Sports on Screen
Rizal Iwan, WEEKENDER | Thu, 10/27/2011 12:13 PM |
Today, when Indonesians want to cheer on their sporting heroes, all they have to do is watch a movie.
Indonesia has a long and proud sporting tradition, featuring world champion boxers, badminton greats, Asian Games winners, even a couple of Olympic gold medalists.
Until recently, however, this aspect of the nation was rarely reflected on the silver screen; ironically, we are now seeing a stream of movies detailing dreams of sports success even as our athletes take fewer places on the podium.
This year marks the release of two films about soccer. One is the critically acclaimed Tendangan Dari Langit (A Kick From Heaven), which tells of a boy from a remote area of East Java who dreams of playing for the celebrated local team.
Garuda Di Dadaku 2 (Garuda In My Heart 2), slated to come out in December, is a follow-up to the successful 2009 movie about, again, a boy fighting for the chance to play for the national junior team. The year the first Garuda Di Dadaku was released also saw the release of King, about a boy pining to become a badminton champion, invoking nostalgia for badminton legend, Liem Swie King.
A different spin on soccer was at the center of Romeo & Juliet (2009), a raw love story of star-crossed lovers from opposing groups of fans, and Gara-Gara Bola (Blame It On Soccer, 2008), a comedy about two guys trying to wriggle out of a web of unfortunate situations after losing a bet on the World Cup winner.
The emergence of these films is a reminder of the few notable sports films in the heyday of Indonesian cinema. One of the first Indonesian films that focused on sports as its subject was Gadis Olahraga (The Sport Girl) in 1951, a family drama about a young woman doing her utmost to compete at the National Games (PON). The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a sprinkling of films set against backdrops of boxing and auto racing. The most memorable is probably Gadis Marathon (The Marathon Girl, 1981), with Jenny Rachman winning a Citra best actress award for her performance as the brilliant long-distance runner.
The local film industry then went into the doldrums; upon its revival, there has been little room for deviation from formulaic but box-office-friendly plots. This practically pushed sports – never a popular theme in the first place – out of the picture, until the commercial success of Garuda Di Dadaku, which reportedly drew 1.2 million viewers in its first three weeks of release.
An unexpected wave of public enthusiasm during the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup last December, when Indonesian fans turned out en masse to support the national team in the stadium as well as on Twitter, has extended this interest. Tendangan Dari Langit presents Irfan Bachdim and Kim Kurniawan – two of the most popular players from the AFF Championship – as its poster boys to attract audiences, even though their roles in the film are minimal. Garuda Di Dadaku 2 might still benefit from the residue of this public sentiment.
“Producers are starting to realize that [this subject] has a big market,” says Andibachtiar Yusuf, a filmmaker and devoted soccer fan who has worked Indonesian soccer into three of his four feature films. “Today, Irfan Bachdim is like [David] Beckham. People don’t have to be soccer-literate to be drawn to him.”
He may be right. Nasuha, a soccer fan and a 42-year-old father of two, said he went to see the film because his 12-year-old son Faisal wanted to see Bachdim.
“He was a fan of Irfan during the AFF Cup, and he wanted to see the film to feel closer to his idol. In the film, he gets an up-close and personal look at Irfan playing. After the movie, he became an even bigger fan of the man,” Nasuha says, adding that his son had even changed his Facebook profile name to Faisal Bachdim.
But do sports-themed films actually rely on such connections to specific occasions or players? Gara-Gara Bola rode the wave of the 2008 World Cup, and Rio Sang Juara (Rio the Champion), a boxing film from 1989, was made when the nation was overjoyed by Elias Pical’s ascendance to a world title.
Then again, Garuda Di Dadaku was a commercial success without any specific event to boost ticket sales. Salman Aristo, the screenwriter – who also wrote and produced the sequel – points to aspects beyond sports that audiences can relate to and that translate well on screen.
“It’s generally a statement about the condition of Indonesian soccer today, but it’s also about honesty and how talent alone is never enough. All sports have those values,” Salman says.
