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The Jakarta Post
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Education liberates in '€˜Sokola Rimba'€™

  • Andreas D. Arditya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sun, November 17, 2013 | 12:17 pm
Education liberates in '€˜Sokola Rimba'€™ Butet (Prisia Nasution) teaches basic letters to Orang Rimba children. (Courtesy of Miles Films)

Butet (Prisia Nasution) teaches basic letters to Orang Rimba children. (Courtesy of Miles Films)

The dynamic producer-director duo Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza are back with Sokola Rimba (Jungle School), an enlightening feature film for all ages.

Sokola Rimba is based on one of the many stories in the memoirs of the same title by Butet Manurung.

The book recounts Butet'€™s year as an anthropologist, educator and activist with the Orang Rimba (People of the Forest), the nomadic indigenous tribes living in the rainforests of Jambi in central Sumatra.

Riri, a pioneer of Indonesian new-age cinema who shot to fame with the 1997 omnibus Kuldesak, has, once again, wielded his weapon of choice by casting locals in the main roles and shooting in locations true to the story.

He stays true to his signature-style as seen in Laskar Pelangi (released in 2008) and Atambua 39° Celsius ( 2012 ) by featuring native Indonesian tribes, in spite of the quality of their acting skills.

In Sokola, Butet (Prisia Nasution) is an activist working at a conservation organization in Jambi. She spends most of her days during her tenure deep in the dense Bukit Duabelas Jungle teaching literacy and basic math to the children of a community of Orang Rimba in the upstream area of the Makekal River.

Bukit Duabelas is a 60,500-hectare national park, but the conservation area and its dwellers are threatened by oil palm plantations and illegal logging. Butet'€™s organization is working to advocate on behalf of the natives.

One day, malaria strikes Butet while she is trekking her way to the community. She wakes up in a nomadic village and is told that she was saved by a boy from a community living in the downstream area, which is a seven-hour trek from the upstream.

The boy'€™s name is Nyungsang Bungo (Nyungsang Bungo) and he apparently has been repeatedly going out of his way to silently but closely watch Butet teach the Orang Rimba kids.

Butet invites Bungo to join the open class, but he shies away. The teenager, however, still watches the class from afar.

Bungo'€™s eagerness encourages Butet to expand her teaching activities downstream. A proposal to go downstream to her supervisor Bahar (Rukman Rosadi) with whom she does not see eye-to-eye with, was denied.

Butet, however, decides to go behind Bahar'€™s back to secure money for her trip from the organization'€™s treasurer. With the help from two of her students, Beindah (Beindah) and Nengkabau (Nengkabau), she heads downstream.

After convincing downstream community chief Bepak Pengusai (Bepak Pengusai), she is allowed to teach the children there. However, her efforts are immediately met with resistance from the community'€™s elders, including Bungo'€™s mother, who maintains her traditional belief that anything from outside the community is a curse and is destructive.

Butet, however, stays in the community and helps Bungo and other children learn to read. The community often holds deals with loggers that allow them to cut down trees in their area. However, not knowing how to read and write, the community is oblivious to the content of the deals, which they sign using their fingerprints.

Bepak Pengusai finally gives in to his community members, telling Butet that he has nothing against her, but the community wants to stick to traditional rules. With no support from her organization and rejection from the downstream community, Butet needs to find another way to teach the children.

Like children meeting their distant cousins, Sokola, which sets for Nov. 21 premiere in movie theaters across Indonesia, has a slow and awkward introduction. The moments of silence, however, are quickly replaced by intimacy and curiosity.

Touching moments were delivered by Prisia, Bungo, Beindah, Nengkabau and all supporting actors so subtly that at times they could be seen as coming out of nowhere.

Riri'€™s selection on scenes reminds the audience that we think we know Indonesia, but we actually have no idea. Sokola seems to be a watered down version of the original story as written by Butet, but it does not fail to engage and still effectively deliver its message.

It is a movie for all ages '€” a family movie even '€” but it definitely has a potent message.

Sokola Rimba
(90 minutes, Miles Films)
Director: Riri Riza
Screenwriter: Riri Riza
Cast: Prisia Nasution, Nyungsang Bungo, Beindah, Nengkabau, Rukman Rosadi, Nadhira Suryadi, Netta KD, Ines Somellera
Producer: Mira Lesmana

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