Actress, director and producer Lola Amaria is happy to explore women’s issues in her films, but hates being called a feminist.
“I don’t like being put into a particular category,” Lola says. “What I did in my films just shows concern with the reality around us.”
Check out her filmography and you will see that all her films concern the struggle of women from a range of backgrounds, with each role – whether stripper, nurse, courtesan, rape victim, postgraduate student or mentally ill woman – demonstrating her genuine concern.
Her latest film The Detour to Paradise, in which she plays an Indonesian maid in Taiwan, opens in Taipei today. The film, produced in Taiwan by director Lee Tsi-Tai, has already been selected as the opening film for the Singapore International Film Festival in April.
“I’m so happy and proud because I’m the only Indonesian who took part in the film,” Lola says. “But at the same time I’m also anxious because none of the crew are Indonesian. I would be more proud if the whole team were Indonesian because the film is about an Indonesian maid.”
Lola says her experience with the film gave her the insight to produce another film with a similar theme – migrant domestic workers – but in a different setting, this time Hong Kong.
“I don’t take potshots at the government or anybody in the movie. It will be purely about the reality of life as a migrant worker in Hong Kong. It’s about the human side of migrant workers, which is totally different from what we usually believe,” she says.
Lola, who has been traveling to and from Hong Kong since early 2007 to conduct research, says strong laws ensured Hong Kong employers treated migrant workers relatively well.
“It would be impossible for us to make a film about migrant workers in Saudi Arabia or in Malaysia, for example, without bringing violence into it. But in Hong Kong you hardly find that,” she says.
Her team is currently working on the script. Lola will direct and star in the film, which is scheduled for release in August.
Lola was born in Jakarta on July 30, 1977. Although she once wanted to be a diplomat, she soon found a place in the entertainment world, as the 1997 winner of Wajah Femina, an annual model contest held by Women Magazine Femina.
Her acting career began in 1998 when she played Sila, a stripper, in Nan Triveni Achnas’ TV movie Penari (Dancer). After five television roles, including in the 1998 Indonesian Sinetron Festival award-nominated sinetron (soap opera) Arjuna Mencari Cinta, Lola turned to the big screen.
“I see a different spirit in big screen movies, in terms of working together with people, the quality requirement and the challenge of the work, which I would not have if I only worked in sinetron,” she says. “With movies I can explore my abilities as an actress, a director, producer or in learning another role. Film has its own challenges so I have to learn. I got nothing from soap opera except instant results and lots of money.”
Not that she doesn’t need money: “I just needed another way to earn money but one that also gave me some experience and knowledge.”
Her first movie role, in Tabir (Curtain) in 2000, was as a victim of the 1998 mass rape in Jakarta; after three years of production, the project was abandoned. In the same year, she starred in a Japanese film Dokuritsu as a nurse struggling between loyalty to her homeland and the Japanese colonial government.
A year later, she played a psychopathic girl, Beth, the title character in an art house movie that the censorship board banned from general cinema release.
Her biggest acclaim came for her performance as Tinung, the wife of a Chinese trader, in Nia Dinata’s award-winning 2002 film Ca Bau Kan, an adaptation of Remy Sylado’s best-selling novel. For Lola, it was a demanding role. “For Ca Bau Kan, I had to learn the Betawi language, which has at least four dialects. I also learned Chinese dance, I learned Chinese history and culture including fashion, furniture, even how people talked.”
Lola, who admires American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and late director Teguh Karya and whose own favorite films are Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, turned to producing and directing in 2004.
Her first effort as producer was for Novel Tanpa Huruf R (Novel Without the Letter R), in which she also played the lead role. In the same year, she directed Betina (Female), which won her a Netpac Award at the 2006 Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival.
Lola, who professes a love of dogs – she once had five sheepdogs – and ice cream, and a hatred of durian, says she wanted to try her hand at directing because it’s a “genius profession”.
“Being a director means you have to visualize all your ideas. All the components, such as sound, music, acting, photography and editing are put into one and the director is the captain.”
Although she has already performed in two foreign Asian movies, Lola is looking for any opportunity to venture outside Indonesian cinema again, although “if possible I would like it not to be an Asian movie”.
Another potential project would be a documentary on Indonesian women, should she find the opportunity to produce one – not that that would make her a “feminist”.