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Jakarta Post

'€˜Anak Sabiran'€™, the archivist and losing Indonesian cinema

  • Windu W. Jusuf

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, August 27, 2013   /  12:51 pm
'€˜Anak Sabiran'€™, the archivist and losing Indonesian cinema

The archivist: A scene from Anak Sabiran, Di Balik Cahaya Gemerlapan showing Misbach in the Sinematek film archive that he founded. Courtesy of Arkipel

The Arkipel International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival is presenting Anak Sabiran, Di Balik Cahaya Gemerlapan on Wednesday at the GoetheHaus in South Jakarta.

The film recalls two men named Misbach from two different chapters of Indonesian history. The first is Haji Misbach, a Muslim communist sent to the Boven Digoel penal colony in the 1920s for organizing protests against the Dutch. Official history never mentions the so-called red cleric.

The second man is the subject of the film, Misbach Yusa Biran, a renowned author, screenwriter and filmmaker. Born in Rangkasbitung, Misbach, named after the cleric, had a father from Minangkabau who had been interned in Boven Digoel for participating in the Communist-led rebellion in the 1926.

Misbach, who established the nation'€™s only film archive, the Sinematek, had a passion to save Indonesian cinema from vanishing from our collective consciousness.

Remnants: A scene from the film depicts the poster and photograph collection of the Sinematek. Courtesy of ArkipelRemnants: A scene from the film depicts the poster and photograph collection of the Sinematek. Courtesy of Arkipel

Like most of his peers as a filmmaker, Misbach began in local theatre. Yet, unlike his namesake and his father, Misbach was anti-communist. He helped found Lesbumi, a cultural organ of Nahdlatul Ulama, to counter the sweeping influence of Lekra, the artistic and literary movement affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

The story of Misbach'€™s life is not simple and neither is the 210-minute documentary about his life. Some may find film disappointing, as it does not aspire to be one. Anak Sabiran is concerned with Misbach and the Sinematek, and tells of the relationship between the two in a non-linear way.

Misbach'€™s own expectations were also confounded by the documentary. The beginning of Anak Sabiran shows Misbach asking if the film could be titled A Journey to the Mosque to reflect his spiritual journey. The director replied that Forum Lenteng, which produced the documentary, never staged reality. '€œThe camera serves to capture everything that occurs around it.'€

In the end, the correspondence, presented by voiceover throughout Anak Sabiran, renders the whole film into a long, hauntingly intimate conversation between the director and Misbach.

Fading: A scene from the film depicts the poster and photograph collection of the Sinematek. Courtesy of ArkipelFading: A scene from the film depicts the poster and photograph collection of the Sinematek. Courtesy of Arkipel

While presenting passages from Misbach'€™s memoir, Kenang-Kenangan Orang Bandel, Anak Sabiran shows Misbach as he tells of his youth, working in cinema during the Japanese occupation, the rivalry between left- and right-wing artists and his vision for the Sinematek.

Footage from Misbach'€™s film Di Balik Cahaya Gemerlapan is also presented, along with images of personal documents and his wedding video. While such footage provides a rare glimpse to 1960s Indonesia, its quality is deplorable. Di Balik Cahaya Gemerlapan was released in 1966. What about his many other films?

Anak Sabiran is also a commentary on the mismanagement of the Sinematek, the first film archive in Southeast Asia, although it has now fallen into destitution. The documentary depicts the film crew going into several rooms in Sinematek and unpacking collections of film posters and photographs '€” all stored haphazardly. Another sequence shows workers complaining that there'€™s no money to clean the films or that the scripts stored in the Sinamatek'€™s library have been eaten by termites.

For cinephiles, this is the most heartbreaking part of the film.

In Anak Sabiran, Riri Riza, the noted director of Laskar Pelanggi, says that his former teacher'€™s committed role in documenting nearly everything about Indonesian film was invaluable. Riri recalled his when Misbach asked him for materials related to Petualangan Sherina, Riri'€™s film from the late 1990s that started Indonesian New Wave cinema. According to Riri, it was the first time he was aware that the country has its own cinematheque.

The narrative about Sinematek'€™s obscurity among the general public and its awful management were further backed up by JB Kristanto, a senior film critic, in the film. The individuals and institutions willing to fund the Sinematek, according to Kristanto, have been unable to do so since it'€™s managing foundation has itself rejected such initiatives '€” and Misbach, tragically, could do nothing about it.

While the Sinematek was established to preserve the cultural memory of the past, as Misbach asserts several times in the film, a significant portion of our heritage has been lost as celluloid deteriorated under his nose.

One cannot imagine the fate of Indonesian cinema without Misbach; but still, one is now confronted with the more difficult question of how can Indonesian cinema survive in the future, given the deteriorating state of Sinematek.

Misbach died away last year. He was 79. The Sinematek, established in 1975, is a lot younger, but has aged faster than its founder '€” and will probably leave us sooner.

Seen in this pessimistic light, Anak Sabiran is not so much about Misbach and his beloved Sinematek; it is rather about us and our future loss.


Anak Sabiran, Di Balik Cahaya Gemerlapan (Indonesian with English subtitles, directed by Hafiz Rancajale) will screen with Apa Jang Kau Tjari Palupi?, a narrative film by Sinematek co-founder Asrul Sani at the GoetheHaus on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. Visit for details

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