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Yogyakarta film festival highlights life complexities in Asia

Bambang Muryanto
Bambang Muryanto

The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta | Mon, December 4, 2017 | 08:45 am
Yogyakarta film festival highlights life complexities in Asia

Seeing the huge audiences that flocked to the Jogja Asian Film Festival — Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (JAFF-Netpac) this weekend, one can understand filmgoers’ thirst for alternative movies. (Shutterstock/file)

Seeing the huge audiences that flocked to the Jogja Asian Film Festival — Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (JAFF-Netpac) this weekend, one can understand filmgoers’ thirst for alternative movies. 

Chief of publicity Lidia Nofiani said as of Sunday, the number of visitors, including those who attended the opening ceremony and the screenings, reached around 2,000 people. 

It is the 12th time the event has been held, and the week-long festival, running from Dec. 1 to 8, will screen 114 films from 22 participating countries in the Yogyakarta Cultural Park (TBY) compound, CGV Cinemas, Cinema XXI and Tebing Breksi in Prambanan.

Held under the theme of “Fluidity,” the festival was officially opened on Friday at the Societet building in TBY with a performance entitled “Maskumambang, Expecting a Happy Ending,” a collaboration of singing, dancing, music and digital illustration.

JAFF-Netpac director Budi Irawanto said Asian cinema has to be fluid in facing various strong currents of change without losing its sensitivity toward the culture of its people. He also expressed hope that people in Asia could learn and talk about their identity after watching the films screened at the festival.

“We have to open ourselves to influences from other cultures. We cannot be xenophobic and feature only our own culture,” he said.

JAFF-Netpac tries to present to the public both short and feature films of either documentary or fiction genres, presenting stories with important social issues. The festival was opened with Garin Nugroho’s Nyai and will be closed with Pop Aye from Singaporean Kirsten Tan. 

Around 100 audience members watching Love and Other Cults from Japanese filmmaker Uchida Eiji at Cinema XXI burst into laughter as they watched the true story of a woman named Ai, who was abandoned by her parents and raised in a particular sect, trapped in a hard life of gangs and prostitution, later becoming a porn star adored by fans.

Young filmmaker Mohammad Mozafari of Iran, meanwhile, presented a quasi-documentary entitled Journey to the Darkness. The film tells of the dangerous journey of illegal immigrants from the Middle East stopping by Indonesia on the way to Australia. They disappear when they stayed at a “haunted” inn. 

“The ghost presents what happened in the past, like war, that haunted the immigrants,” said Mozafari during a talk with the audience.

Yoga Prayoga, a visitor of the festival, said he was interested in watching the films screened during JAFF-Netpac because they presented alternatives to those screened in mainstream cinemas.

“Watching indie movies gives room for an exchange of experiences,” he said, adding that the films screened at the festival are not judgmental, as seen in Ai’s story in Love and Other Cults. 

Despite its growing popularity and quality, fans of the indie genre, like Yoga, still struggle to find public spaces that screen such films. In fact, it is thanks to indie filmmaking that the country now has quality filmmakers such as Mouly Surya (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts) and Edwin (Posesif). 

JAFF-Netpac president Garin, who is also said Indonesia should learn from developed countries, which provide public spaces to screen lesser-known films, such as art-house cinemas. 

“With the absence of public spaces [to watch indie movies], independent films cannot compete against mainstream movies in the cinemas, which bring in massive audiences,” Garin told The Jakarta Post via text message from Singapore. 

He said his movie, Setan Jawa (Java Satan), a silent movie with a live gamelan orchestra, was purchased by Esplanade in Singapore because it was a form of alternative culture. 

“It is true that mass [pop] culture is needed and it contributes to the economy, but without alternative films, our individual quality will diminish and we will turn into uninformed and vulgar people,” he said.