Perhaps the universal theme in Garuda Di Dadaku – pursuing a dream against all odds – was what people found inspiring. Similar themes also ran through King and Tendangan Dari Langit.
Pride on the Line
This aspect marks a shift in themes between sports movies of the past and today. Back then, the stories were about personal drama with sports as the backdrop. Despite touching on sports philosophy, Gadis Marathon focused on the relationship between the heroine and her trainer. Rio Sang Juara is basically a love story.
Even when real athletes starred in the films – such as badminton legends Rudy Hartono in Matinya Seorang Bidadari (Death of an Angel, 1971) and King in Sakura Dalam Pelukan (Cherry Blossom in My Embrace, 1979) – sports were not even in the picture.
With today’s generation of sports movies, the overriding theme has changed to something bigger: what Yusuf terms “the pursuit of happiness”, but which boils down to a sense of pride.
“Generally, we are now undergoing a crisis in national pride. We are in need of a boost,” he explains. “Maybe because our government has failed to give us pride. Maybe because the things that happen in our country are not something to be proud of. Whenever we watch local news, we see all sorts of horrible things. Something must be wrong with our nation today. That’s why this kind of spirit in movies resonates, that we can be better.”
The AFF Cup euphoria is solid proof of this statement, and something movie producers were quick to seize upon. But the question is, will the same fans who swarmed to the stadium also pack into movie theaters? Despite the critical acclaim, Tendangan Dari Langit received a lukewarm reaction from moviegoers.
Nasuha, for instance, who supported the national team at the Senayan stadium, says that he would not have gone to see Garuda Di Dadaku or Tendangan Dari Langit if it were not for his son.
“Movies are fiction, they’re not real. You get a different sensation when you’re watching the team play in real life. But maybe it’s different for young kids. They still have dreams,” he says.
Gun Subari, a 30-year-old graphic designer, didn’t miss any of the national team’s games during the AFF Cup. However, he admits he has no interest in watching an Indonesian soccer film. This is not because they were intended for kids, but because he thinks the films are too sugar-coated and don’t reflect what is really going on in the country’s soccer industry.
“We still have a big mess to clean up. Let’s not talk about achievements just yet. I think it would be better if the films talk about the supporters instead, something that Indonesian soccer enthusiasts can relate to,” he says.
This sentiment is echoed by Yusuf, whose realistic depiction of the Persija and Persib supporters in his film Romeo & Juliet attracted a healthy 700,000 moviegoers in eight weeks.
“Supporters want to see themselves on screen,” he says. “I have friends who are traditional soccer supporters, and they are willing to seek out films like The Football Factory, Offside, Rise of the Footsoldier or The Damned United,” he says.
Looking at the number of sports films from other countries, we return to the persistent question: Why is the screen such an “unhealthy” place for sport in Indonesia?
But should we be asking that question of the sports or film industry?
“It’s a two-way street,” says Salman. “What film does is reflect, and sport is the inspiration. If the sport doesn’t do well, what is there to reflect? But if the film industry is not healthy, no matter how big our achievement in sport is, it wouldn’t be reflected well on screen. For the time being, we still need to work on both.”
Yusuf, on the other hand, leaned more toward film. “People go to the movies for the story. If a film has a good basketball game sequence or soccer game montage, but the story sucks, people wouldn’t like it. You don’t have to like soccer to love Bend It Like Beckham, right?”
However, these two filmmakers believe that sport will find a place in the film industry in the future.
“Indonesians have long identified with sport, and it’s a big genre in film. So it should be big, in time,” says Salman.
Yusuf believes it will take one important condition for this to occur.
“When our film industry has come to a place where it’s developed enough to diversify its products – an ideal where every segment in the audience has a piece of the pie – then sport will find a good spot on screen,” he said.
And to get to that point is not easy. A great deal of work needs to be done – in both the film and sports industries. It’s not enough just to make good movies or play sport well.
There’s a line in Tendangan Dari Langit, spoken by Timo Scheunemann, the coach of the local team Persema, that goes: “Soccer is tough. It’s not enough to score a goal. It’s not enough to win.”
That’s a line that resonates far beyond soccer itself.