The concept of identity has been on Christine Hakim’s mind for most of her life.
In her most famous role as Tjoet Nja Dhien, she played a woman who knew exactly who she was.
Most recently, in Eat Pray Love, she played Wayan, a Balinese healer who helps the character of Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) find her own strength and identity again.
“Before I played Tjoet Nja Dhien I was always confused as to where my blood came from, because I could not directly answer the question ‘Where do you come from?’.
“I have mixed blood. I grew up in Yogyakarta, Central Java, but my parents, grandparents and great grandparents, are from Padang, Aceh, Banten, Pekalongan, Madiun, and the Middle East. I wanted to know more. When you know your roots you know exactly who you are and where you belong,” Christine explained.
The search for personal identity, not just for herself, but relating to all people, is the subject of her newest project, filming this year. It is a trilogy of documentaries filmed on five continents. She is working with Ricky Avenzora, a film director and a lecturer in ecoutourism at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).
Another one of her projects is a half-hour documentary on Indonesia’s UNESCO heritage-listed cultural treasures, such as batik, wayang kulit, kris, angklung, and Borobudur, destined for television and to be shown in schools.
“I think it is very important that children should know about the inheritance of the country in which they were born,” said Christine, who is always passionate on the subject of children.
Christine came to the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, to accept her FIAPF Award (International Federation of Film Producers Associations) for outstanding achievement in film in the Asia Pacific area.
She said that the award was “like Viagra, to make me stronger to satisfy you [audiences]. Now I know that I have to keep on going with my work for the people.”
APSA tried to recruit her several times in the past to be a member of the jury, she went on, but timing had always been a problem, as she was busy working for Unicef and now UNESCO as the goodwill ambassador for teacher education in Southeast Asia.
“We must pay attention to children. They are our future. Who will run the country and the economy in future?,” she said.
Christine has not yet directed a film, but has produced several, and starred in over 30.
Her first role was at the age of 16, in Teguh Karya’s Cinta Pertama.
“I had no wish to be any kind of artist. I didn’t like art at school. I wanted to be an architect or a psychologist. Director Teguh Karya saw my photo in a magazine where I was modeling clothes designed by friends. I did not normally work as a model. When I first met him he was such nice warm and friendly person that I wanted to be polite, so I didn’t say ‘No’. The next time I met him, he took me to his studio.
He reeled me in, slowly, slowly, like a fisherman,” laughed Christine.
“During the shooting, I said to myself, ‘this will be the last time I make a film’, but I won a Best Actress award for the performance, and that’s how I ended up as an actress.
“It was a huge honor for me as an actress, as an Indonesian and as a woman, to play Tjoet Nja Dhien when I was 30 years old. The role was very challenging for me, as it had many dramatic moments. Also, I had to appear to grow older, and play a woman losing her sight. I learned how a beautiful and rich princess could forsake everything for a life of struggle and poverty, living in the jungle. From this I learned to be dedicated to my mission, and struggle to the goal. Some of her is still in me. I also had to explore emotionally, how she might have been thinking and feeling.”
Christine’s emotion was evident on her face as she said this, and tears came to her eyes as she re-lived the powerful experiences of playing the role of the heroine, Tjoet Nja Dhien.
“We Indonesians must respect Tjoet Nja Dhien and other heroes too, who fought to make us free.
Corruptors have forgotten our history, and forgotten that they cannot take their riches with them to the grave. Tjoet Nja Dhien reminds the entire world, to fight for freedom and a better life for all people. The real war that people should be fighting is the war against wrong desires.”
When asked about producing her first film Daun di atas Bantal, Christine said it was “an expensive university for me”. What she was referring to was the first-timer’s error of trying to cut expenses by sending one hundred cans of exposed film to the lab all together.
She received a call from the lab to say that it was all unusable because of a technical fault with the camera. Everything had to be re-shot. If she had sent in the first footage shot, the fault would have been discovered earlier.
“I became a producer for two reasons: to keep filmmaking in my country alive, and to support young filmmakers. I chose Garin Nugroho to direct that film because he was a very talented young director.
Now he’s not so young, but still talented,” she added. “I am happy, that I chose so well.”
In 2002, Christine Hakim was appointed to the Jury of the Cannes Film Festival, along with another Asian, actress Michelle Yeoh, joining other famous international filmmakers.
“I learned a lot and it was good for Indonesia and for Asia, and for each member of the panel it was also good, because Asians have different values than Westerners, and we had to find a meeting point, although coming from different angles.”
As for the very different filmmaking experience of working on a big Hollywood production, in Eat Pray Love, Christine feels fortunate that she had the opportunity of seeing how they work and observing the acting technique of Academy Award winner, Julia Roberts.
“I was on the shoot in Bali for one month, and had 10 shooting days. But I only arrived three days before my first day of shooting, and I had no time to read with the director or with Julia. The first day was taken up with wardrobe, and the second day, I had to get rid of my green hair! The third day I had to read the entire very thick script for the first time. It was very important to read it all, to know the story, especially Julia’s character, because in my role as Wayan, I was giving her back her confidence and strength as a woman, to fall in love again. [And]Yes — I met the real Wayan,” Christine added.
Wayan is her character in the film, a Balinese healer and jamu seller.
“I had to quickly adapt to the working ambience with the crew and understand what the director wanted. I had no time to worry. I had to draw on my past experience, be professional and start shooting on the fourth day.”
Christine said Julia Roberts was very focused on her part.
“I understand that because the whole film was on her shoulders. It was a challenging role for her because a lot of her character’s experiences were emotional. But sometimes she helped me, such as for finding the right intonation.”
When asked about her future plans, Christine said, “I cannot say. In the past, when I decided I wanted to do something, it never happened, but instead the opposite thing came. So I just follow my life.”