. Iím usually late, one week, but they would still accept it. And I was sure that it would be ok because I called a friend and asked ďwhen is the judgment day?Ē, they didnít know the date so they hadnít decided the date. They decided the deadline for submission, but they didnít decide the deadline for the judgment day. You know, where you come to defend the film in front a panel. And they didnít decide who will be the judges.
So when I came to submit [my paper] three days late, they still hadnít set a date for when the judgment would be, so I think itís quite possible [that they could still accept my paper]. Why should they care about the deadline because if I submitted that day, itís still okay, because the judge hasnít been chosen yet, and the date [for defense] has not been decided yet? In the book of our school rules, it says that late submission for the reports is ten days before the judgment day. And since there is no day set for the judgment, what is the problem? I donít understand.
AT: When I first talked to you about it, you said you still wanted to get your degree even though it would mean one more year and a new thesis film.
AT: At first you wanted to do it because for your parents it was important for them to see the degree.
E: Yeah, I was actually trying to do it with A Very Boring Conversation, that was the material I wrote for the next yearís thesis. But thinking about it againóitís not my fault. I donít want to make a film because of their faults, and I donít want to make a film because I have to. So I decided to quit the school, but still made the film, A Very Boring Conversation.
AT: Is it also that the tuition is expensive if you have to enroll again?
E: Actually no, because I have a scholarship for this school. I donít have to pay any money for enrollment, I just have to pay for the film processing, but I still have a voucher that I won in JIFFest for Dajang Soembi, so itís easy to make a film for that.
AT: So itís really just a stand that you donít want toÖ
E: Yeah. And I cannot stand to sit and beg, because I believe I will face these same persons. I donít want to sacrifice my film. I believe if I have no freedom to make this film, even only for the graduation, I cannot sacrifice the film.
AT: And your parents were okay with it?
E: [pause] No, not ok. They know that Kara went to Cannes, but what is Cannes, they donít know? It won a Citra award at Festival Film Indonesia [for] Best Short Film. They know the Citra Award. But now I think itís okay. I explained [that] itís not my fault. They were just disappointed thatóďwhy are you stubborn, you just make another [film], we can give you moneyĒ. I told them ďthe problem is not moneyĒ. They just think that if you have no degree, you have no papers, [then it is] difficult to find a job. And I explained to them, ďI have a job now [as second assistant director to Riri Riza on Gie and first assistant director on Dear Rena], and I will maintain my job now as good as I can, so donít worryĒ, I told them. My mother especially.
AT: I want to ask you about how you make your films.
AT: Yes, your process. Because you showed me your treatment for Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, and it, like many of your scripts, arenít very conventional scripts. So can you tell me about the scripts for each of your films?
E: Okay. In A Very Slow Breakfast, like in Kara, and A Very Boring Conversation it was a similar process, but not with Dajang Soembi, because it was written by another person, Daud Sumalong. I always begin with one image. In A Very Slow Breakfast the first image that I have in my head is the father drinking the coffee full of dandruff. So I start from this image, and try to make a connection between shots. In Kara, when Ronald killed the mother. In A Very Boring Conversation I just want to see a sexy stewardess in her late 40s. Yes, and [itís] simply like that.
AT: And which ones were written as conventional scripts, and which were written just as linesÖ
E: Conventional script is A Very Boring Conversation and Kara. Kara because itís a school project, and A Very Boring Conversation because itís a dialogue [driven film]. So I need to have a precise [script], I need to commit to the dialogue with the actors. But the others, since there is no dialogue, the visuals are more important than anything [else], so I kind of make little notes. Poetic, but not as abstract as poetryÖ
AT: A kind of proseÖ
E: A kind of prose. So the crew, cameraman, actors can interpret their feelings freely. We have discussions about our impressions, and we realize [the film] together.
AT: Each of your films, A Very Slow Breakfast, Dajang Soembi, and A Very Boring Conversation, are all one-day shoots?
E: A Very Boring Conversation ó one day. A Very Slow Breakfast ó one day. Dajang Soembi óone day. Kara is nine days.
AT: Does it involve very much preparation for you and your crew before the day of shoot, in order for you to shoot the whole film in one day?
E: Yeah. The longest is A Very Slow Breakfast, because it is my first. The fastest is A Very Boring Conversation.
AT: Shortest preparation?
E: Yeah. Shortest preparation. But the editing process always takes me quite a long time.
AT: How is your collaboration with your different techniciansócinematographers, sound designersÖ?
E: From Dajang Soembi to A Very Boring Conversation the cinematographer is the same person, Sidi Saleh.
AT: You were together in school?
E: Yes, we were in the same batch. The collaboration is likeÖwe just like and connect with each other, so itís easy. I always maintain personal [relationship with my crew], we are always updated with each otherís personal life. So we know if there is a change in the mentality or personality of a person. So when we shoot, you expect no more than what you have.
AT: This is something youíve developed over time?
AT: From the start, were you already good friends with Sidi?
