The Jakarta Post
A scene from 'Mayang O’ Mayang' (2019) by Anggita Puri. ( The Australia-Indonesia Centre/-)
Even as the global pandemic rages on, film festivals are finding ways to bring people together, albeit virtually, like this year’s edition of the ReelOzInd! Short Film Competition and Festival.
Initiated by the Australia-Indonesia Centre in 2016, ReelOzInd! returns for its fifth edition this year on Oct. 4, taking place entirely online due to the ongoing border closures and social restrictions.
Previously, the festival has seen more than 50 titles by Indonesian and Australian filmmakers screened at 95 venues across both countries during travelling pop-up screenings.
In an email interview with The Jakarta Post, festival director Jemma Purdey said the current situation had made gatherings of any scale unfeasible in both Indonesia and Australia, necessitating a quick change in planning.
However, she said organizers decided to still hold the festival because ReelOzInd! was a unique cross-cultural event that involved grassroots organizations and community groups in Australia and Indonesia that might not otherwise be exposed to stories from the other country.
“It was very important to us that we continued to build on the momentum, enthusiasm, networks and support we’ve gained over the past five years,” she explained.
Despite the situation necessitating a move to online, Purdey noted that the festival had always had an online element since its conception, with viewers able to watch shortlisted films and vote for their favorite.
As such, she continued, the transition had been smooth, as the team already has the structures and technology in place, like when they screened an archive of the four past events back in May exclusively online.
However, as regular filmgoers can surely attest, there is simply no substitute for getting together at a cinema, ticket in hand and popcorn overflowing. Sure enough, ReelOzInd! already has plans to travel again in 2021, but with some lessons learned from the times of lockdown.
“One of these is the Q&A webinar with filmmakers and jury members. In the past it was very difficult to have our Australian and Indonesian filmmakers and judges in the same place! This year we are getting people together via Zoom. This is something we’ll most certainly retain going forward,” Purdey said.
The theme for this year’s event is “Energy”, which was chosen in late February.
“We hoped the theme would spark creative ideas about the world we live in, and the human spirit and drive. By the time we opened for submissions, of course, paradoxically, the world was in the process of shutting down and standing still.
“But as we have seen across the world in countless ways, the creative spirit has not been quieted by the pandemic – in fact we were surprised to see that the number of entries did not decline by much from last year.”
More than 150 submissions were received, with 60 percent coming Indonesian filmmakers and 40 percent from Australians. Categories include animation, fiction, documentary and young filmmaker for those aged 13 to 18.
According to Purdey, the shortlist this year includes a number of films that involve music and dance, befitting the “Energy” theme. The list also includes many films with strong female characters and films directed and produced by women.
“Our judges make their selections based on the film’s artistic merit, including innovative imagery and narrative and how well the theme is integrated into the narrative and visuals of the film,” she said.
Highlights include Mayang O’ Mayang (2019) by Anggita Puri, in which a man searching for a shawled woman he considers his match comes across an ondel-ondel (Betawi puppet) numerous times.
Meanwhile, the documentary Setia Jaya (2020) by I Made Suarbawa follows young Balinese artist Gede Indrawan as he guards the flow of spiritual energy in art even in the midst of a pandemic.
Also of note is the animated documentary Visible Traces (2019) by Sari Pololessy about the 2009 Montara oil spillage in the Timor Sea, told through the story of a fisherman from Tablolong village in West Timor, representing the more than 11,000 people directly affected by the disaster.
'Visible Traces' (2019) by Sari Pololessy. ( The Australia-Indonesia Centre/-)
From Australia, Yvonne Morton’s Cabin Fever (2020) explores lockdown anxiety and listlessness while in isolation, while The Greatest Battle Lies Within (2019) by Connor Price and Patrick Moroney profiles Congolese playwright Future D. Fidel and his story of strife, migration and art as self-expression.
Good friends: 'The Greatest Battle Lies Within' (2020) profiles Congolese playwright Future D. Fidel (second right) and his story of strife, migration and art as self-expression. (IMDB.com/-)
The films can be viewed on YouTube as well as on ReelOzInd!’s website, where viewers can also vote for their favorite film. Only one vote per viewer can be cast per day, with voting ending on Dec. 1.
While ReelOzInd! is certainly a chance to see up-and-coming homegrown talent, the festival also offers a glimpse into Australian cinema, which many might associate with the Hemsworth brothers, the Mad Max franchise and possibly The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Purdey said the Australian film scene was not short of great talent and ideas, “but of course financing is always a challenge.” She highlighted an eclectic range of titles, from horror flicks like The Nightingale (2019) and The Babadook (2014) as well as comedy films like Crocodile Dundee (1986) and The Castle (1997) and even musicals like Moulin Rouge (2001).
As for the visibility of Indonesian cinema in Australia, she said Indonesian films were generally not shown at cinemas or on television, save for a small number of film festivals – something ReelOzInd! hopes to rectify.
“Over the past four festivals, ReelOzInd! has shared the work of more than 100 Indonesian and Australian filmmakers with audiences in both countries and beyond that are online,” she said.
“As near neighbors it is quite striking that we still don’t know much about each other’s cultures and getting access to visual storytelling is very limited. As a bilingual short film festival, our primary goal is to provide a platform to share our stories with each other in a way that is accessible for lots of people, and fun.”