Feminine: Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku explores the nuances of femininity. (IMDB.com/-)
By the time you read this, you'll know that Joker has won the Golden Lion, a top award at the Venice Film Festival; Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabit won the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF); and that an indie movie premiered in Telluride titled Waves might be a silent contender at the Oscars.
The major international film festival circuit is now nearing an end for this year, with the exception of the New York Film Festival.
For the past two years, in Indonesia, September has also meant two things: the biggest marketplace for filmmakers and investors conducted in Akatara and the official selection of the international feature film -- previously called foreign film -- announced by Indonesia's official committee.
This year, Memories of My Body is Indonesia's official submission for the Oscars.
The committee claimed that several aesthetic points were used in determining what feature film should represent Indonesia at the 92nd Academy Awards. Choosing Memories of My Body was both predictable and bold. The movie, which has been screened at various international film festivals, was directed by a veteran and highly respected director, Garin Nugroho. It also has a thought-provoking topic worthy of discussion. In a nutshell, this film may be the most ideal film to be submitted. But the question remains: how will this turn out? This will be Garin's second feature film to represent Indonesia at the Oscars after Leaf on A Pillow, which was screened at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Is Garin's buzz alone enough?
Ifa Ifansyah, the producer, might have some experience in this field. Currently, he may be the only Indonesian filmmaker to have had three of his films considered for entry in the Oscars: The Dancer in 2012, Turah in 2017 and now Memories of My Body. Pairing Ifa and Garin may not be a bad strategy after all.
On its own, Memories of My Body is a beautifully crafted film. It should be noted that Indonesian film archivist Lisabona Rahman pointed out that despite the wide range of gender expression and sexual orientation it portrays on screen, femininity is still somehow portrayed as a less powerful identity. Still, Memories of My Body deserves kudos, especially since the movie has repeatedly faced bans and protests over its content.
Last year, 89 films were submitted for the foreign film category. In December, the submissions were shortlisted to nine, and the final five nominees were announced in January. Campaign strategy is extremely important, especially since Memories of My Body was not present in this year's major film festival circuit. Even though it was screened in Venice last year, Indonesia has lost the momentum.
Ifa produced The Seen and Unseen (2017) and it won an award at the Berlin Film Festival. That said, Ifa should know that different films need different distribution strategies to get noticed. Having the film premiered in front of members of the Academy is not enough. A meticulous, unique campaign strategy is required to make a film stand out. At this point, members of the Academy might already have a favorite for the International Film feature category.
Bong Joon-ho's Parasite is basically a shoo-in for the best picture category. Makoto Shinkai's Weathering with You is also a stand out as it will probably be the only animated feature film submitted at the Oscars next year (not to mention that Shinkai's Your Name was snubbed for the last three years and the Academy might therefore chose to nominate him this year). Cannes' best screenplay, The Portrait of Lady in a Fire, was also screened at the TIFF and has attracted critics' attention to campaign for it.
The point is, it's a blood bath at the Oscars. The Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) and other government agencies may financially help Fourcolour Films, but that might not be enough.
In retrospect, Indonesia’s mere participation in the Oscars was considered adequate due to financial constraints. At this stage, a professional media consultant could be necessary to help make the marketing campaign strategy as efficient and unique as possible. If not, then Indonesia shall learn how to pick who to represent its films.
Had Indonesia submitted Two Blue Stripes this year, Starvision would have had the audacity to glorify its films during the campaign. Had Indonesia chosen Gundala as its submission, we would have had TIFF's Midnight Madness viewers on our back in the grassroots campaign. Had Garin had his film screened at Venice/Cannes/TIFF this year, he would have been given much more exposure by film journalists and the Oscar campaigner.
But since none of this happened, Garin, Ifa and Indonesia should carefully structure our campaign narrative, if we don't want our films overlooked or overshadowed. If last year the #MarlinaGoesToOscars was used on social media, then probably the hashtag #MemoriesofMyBody could make quite a splash as well. (dev/kes)
Reza Mardian is a film enthusiast and big fan of Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli films, as well as all films in the running for an Oscar or Festival Film Indonesia award. He has a passion for writing about the politics of film festivals and the great movies that have touched his imagination. Catch him talking about movies on Instagram @mardian.reza.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.