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‘Rumah Merah Putih’: Spirit of nationalism from the borderlands

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, June 19, 2019  /  08:38 am

Last year's Independence Day celebration might have been one of the most memorable events for people in Belu regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). A student named Yohanes “Joni” Gama was recorded on video climbing 12 meters to untangle the twisted flagpole rope during the flag-raising ceremony. The video went viral, and people praised Joni for his bravery.

Rumah Merah Putih (red-and-white home) seeks to capture the same spirit of nationalism and fearlessness. The feature film from director Ari Sihasale and screenwriter Jeremias Nyangoen stars Pevita Pearce, Shafira Umm, Yama Carlos, Dicky Tatipikalawan and Abdurrahman Arif.

Actors Dicky Tatipikalawan (left), Shafira Umm (second left), Ari Sihasale (right) and Pevita Pearce (center) of 'Rumah Merah Putih' pose with executive producer Nia Zulkarnaen. The cast and crew were photographed at The Jakarta Post during an interview on June 12, 2019.Actors Dicky Tatipikalawan (left), Shafira Umm (second left), Ari Sihasale (right) and Pevita Pearce (center) of 'Rumah Merah Putih' pose with executive producer Nia Zulkarnaen. The cast and crew were photographed at The Jakarta Post during an interview on June 12, 2019. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

Set in the city of Atambua in NTT, which is also known as the border of Indonesia and Timor Leste, the movie follows Oscar Lopez (Amori De Purivicacao), Farel Amaral (Petrick Rumlaklak) and their friends as they try to resolve a problem a week before Independence Day.

Ari said the film was based on true events, including the moment when Joni climbed up the flagpole. “We only transformed the actual events into the film and did not make it up,” Ari told The Jakarta Post during an interview on June 12. He and executive producer Nia Zulkarnaen chose to set the story in Atambua because the city held many interesting stories, especially about its people's sense of nationalism.

“Though they [the people of Atambua] are located very far from [Jakarta], they have an enormous love for Indonesia,” said Ari. “We think it’s something that is rarely seen in the capital.”

Nia highlighted the importance of Bahasa Indonesia at the film location. "Each village in East Nusa Tenggara has a different language and dialect, but the Indonesian language is what unifies them all. Everyone speaks Bahasa Indonesia," she said.

'Rumah Merah Putih' executive producer Nia Zulkarnaen (left) shares a smile with director Ari Sihasale.'Rumah Merah Putih' executive producer Nia Zulkarnaen (left) shares a smile with director Ari Sihasale. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

The local people usually went all out to celebrate Independence Day, she noted, holding various competitions and decking their neighborhoods in red and white. “They’ll be given decorative flags and paint, so they can decorate their gapura [gate] and fences. It’s really unforgettable,” said Nia.

Read also: Pevita Pearce: New girl on the block

As with his previous films, Ari cast local children in Rumah Merah Putih, particularly Oscar and Petrick. “We feel that all Indonesian children deserve the same opportunity [to act in a film]. They have amazing talent, and it’s up to us whether to give them the opportunity or not,” he said.

After a series of auditions, the children were trained intensively for three weeks under an acting coach. Ari and Nia were both satisfied with the results, as the children were very expressive and they didn’t need to use stunt doubles while shooting the film. They also engaged a dialect coach to help the young actors deliver their lines in the native language.

Actor Shafira Umm stars in 'Rumah Merah Putih' as Rosalia, a housewife who decides to become an Indonesian citizen after the 1999 East Timorese independence referendum. Actor Shafira Umm stars in 'Rumah Merah Putih' as Rosalia, a housewife who decides to become an Indonesian citizen after the 1999 East Timorese independence referendum. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

Dicky Tatipikalawan, who plays Oracio Suares, said other cast members helped and supported him, as Rumah Merah Putih was his first feature film. “Everyone was relaxed during filming,” he said.

Dicky, along with actors Pevita and Shafira, said that they were all touched by the warm welcome they received from the people of Atambua. “They consider us family though we’re just newcomers, and highly value that relationship,” said Pevita.

Actor Dicky Tatipikalawan plays Oracio Suares in 'Rumah Merah Putih', a 'light-hearted' story about nationalism set in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara.Actor Dicky Tatipikalawan plays Oracio Suares in 'Rumah Merah Putih', a 'light-hearted' story about nationalism set in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara. (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

“Hopefully, this film will entertain viewers, as it is light-hearted but reminds us what nationalism is about in a simple way,” said Shafira. “We can learn from these people who live on the outskirts of Indonesia, and hopefully the message will reach the other islands as well.”

Pevita Pearce stars as Maria Lopez in 'Rumah Merah Putih', her second collaboration with Alenia Pictures after 'Denias, Senandung di Atas Awan' (Denias, a Hum Above the Clouds, 2006).Pevita Pearce stars as Maria Lopez in 'Rumah Merah Putih', her second collaboration with Alenia Pictures after 'Denias, Senandung di Atas Awan' (Denias, a Hum Above the Clouds, 2006). (JP/Wienda Parwitasari)

Produced by Alenia Pictures, Rumah Merah Putih is the first film in a trilogy that tells stories from areas in Indonesia that border other countries, including in Kalimantan and Papua. Rumah Merah Putih will hit Indonesian theaters on June 20, when it premieres in Kupang, NTT, and in Jakarta.

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