Through The Lens: Exploring the Unknown

The sun assaults my senses when I walk out the doors of the Sidney Myer building. Rushing across campus to Arts West, I quickly scarf down a couple of sushi rolls I’d bought earlier and anxiously check the time on my phone. 5.28. 2 minutes to get to the Forum Theatre? I weigh my options and decide I’d rather be late than sprint and risk faceplanting in the middle of South Lawn, a scene that is just waiting to be turned into a meme on Unimelb Confessions. I puff up the flight of stairs at 5.32. An IFF committee member is there to greet me, which ensures me I’m in the right place, but wait: is everyone inside already? No, he says, we’re waiting for everyone to get here before we open the theatre. Oh, I say. I should have known. You can take a person out of Indonesia, but you can’t take the classic, 45-minutes-late trait out of the person.* I take a seat on the stairs leading up to the second floor. This might take a while. The wait is worth it, I decide, when I finally enter the theatre. The light is dimmed, the room cooled, and the air buzzing with anticipation. There is enough chatter going on to tell me that this wasn’t just a place to watch a movie, it was also a place to meet with friends in the middle of the Week 4 assignment craze and the jokes reminded you of home. The host steps up to the centre of the theatre as we settle into our seats. He opens by introducing the panelists – University of Melbourne’s Siobhan Jackson, writer, director, and researcher, Andrew O’Keefe, Film Lecturer, and guest star Aditya Ahmad, writer and director, moderated by RMIT’s Arsisto Ambyo, an Indonesian journalist, writer and producer – and quickly brings us to the first part of the event: a screening of the three winners of the 14th IFF Short Film Competition, whose theme this year is ‘the Unknown’. The first Outstanding Achievement winner is Anak Lanang by Wahyu Agung Prasetyo, a film about four young boys who talk about their lives while they are riding on a becak on their way home from school. (You can watch the full film online) The second Outstanding Achievement winner is Astri and Tambulah by Xeph Suarez. The film follows the story of Astri, a 16-year-old trans-woman who is forced to leave her 17-year-old boyfriend Tambulah to marry a woman she had been betrothed to since birth by way of the Sama Bajao traditions. Only the trailers were screened for the two Outstanding Achievement winners, but we get to see the Best Film winner in its entirety. The winner for Best Film is I am Zal by Hooman Naderi, an Iranian film that links the Iranian myth about Zal with the story of Daniel, a young boy who is set to play Zal in a play when his role is suddenly taken from him because an unknown someone cut his hair too short before the play. There is a short panel after that talks about what makes the short film winners so good, especially considering the way they were shot and the fact that two of them starred children as the main characters. After a short break, the host introduces us to Aditya Ahmad, a young Indonesian filmmaker who’s won several awards for his short films in international film festivals, including Best Short Film at the Venice International Film Festival 2018. His film Sepatu Baru: On Stopping the Rain (2013) was his final project in university. It has since won the Maya Award for Best Short Film. The film is about a young girl who wants to show off her new shoes but is unable to because of the unrelenting rain. Impatient, she tries to stop the rain the only way she knows how. Sepatu Baru is a beautifully shot, lighthearted film that explores local myth in its own setting. In the panel afterwards, Aditya talks about how the film came to be – a deadline-motivated burst of inspiration, helped by seemingly serendipitous interactions in the community the film is set in. Aditya is humble, but his films show us that he is able to peel off the cynicism and boredom that most of us acquire over time and look at the world with a fresh perspective. Siobhan and Andrew also mention how Sepatu Baru is a wonderful introduction to a new culture that was foreign to them, which is interestingly something that also happened to some of the Indonesian audience who were unfamiliar with the myth. Andrew asks the last question for Aditya: what’s next for him? Aditya reveals his interest in making a feature film, an idea that’s met by the other panelists and the audience with enthusiasm. On that note, Arsisto ends the panel and the event is over with a burst of applause. I take my time packing up to see others doing the same, still talking excitedly with one another about the event. As someone who was previously not very familiar with the Indonesian film scene, I came out of it inspired and curious about all the other independent filmmakers out there who are creating amazing content. For those of you who feel the same way, the annual Indonesian Film Festival is a great way to familiarise yourself with groundbreaking Indonesian films that may not get as much publicity back in the motherland. *Before you start an outrage, I just want to say this is also a self-roast. This author is late 99% of the time. My nightmares are of me having to attend morning classes.  

