If it’s love, filmmaker Upi finds herself falling hard for film.
Sitting alone at a corner of a cozy cafe in South Jakarta, the writer-director-producer Sartri Dania “Upi” Sulfiati set her focus on a laptop in front of her.
Upi, dressed in an all-black outfit comprising a printed tank top, knee-length pants and a pair of cool boot.
“I just got back from a photo shoot for a magazine. They put all this makeup on me,” she says.
Upi was expecting her dream movie, a thriller entitled Belenggu (Shackle), to hit theaters in late February. She wrote, produced and directed the film.
“After 10 years, I finally made a thriller. This is one particular film genre that I’ve always wanted to work in, even when I was still a kid,” she said, referring to Twin Peaks, a quirky yet intriguing TV series back in 1990s by David Lynch, which became her biggest influence.
Upi started her career in feature films writing the screenplay for Tusuk Jelangkung (The Stab of the Uninvited), the sequel of blockbuster movie Jelangkung (The Uninvited), in 2002.
Since then, Upi has written and directed 30 Hari Mencari Cinta (Looking for Love in 30 Days, 2004), Realita, Cinta dan Rock n’ Roll (Reality, Love and Rock n’ Roll, 2006), a movie in the omnibus Perempuan Punya Cerita (Chants of Lotus, 2008), Radit dan Jani (Radit and Jani, 2008), Serigala Terakhir (The Last Wolf, 2009) and action-comedy Red CobeX (2010).
In Hi5teria (Hysteria, 2011), she leveled up, taking role as the producer.
Besides Belenggu, Upi plans to release an omnibus film about children titled Princess, Bajak Laut dan Alien (Princess, Pirate and Alien) along with other Broadcast Design Indonesia (BDI) production house alumni, such as Rizal Mantovani, Eko Kristianto and Alfani Wiryawan by the middle of this year.
Upi has known and learned about film her entire life.
“My father worked in a film production company. He even studied cinematography at IKJ [the Jakarta Art Institute]. He introduced me to film, taking me to watch movies in the cinema, and he bought me story books.
“But he never allowed me to study cinematography like he did because he was concerned about the film industry, which was in a low at that time. My father was worried about whether I would get a proper job, never mind the demanding working hours,” Upi says.
Despite not giving his blessing, Upi’s father agreed to support her when she pitched a story idea for the Opera Tiga Jaman (Opera of Three Ages) situation comedy, which was broadcast by RCTI in the 1990s.
“My father worked for the production. After a formal pitch process, the television station and its team liked my idea, so I got the deal when I was 17,” said Upi, who grew up with Enid Blyton’s books and Agatha Christie’s novels.
Upi admitted that she was a person with an abundant imagination. “It works non-stop, even when I’m about to sleep at nights.”
Hence, she found that writing and transforming her writing into a visual work a perfect playground for her.
“I have both childish and dark parts in me. The childish part gives me stories like 30 Hari Mencari Cinta, while the others mostly come from my dark side,” said Upi, who is also a fan of Pedro Almodovar for his film titled All About
Upi was amazed by how Almodovar mixed various issues from life, culture, religion and sex. That was why she used a similar recipe by featuring veteran action actor Barry Prima as a transvestite in Realita, Cinta dan Rock n’ Roll.
The 40-year-old mother of one never had a formal education in filmmaking. She even chose to work for BDI and dropped out her studies in mass communications in Moestopo University.
“I started as a writer at BDI. Later on, I also joined the production team. That was how I learned this industry, by trying all kinds of work from scratch — doing meal arrangements for artists, wiping their sweat, you name it. Then I got my chance to direct a music video clip.”
The experience is probably what makes her the way she is today.
Upi said that she has never tired of film.
“Film is simply a part of me. I will never get tired or bored of making it. In fact, filmmaking is my escapism because I have a ton of imagination in my mind. But I know that it needs a lot of money, and that frustrates me most of the time,” says Upi, who only directs her own screenplays.
Upi is learning how to control her tendency to be perfectionist.
“I have a certain standard for my movies, and I don’t get satisfied easily; small things can be big deals for me — as you can see, I only have a few films that I direct myself.
“I know being a perfectionist is unhealthy, because at the end of the day, I tend to hurt myself out that. I’m still learning to deal with it by convincing myself that there’s no absolute flawlessness in this world.
“Some things are meant to be imperfect,” said Upi.
Despite all the works she has made, Upi said that being a great director wasn’t the ultimate thing she wanted.
“I just want to be a good mother for my son. My mother died because of cancer, so I really want to stay healthy so I can see him growing up,” she said.
Upi shared that her son, Farrel, 11, is special.
“Most children at his age will play around, but he’s different. He has strong interest in history, politics, science, and he’d like to be a president one day. He’s very logical. He doesn’t fit into my world.”
She said that his son’s comfort place was in his bedroom with his books, laptop and Internet connection — the opposite of her expressive nature.
“Ever since he started school, he pretty much never asks questions to me; never asks help for homework.
“Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have a child, at all,” said Upi with a laugh, adding that going to movies and bookstores is the only way she could get her son out of the house. For Upi, Farrel is her teacher in life.
“Before I had him, I always thought about myself — no matter good or bad. Now, I want to be a better person each and every day for him.”
— Photos by Niken Prathivi