Feature

Tackling the tough questions

Mother, daughter fight: Siti Chomsatun (left) and her daughter Leila Zenastry seek justice for hospital mistreatment that resulted in Siti almost losing her voice. Courtesy of Gambar Bergerak
Mother, daughter fight: Siti Chomsatun (left) and her daughter Leila Zenastry seek justice for hospital mistreatment that resulted in Siti almost losing her voice. Courtesy of Gambar Bergerak

In Indonesia’s patriarchal society, women rarely get opportunities to play a central role in any sector of life.

Society has historically undermined their existence, treating them as second-rate citizens.
Well, good news people!

Women have finally taken center stage as the main protagonists in a serial of documentaries produced by the Kalyana Shira Foundation.

Two documentary films recently launched at the 12th Jakarta International Film Festival (Jiffest) tell the stories of women’s life struggles in several places in Indonesia.

The first film titled Working Girls portrays the life of a group of women who have become the backbone of not only their family but also their community.

This documentary is an anthology in three parts directed by different individuals.

Each movie however speaks the same way about women’s fight to survive in this world.

The first part depicts the life of 14-year-old Ayu Riana, the winner of a 2008 National Singing Contest for Children. After winning the contest, the young girl is forced into working to feed her poor family at a young age. She performs in numerous local shows in different West Java villages to make ends meet.

The second story is about a group of women in Yogayakarta who fight to maintain a traditional theater group that has become the only source of income for the members’ families.

The last story is about a transvestite called Ulfie, who decides to return to her religious hometown in Aceh after years of success in the capital city, to run her own beauty salon. Along her journey, Ulfie, who lives with HIV, finds a new calling: preventing her friends from partaking in unsafe sex practices.

The three stories are beautifully woven into a movie that wants to show these women’s struggles not only to survive but to chase their dreams.

With a tagline: “We Work, We Struggle and We Have Dreams just like you”, the movie shows the audience that despite living difficult lives, these women have their own dreams to create a better life for their family and themselves.

The movie project is Kalyana Shira Foundation’s brainchild, headed by Indonesian top director Nia Dinata to raise human rights issue through films.

The foundation organizes a regular workshop that selects a number of young directors to work on documentary projects which highlight problems in society focused on empowering the marginalized.

“At the beginning, we tried to do fiction, but in the end, we went for a documentary to tell the public about the issue of marginalized people from a real perspective,” Nia told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.

Working Girls was developed from scratch in a 2009 workshop. Nia selected five young directors from 26 participants to develop three different stories in a documentary that focused on gender issues. This was the directors’ first opportunity to get involved in documentary-making.

The story of Riana, titled 5 Minutes to Fame, is directed by Sally Anom Sari and Sammaria Simanjutak. The Bandung-based filmmakers are known for their indie-style romance flick Cin(t)a that was well received by the public.

The second part of the film, Windless Rhapsody, which recounts the story of nomadic women struggling to keep their traditional theater group alive, was made by Yosep Anggi Noen, an aspiring director from Yogyakarta.

The last part Ulfie Goes Home is directed by Daud Sumolang and Nitta Nazyra C. Noer, talented young directors who have won awards in local and international festivals.

Sally and Sammaria deserve special applause for successfully exploring complicated relationships between their main character and surroundings, which strengthen the movie’s plot. The film managed to capture personal conflicts between Ayu, her father and foster father, who added another layer of pressure to the young singer’s life.

Apart from Working Girls, Kalyana Shira Foundation also launched another documentary project titled Conspiracy of Silence.

This movie highlights Indonesia’s problematic healthcare system.

The film delves into why Indonesia’s health management leads to malpractices that put patients’ lives at risk.

Surprisingly, the health authority and the government’s ignorance of people’s right to proper access to health are thought to be at the root of the problem.

Despite the movie’s main focus on health, the director Ucu Agustin said this documentary project was really about women.

“All the main characters in this movie are women. There is a daughter seeking justice for her mother’s health, a mother fighting for her children who were victims of malpractice and a wife trying to cure her husband from chronic illness,” Ucu said.

Ucu is one of Indonesia’s top documentary filmmakers, known for bringing out gender issues in most of her projects.

Her latest movie Ragate Anak (For The Sake of Children), which is part of a documentary anthology At Stake, also by Kalyana Shira Foundation, recounts how women’s bodies always end up sacrificed for the livelihood of the family.

“Gender is a classic issue. For years, this has been a problem. I wonder why?,” Ucu said, adding that it was her intention to raise this issue in her movies so she could help the public figure out a solution to this problem.

Nia agreed it is the documentary filmmakers’ job to represent reality to audiences and raise the issue in attractive ways.

“To attract people’s attention and stir discussions, we must present interesting cases that can be enjoyed visually, with strong messages in the end about the existence of injustice and the need to stop it,” she said.

To carry out this mission, Kalyana Shira Foundation will screen Working Girls and Conspiracy of Silence for free at the Salihara Theater in South Jakarta to commemorate Indonesia Mother’s Day on Dec. 22.

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