JP/Ika KrismantariFilm is not just about aesthetics or a medium for entertainment for Yogyakarta-based anthropologist Muhammad Zamzam Fauzanafi. For him, movies are also an effective tool to promote positive social change.
“This thing is very powerful, you can do almost everything with it,” the 35-year-old man said in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post during a visit to the capital.
History has seen how Hitler used films for war propaganda, while corporations depend on the medium to encourage consumerism. But Zamzam, as he is usually called, prefers to take advantage of the power of audiovisual media for good: to empower society. That choice has garnered him numerous awards, including the prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, which was handed over directly by US First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House in 2011.
The lecturer and social researcher says he has been using video or photography for years. He strongly believes that audiovisual media are powerful tools for both social work and research. For years, the man has proven the superiority of the mediums not only in providing honest yet comprehensive portrayals of social conditions but also in stimulating positive change in society.
But before coming to such an understanding, Zamzam revealed he grew up a movie buff.
Hailing from the small city of Tasikmalaya in West Java, the bespectacled man recalled that not a single day passed without him watching movies. Little Zamzam enjoyed seeing films in theaters or at a neighbor’s, despite bans from his conservative grandfather who warned against all secular activities, including watching films and listening to music.
“I watched films behind his back … I cooperated with my brother,” the father of one shared with a smile.
Having the reputation as a film maniac positioned him to become a reference for his school friends, who always asked for his advice before going to the cinema.
However, it seems that his passion for film is not large enough to encourage him to get involved in movie productions. Instead, the little boy wanted to become a writer rather than a filmmaker.
Apart from being a movie buff, Zamzam was also a bookworm since elementary school.
Eventually, he dropped his dream of becoming a writer after consulting with his older brother.
“Being an anthropologist was pretty much the same as being a writer because basically, anthropology is about writing and you also get the chance to travel around the world, going to remote places,” he said, repeating his brother’s words.
Nodding to his brother’s recommendation, Zamzam went to Gadjah Mada University to study anthropology after graduating from high school.
He excelled in the new field.
The man said that being appointed the chairman of the anthropology student body his freshman year and becoming the youngest student involved in the campus research team were among his achievements at university.
Zamzam was known as a brilliant student who always participated in every research project on campus. The experiences honed not only his methodological skills as a researcher but also his social aptitude as an individual.
He admitted he used to be a guy who found it hard to mingle, but becoming an anthropologist encouraged him to connect with his surroundings.
He noticed his social skills improved during his time conducting research on the toilet habits of local people near the Code River in Yogyakarta.
“I didn’t know how to ask them because it was something personal. But in the end, I talked to them and built relationships until I got some interesting facts,” Zamzam recalled.
His success with the Code project spurred further social research on diverse subjects in and outside of campus and all across the country.
His first field experience with visual anthropology occurred when he participated in the university’s social work field program in 1999.
Zamzam, who had developed an interest in the subject because of his penchant for film, tried to include his video-making project in the society empowerment program in Dlingo in Bantul, Yogyakarta.
The project attained massive success, which led him to an understanding of the strength of audiovisual media in empowering society.
Since that moment, Zamzam tried to make use of video or photography in his work in society.
His engagement with visual anthropology went further after he was offered a Ford Foundation scholarship to take a Master’s degree at the University of Manchester in the UK.
Zamzam said he chose Manchester because he regarded the city as the starting point for social revolution in the world.
“Manchester was the place where the first industrial revolution took place. I explored the city to see how society has changed. That inspired me to take part in social changes in ways that I can,” he explained.
Upon returning from Manchester, Zamzam returned to Yogyakarta to put all the theories he learned at university into practice. Together with his longtime anthropologist friend, Dian Herdiany, he founded Kampung Halaman, Indonesia’s Youth Community Media in 2006. The organization aims to empower the younger generation in the use of media.
Through workshops and video-making programs, the young are encouraged to build their own critical views by actively involving themselves in media production.
“We target youth because they are the most adaptable subjects when it comes to operating media but at the same time, they have become the victims of mass media,” Zamzam explained.
The organization has so far produced more than 150 videos involving young people from different provinces in the country. The highlight was when Kampung Halaman was named the winner of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards from the US government in 2011, with Zamzam being chosen as the representative of the organization to receive the award in Washington, DC.
But after six years, Zamzam said he decided to distance himself from organizational activities at Kampung Halaman, preferring to focus instead on lecturing and research.
The recipient of the 2012 Young Researcher Award from the Indonesian Academy of Sciences chose to work under academic frameworks as it allowed him to work optimally for society without the time constraints usually set up under NGO programs.
Finally, the doctoral candidate from a Dutch university only hopes to continuously ignite positive change in society as an anthropologist and researcher who works with visual media.