E: From the start. From Dajang Soembi, we are good friends. We started talking [about] films because we [both] disagree with the systems of the school. So we started to make experiments and we did commercial music video projects together too. We always talk about the systems, why the systems restrict our freedom. So basically all of these films are like our answers to how we see the systems.
AT: By systems, are you talking just about the school, or about filmmaking, and about Indonesia as well?
E: Filmmaking, the industry and the society of these filmmakers. But we are in Jakarta, and [here] the school is quite important, because a lot of the professionals come from this school. And the way that we read the scene [is that] if somethingís happened in Indonesian cinema, it has something to do with the school.
AT: And now you are developing your close team, which includes your sound designer. What is his name?
E: His name is Wahyun Putrinomo, but we call him Iponk. We are close since A Very Slow Breakfast until now. Sound is very important and itís not easy [for me] to talk about technical things, because Iím not good at hearing, I only concentrate, if you want to see the film, I only choose whether [I will concentrate] on the picture or the dialogue, I cannot concentrate on the two at the same time. With Iponk, I believe his sense, his taste with sound, and I just liberate him. I just tell him that my vision about the film is like this, and can you interpret it technically. And then he tries and he shows me ďIs it like this?Ē, [and I say] ďYeah butÖĒ and we are flexible to find the film.
AT: And he is one year ahead of you in IKJ, and now heís teaching there?
AT: Did Sidi graduate?
E: Sidi graduated. Iponk graduated. And one [other collaborator] is the Art Director.
AT: Who is the Art Director?
E: Eros Efril. He did A Very Slow Breakfast and Kara and almost all of my music videos and Blind Pig. He is very senior in Indonesian filmmaking. His first film was with Riri Riza, Sherinaís Adventure. He is still a professional Art Director. He makes music videos, commercials, films. I knew him when we were living in the same houseówe rented the same house. Heís like a big, big brother lah; because heís not married yet. We still hang out at TIM; sometimes we hunt for DVDs.
AT: What is your collaboration like?
E: As you can see in A Very Slow Breakfast and in Kara the sets are always like a character for me. So how I work with Eros Efril, I just tell [him about] the characters, what kind of person is Kara, what kind of person is Linda [from Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly]. So he lists down what are their properties, he draws [it]. What is their room, what color? He proposes the design and we make it. Itís all based on characters.
AT: Heís been working with you since Slow Breakfast. Was it hard to get him to work for you, because he was already established and you were still a student?
E: Itís not hard actually. Heís a nice person, even though heís very senior. He appreciates experimenting with the younger generation [of filmmakers]; heís still helping students make independent projects.
AT: Does he also teach in IKJ?
E: No. He did not finish his studiesÖ
AT: I see. Your actress in Kara and now also for Blind Pig, Ladya Cheryl. How did you first meet and how did you decide to cast her?
E: My first impression came from Ada Apa Dengan Cinta, her first film. They have five characters, Dian Sastro is the leading character, but I felt like Ladya has more cinema magnetism, cinema screen presence. I personally know her [because] she was the girlfriend of my friend Rako.
AT: Before she made the film?
E: After she made it. Because Rako is the Assistant Director in Ada Apa Dengan Cinta. Ladya is the type who wants to makeÖ she is interested in short films. And she wants to learn the form and Rako told her to talk to me, because she was offered to be a kind of judge of an independent school festival [competition], or part of a panel discussion. So she was like, ďI donít know anything about short films, but they offered me [to be part of this].Ē I think itís her former school.
She just came to me, and we watched a lot of short films and we talked about short films, and we got to know each other quite well. I personally adore her life; I thought [her life] was quite complicated for her age, and I respect how she handled it.
AT: When she talked to you about short films, is it because she wanted to make or act in short films, or was it just to know about them?
E: Just to learn. Just to know. What is the difference, maybe, between short films and feature films, and why people make short films.
AT: So after you had talked for a long time, you decided to cast her for Kara?
E: Actually, I just asked her, I didnít cast her. ďWould you please act for my film?Ē, and she hadnít read the script, because I told her itís only a small part, maybe only two minutes on screen, youíre just running, and then you give birth. So she received the script, and she just asked where the shooting location would be. I told her itís in Mount Sumel. Coincidentally she has this obsession with climbing mountains, but her mother does not allow her to. But with this film, she treated it like a job, so she proposed it to her mother and it was ok. She has a fondness for climbing mountains I think.
AT: Now with Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, the feature that youíre preparing, youíve decided to ask her again.
E: Yeah, one of the main sequences was developed together with Ladya, just after we finished shooting Kara. I had this image of a firecracker blowing in someoneís month, and I texted her ďIs it cool enough, to see this scene in [a] movieĒ? And she replied enthusiastically. This was about two years ago. So itís my commitment to make films with her, and I really want to make this film for her. We talk about everything Ė ďWhat is in your head Ladya? You can use this character to express it. What you want to tell people about yourself with this characterĒ. So we developed the character and Blind Pig.
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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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