IO – At this year’s Balinale (Bali film festival) 92 films from 28 countries (including 27 films from Indonesia) were screened. The main foreign feature film was The King, directed by David Michôd and staring Timothée Hal Chalamet. The film which is scheduled to be released on October 11th 2019 centres around the Battle of Agincourt. Although the cinematography and acting are superb the film itself for the most part consists of scene after scene of blood and gore – but then again it is mainly about a battle. It would however have been more interesting and had more depths had it also shown the French perspective at the time namely, the belief in the honour and beauty of chivalry which was to prove the French downfall for Agincourt was where chivalry and knighthood died in the mud. Instead the French especially the dauphin, are simply depicted as caricatures. One can only imagine the effect the film will have at this point in time on Brexit and its supporters. It will certainly further boost the image of an indestructible and victorious English and a caricaturizing of Europe.
The most talked about Indonesian feature film screened at the Balinale was Hanung Bramantyo’s Bumi Manusia which is an adaptation of well-known Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel. Here again lead actors Iqbal Ramadhan and Sha Ine Febriyanti give outstanding performances as Minke and Nyai Ontosoroh and the cinematography is also impressive. The problem is Pramoedya Ananta toer’s storyline. It is simply too hard to swallow that at that time a Dutchman and his son would not have had the means to remove a Javanese lad living in their home and sleeping with their daughter/sister. Annelies Mellema’s character is also weak to the point of falling asleep boring.
As Hanung Bramantyo himself remarked at the Festival, “Goenawan Muhamad says that this is Pramoedya’s least outstanding book,” and in this Goenawan Moehamad is surely right.
Nevertheless, the film has sold over one million tickets making it a solid box office success in Indonesia.
The Balinale jury judged the South Korean feature film SAENG-Il, directed by Jong-un Lee as best feature film at the Balinale 2019. The film explores how a couple struggle to keep their family together after the tragic sinking of a ferry carrying many school children in 2014, an event that rocked the nation. The judges felt that the honesty and passion in the film was expressed in a very simple yet extremely emotional manner that completely engaged the audience.
Best documentary went to Bruce Lee and the Outlaw by Joost Vanderbrug of the Netherlands. It is a documentary about a homeless boy in Hungary who belongs to a street gang headed by a man called Bruce Lee and exposes viewers to the harsh reality of street children and the system that abandoned them. Meanwhile, the Best Short film was awarded to The Wind Phone by Kristen Gerweck of the USA with a special mention being given to Tungrus by Rishi Chandna of India.
However, the festival was not only a place for audiences to view interesting new films but included 6 days of discussions, workshops and screenings. The Balinale provides opportunities to educate and introduce young Indonesians on careers in the film and television industry as well as stimulating the growing Indonesian film industry by giving them a platform to show their films. It presents Indonesian films to an expat audience that would not normally have a chance to see them. The Balinale is also a way for foreign studios, executives, and production companies to see Indonesia as a potential film partner whether for locations, story ideas or talent both in front of and behind the camera. Foreign production companies have the opportunity to show their films to a new audience (and potentially huge market) while seeing Indonesian cinema and meeting the people behind the local industry. “Balinale,” declares its founder Deborah Gabinetti, “is a place for both local and international film industries to network and have discussions that focus on possible collaboration.”
The Balinale has now entered its 13th consecutive year and was established by Deborah Gabinetti through her Bali Film Centre which has tirelessly managed, promoted and fund raised to make the annual festivals possible. Gabinetti who was originally a casting director in New York came to Indonesia when a colleague, Gary Hayes asked her to assist him on projects in Jakarta where the TV industry was just opening up. “I’m not sure how effective I was,” says Gabinetti, “but something about the place and the people made me want to return. It took a few years before I did have a chance to go back to Jakarta but I did and I eventually set up an office to assist with local productions.”
Hayes who recently passed away was a deeply inspirational man and the festival’s Emerging Indonesian Filmmaker award is now named after him. It was after Gabinetti received requests for assistance from foreign film projects in Indonesia that she began to realize how complicated the process was to film in Indonesia which made film companies reluctant to shoot films there. She knew this needed to change, “In 2002, I went to the governor’s office and proposed streamlining the application process. With the support of Bali, we then approached the Minister of Tourism to endorse us in representing all of Indonesia. And we have been doing so ever since, representing Indonesia at industry events around the world and inviting filmmakers to experience the country first hand.”
Among Balinale’s past successes was securing the shooting of Eat, Pray, Love in Indonesia. Balinale gave the producer the opportunity to see the capabilities of the local film industry and meet as well as being taken to possible locations for the film. This year Balinale announced that renown film director Roland Joffe who attended last year is now developing a ten-part TV series on the story of Mata Hari that will be partly filmed in Indonesia, utilizing local crew and talent. Balinale also announced the establishment of an advisory board that will consist of leading Indonesian filmmakers and industry professionals.
Julian Grimmond, an Emmy Award winning Producer and founder of GFS Indonesia is the former chairman of Film New Zealand. He will be working together with Joffe via GFS. He says of the Indonesian film industry, “It has a free market, brilliant filmmakers and it is only a matter of time till Indonesia takes off – and Balinale has opened the window to see Indonesian possibilities and the way for Indonesian filmmakers to go global.”
