People

Salman Aristo: The story
teller

JP/Cynthia Webb

When asked what he does for a living, Salman Aristo says he’s a story teller.

As a jury member for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) which took place recently in  Australia’s Gold Coast,  he said: “I’ve learned a lot. This is the first time I’ve served on an international jury, and it has given me a new perspectives on films...  I am not just watching and enjoying films, but also  examining them from the viewpoints of acting, directing, cinematography,  and looking for the special cultural relevance to their country of origin, which APSA requires.”

Salman has had a life-long fascination with cinema, which began before he could read or fully understand films.

“Our family used to go on outings to the cinema, especially during Lebaran. We saw mostly Indonesian films and a few American ones. Some children my age were afraid of the big dark room, but not me.”
The first film he saw was Captain America.

“Back then, cinemas were stand-alone buildings, and it was a special occasion, because you went there especially for the film. Now cinemas are all in malls, which I very much regret. It has changed the face of the industry, making going to the movies just another activity of the ‘Mall Crawler’ culture.

“That has meant that producers now try to fulfill the needs of a different type of audience — it is mostly young people who hang out in malls.  Therefore, respect towards films has been much reduced.

“In the 1990s, when I was old enough to go to the movies alone, cinemas were already in malls, and I really missed the atmosphere of the theatres of my childhood,” said Salman.

By then, he was a film and a music geek, he went on, and spent all his pocket money going to movies, and buying music cassettes.  

“I was a member of a band, playing bass, and a big fan of Iwan Fals, and still am.  I was crazy about soccer too.  I lived in a gang [alley] and we kicked the ball around. If you didn’t play soccer, you didn’t have any friends!”

Salman was born in 1976, grew up in Jakarta and attended Padjadjaran University in Bandung, majoring in journalism.   He has written several  screenplays, including box office hit Laskar Pelangi [Rainbow Warriors], adapted from Andrea Hirata’s novel.  Other scripts include the one for Catatan Akhir Sekolah [Final Notes for School], Sang Pemimpi [The Dreamers] and Garuda di Dadaku [Garuda on my Chest]. 

He’s currently novelizing the script for the latter film.  

He’s had a career spanning magazine editorships, three novels and numerous screen writing credits
for television and documentary films, and enjoys conducting workshops on script writing and filmmaking. He also loves traveling. “That’s another reason why I love being involved in filmmaking,” he said.

In Salman’s opinion, “A writer should not only be concerned with writing a good story. It’s also important to have an awareness of your social responsibility. Making films is not just a business. It is an art. It has a certain position in society and you cannot be careless or ignorant when writing a film. Even a rom-com can contain meaning and humanity.”

He also loves scripts by Richard Curtis, describing them as hilarious as well as serious.

“I really love the film he wrote and directed, The Girl in the Café, starring Bill Nighy. Love Actually, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral all had the contrasting aspects of humor and seriousness.

Richard Curtis is one of my inspirations.

“I’m also inspired by the work of Woody Allen, Richard Linklater and Robert Altman. The first time Woody Allen went out of his comfort zone [New York] and made a film in London, Match Point, and it was fantastic.”

Salman condemns the film bill enacted by the Indonesian government saying it will cripple filmmakers and their industry, with its limitations and requirements.

“We filmmakers intend to challenge it in the high court. It’s a ridiculous act, in my opinion. The government is so clueless about its own film industry.

“It wants to create a qualification that will be required for people to work in the industry, and yet does not put any money into maintaining or creating new film schools. There is only one film school  in the country.

“How do it expect people to be able to study for their certificate. It also says it wants 60 percent of the films watched by Indonesians to be made locally, but where will these films come from? Who will make them? Where will the money come from? How can we follow the law if we don’t have the resources?”

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