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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

Los Angeles Indonesian Film Festival recognizes nation’s diverse storytelling

(Courtesy of Visinema Pictures)

By Phillip Leung

Oct. 20, 2019 9:50 p.m.

Families, student activists and teenage bands all shared the theater – and a nation – this weekend.

Several of Indonesia’s critically and commercially successful films – ranging from comedies to dramas – were screened during this weekend’s Los Angeles Indonesian Film Festival. Actors, writers and directors from all over Indonesia attended the five-day festival, which took place Wednesday through Sunday, to celebrate the nation’s cinematic achievements.

During the opening reception at the James Bridges Theater on Friday, both attendees and event staff were dressed in traditional Indonesian clothing, called batik. Various Indonesian dishes and snacks were also available, with live music and dancers performing on a red carpet situated just outside the theater entrance.

Multiple actors and actresses from the films being screened were also in attendance. Bayu Skak, starring in “Yowis Ben,” plays a student who forms a band with his friends in order to win over his crush. Skak was originally a YouTube vlogger before pursuing film, and as a co-director and writer for “Yowis Ben,” Skak said the experience of creating a film was a daunting task compared to making YouTube videos.

“When it comes to movies, it’s a whole different perspective,” Skak said. “Because on YouTube, you can do anything by yourself, like editing. … But when it comes to movies, it’s so different because we’ve got so many people in this project.”

[Related: Festival films contemplate rapidly changing nature of Taiwan’s culture, society]

“Yowis Ben” was the only film at the festival to be primarily in Javanese, one of the many languages spoken in Indonesia. Skak said the film’s language was met with skepticism from some producers, who thought a film could not be successful without using Bahasa Indonesian, the country’s official language. Skak, whose content on YouTube is mostly in Javanese, said he insisted on using the language he is most familiar with for the film, which Skak said has successfully amassed 900,000 views in Indonesia.

The festival organizers’ goal was to screen a wide range of Indonesian films. Fourth-year business economics student Ellaine Porwanto, president of UCLA’s Indonesian Bruins Student Association, said the festival expanded to showcase eight different films this year, in contrast to previous years when only one film was shown. This year’s festival, which focuses primarily on book-to-film adaptations, aims to demonstrate the diverse stories of Indonesian archipelago, Powanto said.

“We’re excited to bring (‘Yowis Ben’) because there’s so many islands and so many languages in Indonesia,” Porwanto said. “There’s a stigma that films not in Bahasa Indonesian won’t sell well, but this film, which is in Javanese, it’s received a really good response.”

Aside from films that showcase the various languages of the Indonesia, other films focus on telling stories related to Indonesia’s recent history. Leila Chudori, writer for the short film “Laut Bercerita,” adapted the screenplay from her novel that addresses Indonesia’s political history.

Chudori said the novel, with a title that translates to “The Sea Speaks His Name,” is a fictional story based on the actual kidnapping of more than 20 Indonesian student activists who protested the government during the New Order regime in 1998.

[Related: Daily Bruin abroad: Indonesia]

Initially concerned with the budget required to create such a film, Chudori said several actors and actresses were willing to forgo pay because of the story’s importance to Indonesia. Chudori said the story focuses on the impact the kidnappings had on the victims’ families, while relying on the context of Indonesia’s government and history.

However, the process of adapting the novel was different from most book-to-film adaptations, Chudori said, as the film was created to accompany the book’s launch. But since the novel’s release, she said the film has been screened at multiple festivals, prompting discussions regarding the novel’s story. As a journalist in Indonesia during the New Order, Chudori said she had to write in response to an oppressive government. In addition to screening the films, the festival held multiple panels for the actors, writers and directors to discuss their stories.

“These kind of stories, it’s universal,” Chudori said. “When I watch (other political films), I don’t understand the language … (but) it relates to me.”

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