Damien Dematra: A Humanist Film Maker
A. Kurniawan Ulung
The Jakarta Post
Benefiting people is the only focus set by director Damien Dematra every time the idea of making a new film comes to his mind.
He said that a movie would be useless if it made money without having a positive impact on peace and humanity.
'All of my movies have to contain not only social messages, but also power to make change,' he said in a recent interview.
His first movie, he said, was the comedy-drama Istriku Psikopat (My Wife is a Psychopath) made in 2007.
Its idea popped up due to many negative stereotypes surrounding patients with schizophrenia.
He said that such stereotypes disturbed him because he understood that many schizophrenics could benefit people and make achievements, such as the American mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr, who won the Nobel prize in 1994.
Therefore, the movie aimed to motivate schizophrenics to keep their optimism alive as well as to stop people from underestimating them, he said.
Like Istriku Psikopat, the dramatic film I'm Star (sic) also tells people not to look down on people with special needs.
Damien recalled when some parents came to him in 2011 and asked him to film the 'I'm Star' music band that was formed by their autistic children, namely Arya, Abhy, Shinta and Ervitha.
He said that after watching the band's performance, he agreed to make a film about it because he wanted to show that autistic children, like normal people, could be useful for society and their parents need not to hide them.
He said that he thanked God because the goal of I'm Star had been achieved.
When being asked about the development of I'm Star personnel, their parents told him that the movie had accelerated the healing process of their children by more than 70 percent and boosted their confidence, he said.
The parents, he said, also told him that they could control their autistic children more easily after the production.
'At that point, I realized that watching a movie can be inspiring and educating, while acting in it can be healing,' he said.
Damien said that he was grateful again when he witnessed more than 1,200 children with special needs watching I'm Star during a nobar (communal screening) held by North Jakarta Mayor Heru Budi Hartono to celebrate the International Day of People with Disability in Kelapa Gading Mall on Dec. 3, 2014.
During the screening, he was touched when he saw blind children laughing and crying.
However, Damien revealed that making a non-commercial movie for social purposes frequently fails to attract other filmmakers for collaboration or potential crew because it did not offer huge profit.
He said that he still remembered when making L4 Lupus, a film that told the true story of a girl diagnosed with Lupus, in 2011. Due to a limited crew, he was not only directing, but also producing, acting, scriptwriting, illustrating, shooting, editing and even lighting the project.
'Social awareness is almost zero in the heart of the people working in film industry in this country,' he said.
Damien's high awareness for social issues also encouraged him to participate in creating peace and promoting humanity by initiating various events.
Since 2011, he has founded the Film Festival for Peace, Inspiration and Equality (IFFPIE), the International Film Festival for the Environment, Health and Culture (IFFEHC), the International Film Festival for Spirituality, Religion and Visionary (IFFSRV), Artist Care Movement and the World Humanitarian Award (WHA).
He said that he was encouraging young people across the archipelago to participate in making peace through various ways, including movie making.
For poor children who were interested in learning skills of making movies, he plans to share his knowledge for free as part of the People's Creative Assembly, to be launched in April at the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Central Jakarta.
During the event, he plans to teach them creative writing and photography.
'We will give a lot of free trainings for youth because we believe that movie making is an effective way to deliver messages of peace, pluralism and tolerance,' Damien said.
The University of Western Sydney graduate in international business said that he believed in Steven Spielberg's statement that the best film school in the world was making a film.
Courage and determination aere key, said Damien, who was named best director by various film festivals, such as the Indie Fest Film Festival in 2013 and the Colorado International Film Festival in 2014.
He said that he would make more inspiring movies about social issues to create change and keep inspiring people.
'I do not live from movies, but I live for movies,' said Damien, who has produced more than 10 films since 2007, such as Obama Anak Menteng (Obama, the Menteng Kid) and Si Anak Kampoeng (The Village Kid).
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