The Jakarta Post
Livi Zheng (left) during the filming process of 'Bali: Beats of Paradise', which took three months in total. (Bali Beats of Paradise/File)
Livi Zeng’s documentary Bali: Beats of Paradise had its Indonesian premiere in Blitar, East Java, on Wednesday.
A number of regency administration officials including Blitar Regent Rijanto were in the audience for the event.
Born in Blitar, Livi is no stranger to the regency, especially since Rijanto had previously worked with her in the making of Amazing Blitar, a tourism promotional video.
Bali: Beats of Paradise is Livi’s third film after her two previous action movies. The documentary will be screened nationwide in cinemas starting from Aug. 22. Singapore Airlines reportedly has also bought the broadcast rights of the documentary.
The film itself tells the story of over 70-year-old Balinese figure I Nyoman Wenten who lives in the United States teaching gamelan music and Balinese dance at a number of universities such as the University of California, Los Angeles; the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music; and the California Institute of the Arts.
“This film aims to tell the world that the gamelan music used in a number of movies, including Avatar, comes from Indonesia," Livi said.
Wenten and his wife Nanik, who is also a dancer and choreographer, are preparing to retire and return to Indonesia after living abroad for 45 years.
Before retiring, Wenten wants to show to the world the Balinese arts, especially its dances and gamelan music, on YouTube. At the same time he is also aware that such videos do not get many views on YouTube. Still, he wants to have at least a million views for the video on Balinese gamelan and dance.
Enter Livi Zheng, the filmmaker, who introduced him to Judith Hill, a Grammy-award-winning funk singer and composer, who wants to produce a video clip for her song “Queen of the Hill” using traditional Balinese dance and gamelan music.
Livi Zheng during a screening event of 'Bali: Beats of Paradise' at CGV Cinemas in Blitar Town Square, Blitar, East Java, on Wednesday, Aug. 7. (JP/Asip Hasani)
A collaboration between Wenten and Hill begins, which includes blending Western and Balinese music. The documentary shows how both worked hard in the studio, mixing various gamelan tones with funk music, regardless of their different tone bases.
The film also shows the process of the choreography for the video clip which presents four Balinese dancers as background and how Hill learns to harmonize her dance with the dancers’ movements.
The figure of Wenten in the film is strong. Successful in the US, Wenten started his career as an art ambassador abroad during the rule of Indonesia's first president Sukarno.
The story about Wenten in the film can be followed through his own narration, which is expressed in English with a strong Balinese accent or in Indonesian. This includes the story about his childhood in Bali, his love story with Nanik, and their children who remain living in Bali, which allows them to be exposed to Balinese culture.
There is also a dramatic flashback episode showing young Wenten learning to dance from his grandfather and how he was forced to perform at their village temple when he was still a boy, a moment that Wenten refers to as the most important milestone in his life as an artist.
The story about Balinese gamelan in the film is presented through the narration of a gamelan observer from the US. Meanwhile, the presence of jazz guitarist I Wayan Balawan from Bali further shows the effort to mix traditional gamelan with Western music. (yun/kes)
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