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Capturing Indonesia through the lens of FFI 2019

Reza Mardian
Reza Mardian

Film enthusiast

Jakarta  /  Thu, November 14, 2019  /  05:18 pm
Capturing Indonesia through the lens of FFI 2019

The committee of the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) has announced its list of nominees for the 2019 award season. (Shutterstock/File)

The committee of the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) announced its list of nominees for the 2019 award season on Tuesday. It is safe to say that diversity is present in this year's contenders list, represented by blockbusters Dua Garis Biru, Keluarga Cemara, Bumi Manusia and Gundala as well as arthouse films Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku and 27 Steps of May.

Beginning last year, the FFI is held every December as if to celebrate the movies released in the course of the year. So, what do the nominees embody and what are the adjustments to the FFI this year?

Discussion about gender

Gender parity is a recurring issue in Hollywood as well as in Indonesia. With more women involved in filmmaking, not only is the film industry expected to be friendlier toward women, their perspectives will also be more represented.

The first highlight of this year's FFI is Gina S Noer's Dua Garis Biru (Two Blue Stripes), which offers a woman's perspective on teen pregnancy. The movie is nominated for directing, original screenplay and lead characters. Zara (formerly with idol group JKT48) is nominated for the best leading actress category. He plays a girl who dares to dream in an unfortunate situation. Angga Yunanda is nominated for his portrayal of a boy facing the consequences of his actions. Cut Mini and Lulu Tobing have been nominated for supporting roles as mothers of the lead characters with opposing views.

Female producers are represented by Anggia Kharisma and Gina S Noer for Keluarga Cemara (The Cemara Family), along with Rayya Makarim for 27 Steps of May.

Many popular Indonesian movies released in 2019 are focused on women. In 27 Steps of May, screenwriter Rayya Makarim intimately narrates a story about rape and trauma. Actress Sha Ine Febriyanti transformed herself into one of the most complex female characters in Indonesian literature, Nyai Ontosoroh, in Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind). The film is made richer with the interesting character and Ine's depth as an actress. 

This year's FFI also notes gender expression. Garin Nugroho’s latest feature, Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku (Memories of My Body), which deals with sexuality and masculinity, was banned in various cities of Indonesia. But Muhammad Khan, who plays Juno the traditional lengger dancer, could gain some serious recognition at the FFI, where he is nominated for the best actor accolade. Randy Pangalila and Whani Dharmawan, who played Juno’s love interests, are nominated in the supporting actor category. In the same category, Bhaskara Mahendra receives his first Citra nomination for portraying Jojo, a closeted character in Riri Riza's Bebas (Free).

The FFI committee could be considered bold for recognizing these roles and actors.

Social and political issues

Nowadays, filmmakers seem to be treading carefully in their craft to avoid protest. Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku, despite being based on Indonesia’s very own lengger culture, was banned in several cities for apparently promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lifestyles.

Political and social issues are also depicted by Joko Anwar in Gundala. The director managed to present accurate portrayals of tension between the government and citizens in the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe, which is not unlike Jakarta in several scenes.

A slightly different tone can be found in feel-good movies like Keluarga Cemara, which seems to say that the most important thing is having our loved ones around. Hanung Bramantyo’s modern take on Bumi Manusia presents a more accessible Minke and Pramoedya to a younger audience, while Si Doel 2 captures the authentic Betawi community in a modern Jakarta.

Changes in several categories

This year, there is no child actor category. While there might not have been many children’s movies in 2019, child actor Muzaky gave a remarkable performance in Gundala. Noteworthy are also the children in Koki-Kiki Cilik 2 (Little Chefs 2) or Raditya Evandra as little Juno in Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku.

Other changes include allowing existing songs to be nominated as theme songs, such as "Bebas" by Iwa K. or "Harta Berharga" as the soundtrack of the Keluarga Cemara television series. This is quite important, as it means the category no longer requires new original songs. 

Organic campaign

In Hollywood, campaigning can have great influence on determining movies nominated for the award season. The forms of campaigning may change over time, but the act itself is not new. In the 1990s, Oscar campaigns were conducted through private screenings, where production houses invited voters to watch their films. Presently, having your film screened at (or even win at) major international festivals, such as in Toronto, Venice or Cannes, can build momentum for filmmakers.

The most common type of campaigning in Indonesia is organic. While big-budget studios could afford to hold cinema visits, popular independent movie reviewers such as Cine Crib and Teppy Josephine have gained recognition from both filmmakers and moviegoers. Their autonomy means the audience can count on them for movies they genuinely root for. 

Final take

One takeaway from this year’s cinematic endeavors in Indonesia is a celebration of gender equality and expression, a sense of optimism and organic flows within the industry. Our film ecosystem may be far from perfect, but we’re improving. The FFI may seem like an annual award season, but it is also a constant evaluation of the industry and the principles of what qualifies as good cinema. (wng)

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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.