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Yosep Anggi Noen: Film festival darling finds his fun in fiction

Josa Lukman

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, March 5, 2020  /  11:59 am
Yosep Anggi Noen: Film festival darling finds his fun in fiction

All smiles: Film director Yosep Anggi Noen poses after meeting the press for the Plaza Indonesia Film Festival in Jakarta. (JP/Rian Alfiandy)

From a young age, filmmaker Yosep Anggi Noen has been a film enthusiast, always finding the time to create short movies with his high school friends.

Though he graduated from Gadjah Mada University with a degree in communications in 2001, Anggi, born in the town of Sleman, Yogyakarta, has always had cinema on his mind. In 2007, he turned this passion into studies, graduating from the Busan International Film Festival’s (BIFF) Asian Film Academy.

As fate would have it, his first feature-length film, Peculiar Vacation and Other Illnesses, debuted five years later at the 17th edition of BIFF in October 2012. The same movie also propelled him to the limelight at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, before the film received a limited Indonesian release in 2014.

Another one of his films, 2017 historical fiction Istirahatlah Kata-kata (Solo, Solitude), debuted at the 69th Locarno Film Festival in 2016.

Recognition: Yosep Anggi Noen’s film Recognition: Yosep Anggi Noen’s film "The Science of Fictions", which goes by the Indonesian title "Hiruk-Pikuk si Al-Kisah", received a special mention at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. (Courtesy of Limaenam Films/-)

Anggi himself, however, is rather modest about his achievements and is lately keen only on discussing his latest movie The Science of Fictions, which goes by the Indonesian title Hiruk-Pikuk si Al-Kisah.

After making its Asian debut at the 24th edition of BIFF in October last year, The Science of Fictions was screened at the Plaza Indonesia Film Festival, which ran from Feb. 24 to 28 at Plaza Indonesia mall’s Cinema XXI.

Anggi believes The Science of Fictions is better suited for an Indonesian audience, despite the film receiving a favorable response at the Locarno Film Festival.

The movie, which won a Special Mention Award at the festival last year, tells the story of a simple farmer named Siman (Gunawan Maryanto) who had his tongue cut out after witnessing a staged moon landing shoot in the 1960s on Parangtritis Beach. 

The Science of Fictions is not a science fiction movie. Instead, Anggi said, filmgoers would see the film as one that questioned the science fiction genre.

“If we talk about the Indonesian audience, I think they are becoming increasingly diverse, or at the very least have a desire to see a wide variety of movies,” explained Anggi, who turns 37 on March 15.

“Filmmakers are showing different flavors as well, like how horror directed by Joko Anwar is different from horror directed by others.”

His previous film, Solo, Solitude, based on the life of poet-activist Wiji Thukul, won Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival’s (JAFF) best movie of 2016 and garnered more than 50,000 viewers, which Anggi said was a rather high number for a historical film.

“I’m not particularly worried about audience interest, as we’ve seen that they have a high demand for a wider variety of films.”

With his latest film’s focus on the conspiracy theory of a faked moon landing, to some it might seem he is making quite the jump, tackling an American triumph in a Javanese setting. But Anggi said it was more than that, as the moon landing as a triumph of humanity had been inserted into different cultural contexts.

“In Indonesia, some would even say that astronaut Neil Armstrong himself returned from the moon and went to Indonesia, where he converted into Islam after hearing the adzan (call to prayer) on the moon,” he said.

“While at Locarno, I met a journalist from Pakistan, and found out that similar narratives exist. Every community wants to become part of a global achievement, and that can manifest in things like spreading these fake stories as truth.”

The Science of Fictions, he said, was not about the conspiracy theory of a faked moon landing; it was about the response of communities around the world to the event.

“Going back in time, there was a New York Times piece about [United States president] Nixon’s visit to Jakarta a few days after Armstrong’s launch in 1969, where he told the press and Indonesian public that Indonesia would be given a piece of moon rock,” he said.

“That is a part of diplomacy using a global achievement. ‘Whether you are in Indonesia, Vietnam or wherever, you will be given a part of our achievement’. That is diplomacy, and an amazing one at that.”

Reconciling the two different cultural perspectives was easy for him as someone existing in an ecosystem where people can easily participate in major global events in the sense that they’re exposed to it constantly, making it feel like they are close to them.

“I suppose that is part of globalization, where people feel like they are part of the constant shift of the world. We become part of it as a consumer or the subject, but we can also become the object of news.” 

When creating the movie, Nixon’s diplomatic efforts became the basis of his thinking, but he was also inspired by Parangkusumo, a scenic location in Bantul, Yogyakarta, known for its sand dunes, which he said resembled the lunar surface.

Parangkusumo is interesting for Anggi as he observed not just the natural elements, but also aspects of life that range from pre-wedding shoots and kejawen Javanese rituals to prostitution.

From there, he also inserted the cultural zeitgeist of 1960s Indonesia, such as the political upheaval and rewriting of history to support the new regime.

As for the movie’s layers of context, Anggi said that different interpretations were de rigueur for movies of any kind, including some that were made solely for entertainment.

“Some people get sad after watching a romance, while others feel elated. I think interpretation is always at the audience’s behest. A movie as interpreted by its makers and by the audience are different things. The makers can attempt to show their ideas, while the audience is permitted to test that idea while watching the movie.”

However, he does note The Science of Fictions may not be easily discernible in its narrative, and it might require repeat viewings.

“For filmmakers, film festivals are [sources of] energy, as they provide them with the space to meet the audience. When we create a movie, we’re always worried about how it would be received. So we’re more stressed out after the movie is out and not before,” Anggi said.

“Meeting the audience is one way to ease that worry. Another way is by getting a report on viewer numbers – the higher the enthusiasm, the less worried we become as it shows the movie is well-received. [...] When it becomes a box-office [hit], our worries are gone since that means we can extend the rent of our house,” he laughed.(ste)


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