One of the film screenings during the Purbalingga Film Festival 2012. (Courtesy of Festival Film Purbalingga)
For residents in Purbalingga, the absence of a cinema network is a cue for creativity.
A six hour drive from the Central Java capital of Semarang, the small regency of Purbalingga, with a population of less than 1 million, holds an annual event to celebrate films — Festival Film Purbalingga (FFP).
Now in its seventh year, this year the festival comprises a short film competition and feature movie screening that reaches an audience of thousands.
“We want youngsters in Purbalingga to be close to filmmaking, so they can be more sensitive toward their surroundings. We also want to show to people that filmmaking can develop in suburban areas like Banyumas,” FFP manager Nanki Nirmanto told The Jakarta Post said.
The event is organized by the Cinema Lovers Community (CLC), which was set up by a number of people with filmmaking backgrounds. They met during the early trend of wedding filmmaking, around 2004.
“We believed that we shouldn’t just limit our skills in filming weddings, so we created a movie community in 2006,” Nanki said.
The CLC is initiated and chaired by Bowo Leksono, a former journalist who made the first short film in Purbalingga. Nanki said three other regular faces of the community were Asep Triyatno, Muhammad Febrianto and Cahyo Prihantoro. Another influential name that helps run the FFP is Dimas Jayasrana, who acts as the programming manager of the festival and director of Jaringan Kerja Film Banyumas (Banyumas Film Network), an umbrella organization of the CLC.
Besides holding the festival, the community also gives workshops to high school students and provides a database for their short films. After two years of successful short film screenings, in 2009, the festival started to hold a competition for four regencies in Banyumas Raya—Purbalingga, Cilacap, Banyumas and Banjarnegara.
Since 2011, a new program called “Layar Tanjleb” (a street film show) has become an attraction at the festival. This involves an outdoor screening event of a local feature film and two local short films in some 20 locations in areas of Banyumas Raya.
Dimas, who currently works at the Institut Francais Indonesia (IFI) in Jakarta, has a network that enables him to secure permission to screen several feature films.
Dimas introduced Minggu Pagi di Victoria Park (Sunday Morning at Victoria Park), a 2010 film on migrant workers directed by Lola Amaria, as a feature film that was screened as part of the “Layar Tanjlep” program last year.
The CLC cooperates with local youth communities in every location where screenings are held, allowing local residents to make short films of their villages, to promote and to get involved in public screening events.
The involvement of youngsters resulted in a warm response from the villagers. Dimas claims that 700 to 1,500 people attend the movie screening in each location. Many migrant workers who come from Banyumas also made a connection with the feature film.
“Many people who watched the movie remember their relatives who work overseas. There were some tears and some of them even called their relatives after watching the movie,” he said.
Nanki said the road show film screening had entertained people in areas that did not have access to movie theaters. The event offered an alternative to the invasion of soap operas that dominated mainstream TV stations.
“At least we won [against soap operas] during the outdoor screening on that particular night,” he said, adding that the screening of short movies lasting for four days in a hotel in Purbalingga had attracted around 900 people each day.
The hype of film festivals offering alternative films also reached other cities, such as Yogyakarta, through Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (JAFF) and Festival Film Dokumenter (Documentary Film Festival); Surakarta, through Festival Film Solo; and Medan, through Festival Film Anak (Children Film Festival).
Yosep Anggi Noen, the co-founder of JAFF, said the festival was initiated by renowned Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho and Singaporean film critic and editor Philip Cheah. Coming into being in 2006, JAFF annually gives appreciation to feature, documentary and short films in Asia.
“The two asked us to make a festival that is run by film communities. We gathered 70 communities who later became the core committee and volunteers. Yogyakarta was picked because the city had friendly communities,” he told the Post.
The communities, he said, started to mushroom after the fall of Soeharto in 1998. Freedom of expression through the media and new video technology that enabled budding filmmakers to learn filmmaking skills, contributed to the birth of dozens of the communities.
The amount of young people who wanted to learn about filmmaking grew further in an environment of existing inspiring arts, including fine arts, dance and theater.
Anggi said the festival gained confidence after seeing the growing number of filmmakers who were making non-mainstream films after 2006.
Award night: Award night at the Purbalingga Film Festival last year. (Courtesy of Festival Film Purbalingga)
“Last year, some 4,000 people came to the festival. During past two years, I’ve also seen new audiences attending, who watch films that maybe used to be difficult for them to enjoy,” he said.
The neighboring city of Surakarta has also enjoyed being hyped with its independent movie festival. Three young men, Ricas CWU, Bayu Bergas and Joko Narimo, are initiators of Festival Film Solo, which has been held every May since 2011. The festival gives the highest recognition — through the Ladrang Award — for its general category and the Gayaman Award for the student category.
“The festival was born as a response to the absence of a film festival that focused on short films. After the closure of Festival Film Pendek Konfiden in 2010, there was no special place for the development of Indonesian short films,” said 27-year-old Ricas.
He said the festival was supported by noted figures in the local film and literature scenes, including author Seno Gumira Ajidarma as well as filmmakers Ifa Isfansyah and Joko Anwar.
Ricas, who chaired a film club at his college and formed Matakaca, a Surakarta-based cinema community, said the first year of the festival saw a 1,800-strong audience, which grew to over 3,800 the following year. The committee counted the audience based on data filled in by people who came for the screening tickets.
Pop culture observer Hikmat Darmawan said the content and distribution of the films had influenced the growth of audiences watching independent feature and short movies.
He said people in villages across Banyumas felt close to the short movies screened at the festival because they saw the connection between themselves and the films through the topics, language or setting.
“Short films and cinema films may talk about love stories, but each will have a different expression. You usually watch a love story in a café or in fancy places where you are in the cinema. In short films, the audience watches places familiar to their own surroundings,” he said.
He said the distribution of independent movies based on communities created a feeling of “being cool” because audiences were watching films that were not aired everywhere.
Hikmat said many well-known filmmakers in the country started their careers in short films. However, he underlined that short films were perfect art works that should not be seen as anything less than feature films.
“In the future, short films will become a way for many people to express themselves. We hope short filmmakers who may enter the world of feature films can bring richer aesthetic value to their work,” he said.
Film festival schedules
• Festival Film Purbalingga: April 27 to May 25
• Festival Film Solo: May 1 to 5
• Balinale International Film Festival: Oct. 4 to 10