The grassroots festival may be smaller this year but its ambitions will always be big.
8 Oct 2012 - 1:31 PM  UPDATED 8 Oct 2012 - 1:31 PM

The 2011 Indonesian Film Festival screened nine feature films. This year it has programmed six. Last year, festival organisers were talking up plans about establishing it as a travelling film festival. Alas, for now it remains a Melbourne-only event.

Founded by Indonesian nationals, the festival remains ambitious and vigorous, according to project manager Andrew Aditya, from Indonesia, who is currently enrolled in a commerce degree at Melbourne University. He says the downsizing and (temporarily) thwarted ambitions of the IFF are the simple, hard facts of life for such a grassroots organisation, where funding, overhead, staffing and infrastructure are issues that don't go away. Still, the event is known as a major player for Melbourne-based cineastes as well as for its professionalism, a fact Aditya attributes to its dedicated network of volunteer staffers. Aditya says that the organisation suffered a setback when its founder and chair, Ronald Wicaksana, had to relocate to Jarkarta from Melbourne.

“As a consequence, we started programming much later than we normally would have,” he explains. “We started in April, normally we start in November, and so we scaled the festival down this year.”

As for the plans to expand to other capital cities, Aditya says that the IFF Inc. is working with Indonesian cultural organisations across Australia like the Melbourne University Indonesian Students Assoc. (MUISA), which in fact is co-presenting this year's festival.

When choosing the films, he says, this year's selection committee, which includes himself, Wicaksana, co-founder Zendi Rizki Tjandra, Kemal Caesar, Aditya Wahyu, and program coordinator Bimo Prianditama, focused on high profile award winners. Or to put it another way, the program aimed to confound the 'blood and cleavage' image of Indonesian cinema. For Aditya and his colleagues, the final line-up touches those issues and themes that have largely been left alone in mainstream cinema. Aditya says that some of the movies were bound to create controversy back home simply because it is a society where government censorship and religious leadership put tremendous pressure on artists.

For instance, there is Lovely Man (pictured) from director Teddy Soeriaatmadja, which scored a best actor prize at the 2012 Asian Film Awards for Donny Damara in his role as Ipuy, a transvestite prostitute. Warm, but unflinching in its details, the film has unsurprisingly gained a lot of festival traction, including slots at Pusan and Hong Kong. But in Indonesia, Aditya says, the film created some heat: “The transgender issue is a taboo issue and it brought it to the public.”

The plot is about what happens when Ipuy's adult child, 19-year-old Muslim Cahaya (Raihaanun), turns up in Jakata looking for the dad she has not seen since she was four. When Cahaya does find Ipuy, he's working his 'beat', leaving her shocked and dismayed; he's mortified. Taking place over one night, the action is concerned with how this father and daughter come to terms with the life choices each has made. “Many filmmakers have not been willing to look at this sort of subject [out of fear of protest from religious groups],” explains Aditya.

Three of the other features in the program are essentially comic in tone and their stories live within familial conflict and a younger generation's cultural disquiet.

There's Demi Ucok (For the Sake of Ucok), which is making its world premiere in Melbourne at the festival. It's another story dealing with family and its pains and obligations. “But it's a comedy and its plot reflects the actual life of the filmmaker,” says Aditya.

The film, he says, in some way offers an example of the kind of DIY method being taken up by filmmakers in Indonesia who can't get their small intimate stories on screen via strictly conventional means. Aditya describes it as a 'film about a filmmaker and the filmmaker's mother' and director Sammaria Simanjuntak cast her own mother, theology lecturer Lina Marpaung of Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia as Mak Gendut (which means 'fat mother'). And just like her hero, the director used crowdfunding in an attempt to underwrite Demi Ucok's finances. The plot, which deals with the marriage conventions of Indonesia's Bataknese, is a simple comedic set-up: an ailing mum's last wish is to see her daughter Glo (Geraldine Sianturi) get married. On the other hand, Glo wants to make a movie and needs 1 billion Rp (about $110,000) to do it. Aditya says that Sammaria and Lina Khatarina will be in Melbourne to introduce the film.

Director Anggy Umbara combines comedy and drama in Mama Cake. This inventive yarn is about a rootless 25-year-old, Raka, and his two friends and their quest to fulfill the dying request of Raka's grandmother, who would like a certain kind of choc brownie from a shop in Bandung. The cast includes two well-known TV showbiz figures in Indonesia, Ananda Omesh (Extravaganza), who plays Raka, and Boy William, his 'cool' best pal.

Paper Boat (Perahu Kertas) is based on a best-selling novel about teenagers and their tortuous romantic intrigues. Director Hanung Bramantyo (Ayat-Ayat Cinta, 2008), one of the country's leading filmmakers and better known for his 'serious' works about religion, told a Jakarta journal, perhaps tongue in cheek, that he took on the project, a major pop culture event, with some trepidation.Critics, though, have praised the movie's light touch and the sensitive interpretation of author Dewi 'Dee' Lestari's imagery.

Perhaps the 'heaviest' film of the festival, at least in tone, is the omnibus film Dilemma (Dilema), which offers five crime stories from five different directors. All the stories here seem to somehow to plug into deep-set social and cultural issues of Indonesia: religious extremism, police corruption, and poverty.

Rounding out the features, and the festival, is the G-rated Ciliwung Troops. It's presented by Melbourne Uni's Asia Institute and the Victorian Indonesian Language Teachers' Association as part of the IFF's 'educational program' designed to encourage students of Bahasa Indonesia. The movie, directed by Guntur Soeharjanto, is about five kids, a tomboy and a rowing race.

Aditya says the festival is anticipating strong box office and an audience drawn from a diversity of backgrounds to build on last year's momentum, which the IFF considers a major success. “We're growing and getting bigger, we hope,” he says, with a chuckle. “Because we must.”

The 2012 Indonesian Film Festival runs from October 8-13. For more information visit the
official website.