Indonesian Film Festival - Under the Stars

The moon shone brightly in an empty cloudless sky on the 22nd of March, as the streets around the Immigration Museum, Melbourne whispered an empty lullaby under the tyranny of summer’s heat. However, for a colourful conglomeration of Indonesians and Australians gathered around their quaint little corner of Melbourne, it would take a lot more than mere spikes in temperature to break their spirit, in anticipation of the start of Under the Stars. Making its prestigious return in 2019, Under the Stars is an annual event by the Indonesian Film Festival (IFF), the organisation responsible for the largest showcase of Indonesian-made movies in Australia. Brought to life by bright, young Indonesians, and open to everyone free of charge, Under the Stars is an overture to the main screenings of the Indonesian Film Festival. Under the Stars 2019 returns with ‘Espresso Your Ideas’ as its theme (perhaps not to be taken quite as literally word for word), intertwining Melbourne’s love for coffee and everyone’s shared aspirations to bring forward their ideas to the eyes of the world. Aiming to encourage people to speak out and realise their ideas, visions, and motivations, be it coffee or otherwise, this theme hits close to home for many in the travails of university, work, and life in general. As one approaches the Immigration Museum from the side entrance, music from the Klaudspirits can be heard echoing throughout the courtyard with their acoustic flair, serving as a beacon for the audience members.   As the last of the audience settles into their seats, all eyes are trained on the sizable screen at the centre of the courtyard of the Immigration Museum. The spotlight of the evening was the screening of Ben & Jodi, a sequel to the award-winning 2015 film Filosofi Kopi. Orchestrated by the prominent and decorated Indonesian film director Angga Dwimas Sasongko, this movie follows four dedicated individuals striving to share their love of coffee to the world, but, as time reveals, with starkly different ideas on how to accomplish it.   After two years of traveling around Indonesia, Ben and Jodi, the original owners of the Filosofi Kopi coffee shop, decided to reopen their business with the help of Tarra and her investment. The first seeds of conflict began to grow when Jodi invited Brie, a young upstart barista, into the team, much to Ben’s intense opposition, and the revelation of a secret that jeopardises the unity of the team. As they stared at defeat, the four need to find peace and rediscover the passion and reason they began their endeavours in the first place. This is a heart-warming story of conflict, love, and reconciliation, with a dash of that distinct Indonesian humour and drama.   The movie was shown to be an excellent choice for the evening’s screening as it elicited the occasional roar of laughter, murmurs of amusement, and silence in suspense from the audience members as the story progressed. A storm of applause echoes throughout the venue as the ending screen fades into black, followed by shuffling of feet as the audience members got up from their seats, yearning for the next event. A rush of air from the now open doors serves as an invitation to indulge in Melbourne’s renowned coffee culture while also appreciating Indonesian heritage. An assortment of Indonesian snacks, food, and drinks greeted the audience as they entered the building, a welcome sight after almost two hours without anything to eat. To the right and left of the food stalls are photo booths, ran by none other than Perspektif Magazine as well as Artifact’s interactive photo booth, for the more photographically inclined audience members to set the night’s memories and events into stone, or at least a polaroid film, for free!   And finally, perhaps the most awaited event for coffee lovers, the Indonesian Corner; an art exhibit with a vast range of coffee types from all over the Indonesian archipelago, from the obscure to the well-known, masterfully showcased with finesse and excellence; an homage to the theme of the event.   Laughter, cheer, hearty greetings, and merriment filled the air both inside and outside the Immigration Museum as the audience mingled with each other and the committee members in high spirits. And once again, Under the Stars came to its conclusion with great success, paving the way for the 14th Indonesian Film Festival.   The stage has been set, the pieces in place, but what is yet to come?  