Nevertheless, problems remain. Grimmond who was chairman of Film New Zealand which helped make New Zealand a favored location for filmmakers from all over the world says that the Indonesian government still needs to do a number of things to ensure a competitive national film industry for the global market and to attract international filmmakers to Indonesia. Incentives are needed and Indonesia also has many regulatory problems that need to be addressed to attract more foreign film production. Countries like Malaysia and Vietnam provide much easier access. Not only with regard to permits but also less difficulty in bringing in foreign talent in helping to make the film. With its easy access Malaysia has about 3 or 4 small budget foreign films (with budgets of about US$1 to 1,5 million each) made in Malaysia every month. With the new government cultural strategy there should be incentives available and a willingness within the government to attract more foreign film production to Indonesia but for this the film industry needs to lobby the government which it does not at present appear to have the energy or determination to do.
At one panel discussion Indonesian producer, director and writer Ismail Basbeth whose short film Woo Woo was screened explained all the difficulties an Indonesian filmmaker has to go through to have a film produced. It is often a case of a film being produced simply through the sheer will and passion of the filmmaker. Putrama Tuta who directed the film Ah Hok which reached the top 10 Indonesian box office successes, also spoke of this and both filmmakers were adamant about their artistic integrity and their resistance to any interference by producers in script and in editing for a successful film.
Donna Smith who was president of production for Universal Studios in America and is CEO of a completion bond company which protects film investors’ money spoke out against their assertion. Smith who has produced 157 films was fervent that “Scripts do drive the success of a film but ultimately it is a motion picture business and not motion picture arts. Although there is a dichotomy about this that is always growing.”
Smith is in Bali to look for talented cinematographers and directors and served on several of the Balinale panels.
Later Putrama Tuta admitted that “development” was perhaps the most important part of his films’ success and that it is the work done at this development stage that will persuade investors to invest. He explained his stance on artistic freedom by saying, “I was brought up in a family that was in trade and since childhood I was trained in business. For me the problem was that I knew that my talent lay in the arts and I spent a great deal of my youth convincing my parents to let me go into the film business and express my artistic abilities. So, I have struggled with artistic freedom since childhood.”
Philosopher, writer and Renaissance woman Toety Heraty N. Rooseno who is in her 80s and attended the forum in a wheel chair plans to make a film out of her book Raihna Boki Raja which is the true story of a queen from Ternate, the island of cloves and how she struggles to keep the royal power from the Portuguese and other members of the royal family. In the process she becomes the first Indonesian to capture a Portuguese fort. The story takes place during the period of Magellans circumnavigation of the globe which will be celebrated in many parts of the world on its 500th anniversary in 2023 by which time Ibu Toeti hopes to have the film ready. Another interesting aspect of the story is that the Portuguese involved in Ternate at the time, Francisco Serrão is in fact a cousin of Magellan and there is evidence that the two planned to establish their own kingdom in the Spice Islands. At the festival Julian Grimmond of GFS Indonesia which connects great Indonesian content with the global screen industry expressed interest in her story.
Another interesting genre of films represented at the Balinale were the international indigenous films. Photographer and filmmaker David Metcalf who established the Bali International Indigenous Film Festival in order to provide a platform for indigenous people to raise awarness of the problems they face and to help educate the general public about the wisdom, beauty and challenges of Indigenous people. Two excellent indigenous films at the Balinale were Small Island Big Song which Metcalf describes as, “tracing the diaspora of original people from Taiwan out into the islands of South Asia and the Pacific, and the musical connection between the islands around 5000 years ago. The message is the unity of these cultures through song.”
Another superb film of this genre is Bali Building Harmony which describes the relationship between Balinese architecture and traditional beliefs and how this is eroding through land developers and too much tourism. Metcalf says that the main issues facing indigenous peoples today have to do with the security of the forests and rivers without which they have no future. In a nation that every year sees thousands of hectars of forests burning indigenous films should be a top priority or we too will have no future one day.
One of the best documentary films at the Balinale was Le Chocolat De H about the world of Japanese chocolate maker Hironobu Tsujiguchi. The film turns chocolate making into a symphony of harmony celebrating culture, traditions, nature, belief, beauty and the spirit. It begins with Tsujiguchi’s chocolates winning the first prize repeatedly at the Salon du Chocolat and C.C.C. where we see the aesthetics of Tsujiguchi’s creating chocolate paintings of delicate colours and rose petals as well as equally refined chocolate dragons of white and gold..
Like the romantic painters he used his confectioner’s art to express his inner emotions which also become the palette to his psychological healing. Tsujiguchi deals with the experiences of his life through his chocolate creations. “Chocolate,” he says, “can tell many stories,” and he begins the first story by taking his audience on a journey following the many ingredients of his very Japanese chocolate. Japanese culture he says is a very stylized world from the Japanese tea ceremonies to ikebana and in choosing his ingredients he begins by taking us to a place where the 400 year old Japanese tradition of salt making is still practiced. From there as we go to the traditions of making miso and umami – one begins to understand that part of the success of his chocolates is that eating them is also about reliving and preserving Japanese traditions and culture. That would of course not be complete without a visit to the Shinto priest who speaks of the gentleness of Shintoism which Tsujiguchi includes in his recipe.
Tsujiguchi then takes us on a journey around the world for other ingredients such as the cocoa which is the central ingredient of his chocolates. We go to Ecuador and see first the organic cocoa and then the wild cocoa that he buys and the people who produce it and gather it and what it means to them. He says that all this gives meaning to his work of producing chocolate. “It is,” he says, “about adding value to chocolate.”… and surely also to life itself. One could add that that is the essence of a good film. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)