press enter to search

Ismail Basbeth: Versatile and daring filmmaker

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, February 21, 2018  /  04:33 pm
Ismail Basbeth: Versatile and daring filmmaker

In his cinematic pursuits, filmmaker Ismail Basbeth likes to walk a fine line between commercial and art movies. (JP/Sebastian Partogi)

In his cinematic pursuits, filmmaker Ismail Basbeth likes to walk a fine line between commercial and art movies. 

Ismail is no stranger to crossing the boundary between commercial and art films, having previously directed a non-mainstream movie called Another Trip to the Moon and a mainstream one called Mencari Hilal (The Crescent Moon). Both were released in 2015, and both have won critical acclaim. 

In 2016, he directed romantic comedy Talak 3, which received critical acclaim despite a subpar commercial performance. 

His latest arthouse cinema project, Mobil Bekas dan Kisah-Kisah Dalam Putaran (A Secondhand Car and a Vortex of Stories) has just been listed at the Busan International Film Festival 2017. 

Mobil Bekas dan Kisah-Kisah Dalam Putaran is an unscripted film that chronicles fragments of Indonesia's history from 1945 to 2016. The movie covers different subjects, from consumerism and the mindlessness of social media users to politics and tolerance. 

The movie was also one of the nominees for the Busan International Film Festival's Kim Jiseok Award and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2017. 

In between those two international festivals, Ismail went to Germany to shoot his latest commercial movie, a remake of the 1987 Indonesian flick hit Arini: Masih Ada Kereta Yang Akan Lewat (Arini: Another Train Will Come), which is an adaptation of a popular novel of the same title penned by Mira W. 

Ismail has his reasons for being productive in both the art and commercial film fields, considered by many to contradict one another. 

"To be frank, it is very difficult to find a market segment for art films. My art films are not very popular, and it is very hard to find audiences for them. Let's face it, in Indonesia people will trust your work only after you've established your name as a strong brand," the 32-year-old Ismail told The Jakarta Post

"Therefore, I need to build my own brand and audience base by also working on more accessible, commercial films." 

"As long as the [commercial film] script intrigues me, as long as I can express myself honestly through the film, I am willing to work on it." 

Ismail's production house, Matta Cinema, which emerged from his film talent collective Hide Project Film -- seeks to create a platform to provide talents for mainstream films. 

Another production house he runs, Bosan Berisik Lab, meanwhile, focuses on artistic and experimental films. 

"All countries that have a strong non-mainstream [ecosystem] also have a strong mainstream industry as a backbone; just look at China, Japan or South Korea," he argued, adding that his production houses used a cross-subsidy scheme to strengthen the mainstream and independent film scenes in Indonesia. 

The Hide Project Films collective had bred many talents in the local film industry, including music director Charlie Meliala and photography director Satria Kurnianto. 

"They have received lots of projects from prominent filmmakers. Filmmaker Garin Nugroho, for instance, hired Charlie to work with him on Aach... Aku Jatuh Cinta [Ouch, I'm in Love, 2016]," he said. 

On the other hand, non-mainstream filmmakers could also tap into a lot of potential in local commercial films. 

"When we talk about form, commercial films might have only certain standards. Within those standards, however, we have an opportunity to explore different perspectives that are uniquely ours," Ismail said. 

Ismail mentioned Eddy Cahyono's Siti ( 2016 ) and Kamila Andini's The Seen and Unseen ( 2017 ) as two local movies that had blown his mind recently. 

"The films are so good they make me envious [of the filmmakers]," he said enthusiastically. 

"I wanted to quit being a filmmaker after watching those two films; when will I be able to make films like those?"