Project O: A Night of Charitable Joy

On 7 October 2017, RMIT University Storey Hall lit up with a wide range of productions from skits, dances, stand-up comedy to an assortment of singing performances. Project O 2017 focalised their event on the theme “Happiness in Giving” and centred their shows on the dynamics of education and their appreciation towards Papuan culture. Since its inception in 2010, Project O had set itself apart from other Melburnian events by focusing not only on the entertainment aspect but also on the social issues within Indonesia. This year, Project O collaborated with Book for Papua with the aim of improving access to education in Indonesia’s most western region. Not only did Project O raise awareness of the non-profit organisation and the literacy issue in Papua, but they also donated 60% of the event’s income to Book for Papua. “We define success by the outcome of our cause. Our event is only a success the moment our project could improve the quality of education in Indonesia especially children in Wamena, Papua,” said Fransiska Darmawan and Avada Nirel, the Project Managers of Project O 2017. Following welcoming speeches from the President of PPIA RMIT, Joshua Koswara, Project O Project Managers, and Dewi Savitri Wahab, the Consul General of the Republic of Indonesia for Victoria, the three-membered band Klaudspirits opened the evening with a song cover of popular Indonesian band Noah and their own original song. The winner from Project O’s pre-event “Samuna”, a four-membered band called Ajoy, then continued to keep the audience on the edge of their seat with their rendition of a traditional Papua song “Apuse Kokondau”. Accompanied with contemporary dances, the acoustic arrangement of the song induced melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere to the whole auditorium. Two skits by Students of Melbourne followed the performances of the evening. The first skit showed a contrasting scenario between a school at an Indonesian metropolitan city and a rural village in Papua. While the urban students expressed indifference towards their accessibility to learning facilities, the rural students were struggling to obtain new learning materials such as books and notes. The second skit concentrated on the importance of staying true to oneself despite the social expectations and new whereabouts, which was an issue relatable to many Indonesians overseas. Monash University student Yehezkiel Nicolas Susanto shared his experience and remarked that he thoroughly enjoyed the performances. “The event [Project O 2017] was a great success,” he said. “It was really good from the powerful skits to the singing performances. Amazing!” Later in the evening, the stand-up comedian Mamat ruled the stage. Originally from Papua, Mamat was drawn to Project O’s cause as he could relate to the Papuan’ struggle with scarce access to education. “Be successful. Have dreams. Achieve them,” said Mamat during Project O press conference to Indonesian student overseas. “But don't forget your roots, don't forget to come home. Indonesia is a growing community that is perpetually in need of contribution and improvement. You are pursuing your goals and dreams while children in papua do not have the same opportunities as you do. To have dreams is a privilege to them, to be able to achieve them is a miracle.” Although Project O was Mamat’s first time performing overseas, his performance was beyond memorable. He delivered jokes that brought the auditorium into bursts of laughter. While his topics revolved around his native region Papua, Mamat satirically addressed the existent stereotypes and uttered inspiring commentaries on eradicating discrimination on the basis of appearance. But Mamat was not the only highlight of the evening. The singer-songwriter Yura gave an equally unique performance with her captivating voice. She performed her hit songs along with a song that had a Sundanese-Jazz arrangement. Resonating the message of the second skit, Yura emphasised the importance of remembering where we came from. “The idea of “Happiness in Giving” makes you feel good about yourself because giving and sharing is much more rewarding than just receiving,” said Yura during the press conference. “This is also the perfect opportunity to inspire a sense of nationalism and pride in our culture and language since we are living overseas.” Yura’s tribute to Sundanese music was evident in her performance. Her Sunda-Broadway-Jazz arrangement as well as her song “Cinta dan Rahasia” proved to be a hit as she drove the crowd to the front of the stage to sing along. As the evening drew to a close, Clara Tandi from RMIT University felt positively charitable and commented, “It is really nice to know that profits [from the event] are given back [to society].” Fransiska Darmawan and Avada Nirel added that it was an evening filled with relief and triumph after months of hard work. “We hope that the event reminds fellow Indonesians of their roots. We believe that through these performances, people can reflect on themselves better, and that the impact will be stronger and will last longer,” they said. With the audience’s positive responses to Project O 2017, Fransiska and Avada were optimistic that the committee next year would exceed the hype from this year’s event and continue raising awareness of the social condition and education system in Indonesia. “Just like our motto, “Share to learn, learn to share”, we aim to break the poverty chain by helping Indonesian students obtain a better access to a education.”

Project O: Happiness in Giving

Project O returns this October for its seventh year, showcasing Indonesian talent and rich culture for a charitable cause. Witness RMIT Alumni Courtyard getting transformed into a night of full of dances, Melburnian skits, live stand-up comedy, and Yura’s singing performance on 7 October 2017! Themed “Happiness in Giving”, this year’s Project O collaborates with Book for Papua to minimise the cycle of poverty and improve the literacy conditions in Papua. Different from past years, Project O 2017 focuses on both children and adults alike while highlighting four key goals, i.e. education, hygiene, food and health, for the betterment of Indonesia. As a prelude to the main event held on October 7, Project O hosted “Pasar Malam Untuk Amal”, or “Samuna”, on 26 August 2017. This pre-event incorporated activities such as interactive games, live performances, and food bazaar. The games during Samuna were designed to increase awareness of the “health, education and hygiene” of Papuan children. Such games include a mix of ring toss and trivia Q&A as well as blindfolding a group of players to travel on a lined path. However, these kids need wider access to technology, education and healthcare in order to develop and succeed. The live performances during Samuna were chosen via online voting prior to the event. The audience could vote for the Indonesian artist they’d like to see by donating to Project O’s online funding source. The top five winners from the voting would then be selected, and one of them would be invited to perform at Samuna and the main Project O event. In this way, Project O encourages the audience’s engagement, thus building the hype prior to the actual event. All proceeds from Samuna will go towards Project O’s main event and most importantly, Book for Papua. But it does not end there. If you want to continue being socially responsible while enjoying yourself surrounded with Indonesian talents, come to Project O 2017’s main program on 7 October 2017 at RMIT Alumni Courtyard.
Project O 2017’s main program will take place on October 7 at RMIT Alumni Courtyard. Tickets to the main event are currently available for purchase online. The individual ticket goes for $15 per ticket while the bundle ticket for five goes for $65. To find out more about Project O’s program and their cause, please visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Project O is also still receiving donations on KitaBisa and GoFundMe pages, all of which will be donated to Book for Papua.