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Jakarta Post

The making of a president, on screen

  • Windu W. Jusuf

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Sun, July 13, 2014   /  07:03 pm
The making of a president, on screen


This year'€™s presidential election might be the most cinematic in Indonesian history.

The media-savvy Gerindra Party, for example, released a documentary entitled Sang Patriot (The Patriot) as part of its campaign to promote Prabowo Subianto for president.

However, it was only last month that Sang Patriot generated a scandal for its treatment of one of its interviewees.

In the film, available on Gerindra'€™s YouTube channel, Oxford historian Peter Carey was depicted as endorsing Prabowo by outlining his ancestry to an aide-de-camp of national hero Prince Diponegoro, who led the revolt against Dutch colonists during the Java War (1825-1830).

Carey, however, said his interview had been recorded by the Sang Patriot'€™s filmmaker for a different project '€” and not for the campaign video.

The historian, who has asked that clips from the documentary featuring the interview be taken down, said on the New Mandala blog the debate on the film '€œraises important questions about the use of history for contemporary political purposes'€.

However, looking at the political films of candidates reveals a host of motivations.

Jokowi, for example, is a biopic about Jakarta'€™s then-governor that was released in June 2013. It was produced by KK Dheeraj, best known for his sensational B-grade sexy horror movies, such as Hantu Puncak Datang Bulan (The Menstruating Hilltop Ghost).

The gubernatorial biopic, which follows Jokowi from his childhood to his election, did not fare well at the box office at a time when the man was wildly popular. When interviewed about the film, Jokowi, who was not involved in its production, said he never saw the film '€” nor did he want to see the biopic.

Jokowi was less a production at the service of a campaign and more an effort for producers to cash in on Jokowi'€™s popularity. Indeed, if the film was made to boost his presidential prospects, it came way too early.

In a similar vein, Sepatu Dahlan (Dahlan'€™s Shoes) told the story of State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan.

Set in the 1950s in Dahlan'€™s hometown of Magetan, Central Java, Sepatu Dahlan was produced by Mizan, an Islamic book publisher that has in the last five years invested billions of rupiah in large screen productions.

In the film, Dahlan is a poor but visionary village boy striving for a decent education '€” a theme commonly found in Mizan films, such as the ever-popular Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), directed by Riri Riza.

When Sepatu Dahlan was released in April, Dahlan was positioning himself as a dark horse presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

The film was released, without much fanfare and attracted about 50,000 viewers. And the film left the box office after only a few days.

The Democrats chose not to nominate a candidate in 2014.

Meanwhile, Charta Politika political analyst Yunarto Wijaya said before the election that movies about candidates would not greatly affect people in determining how they would vote.

'€œMaking films about politics as a campaign tool is creative,'€ he said. '€œBut it hardly sells, because people are not used to watching political movies.'€

Yunarto said leaflets and the distribution of staple foods and even money were all still more effective in wooing potential voters.

While not envisioning an end to movies about candidates '€” campaigns are unlikely to abandon any tool when it comes to an election '€” Yunarto says that other strategies offer better returns.

'€œI think social media would be a better strategy to reach and influence a wider audience,'€ Yunarto said.