Cover Story / March 2019

Taking Indonesian Film to the World

As one of Indonesia’s most talented filmmakers today, Kamila and the arts have been inseparable. She spent her youth experimenting with many branches of the arts. “In my younger years, I tried many things in life. Music, dance, painting, but nothing, none of it, made me feel good. It always felt heavy at a certain point, when I felt like I always had to push myself a lot. It always ended,” she tells GlobeAsia.

Kamila started making films when she was still in high school. She went on to study sociology and media arts at Australia’s Deakin University, where she discovered filmmaking as her destiny. “It’s always challenging in a good way and I always feel really excited every time I find something hard to face. Every time I find an obstacle, I feel like I want to go through this. I want to overcome this. I think that kind of feeling shows that you belong in that world,” says the director, who was born Jakarta on May 6, 1986.

Kamila lives among filmmakers. Firstly, her husband Ifa Isfansyah is a director and producer who co-founded Yogyakarta-based production house Fourcolours Films. Kamila’s father is Garin Nugroho, one of the legends, who has put Indonesian cinema on the world map. His latest film, “Memories of My Body,” is currently traveling to more than 20 festivals after premiering at the Venice Film Festival last year.

Though she admits that being a filmmaker’s daughter came with advantages, she also struggled at first because people kept telling her what to do. “He made art films and people said: ‘You shouldn’t make art films. You should make commercial films. You shouldn’t follow him. You should be different.’ But in the beginning of your career, you don’t know what it is you’re good at,” Kamila says.

It took her a while to gather the confidence to make the films she really wanted. “I don’t want to make films they want to see. I want to make films I want to see. At that time, I tried not to listen to anything. I just made what I knew, what I loved. That’s it,” Kamila adds.

Another obstacle she faced was people doubting whether it was just a phase that would pass, or as she puts it, “an accident; just another filmmaker’s daughter who wants to make a film.” “If another filmmaker makes a short film, even a five-minute short film, people can see the filmmaker in it. It belongs to that filmmaker. It already has an identity. But not for me. I have to make maybe 10 films, so people can see that it is Kamila Andini’s,” she says.

However, Kamila has proven that she has her own signature. For instance, female characters are always at the center. She says she had no intention of spotlighting women exclusively, but she just wanted to be honest in telling the story. “Having a woman as the main character always helps me get a better perspective every time I make a film, because I can relate to her personally. I know what is inside the mind, the feelings, and the complexity of them. I think there are certain perspectives that are never explored in films,” she says.

Her films are also characterized by not being Jakarta-centric, even though she was born and raised in the Indonesian capital. Kamila chooses to explore other, often relatively underrepresented, parts of Indonesia, such as Bali, East Timor, or Southeast Sulawesi’s Wakatobi district.

“To learn about other cultures is somehow also my research of finding out who I am, because I feel like I don’t belong in a certain, specific kind of culture… I think one of the greatest things every time you explore a certain culture, is that you sort of find yourself as well,” she says.

The director who is a fan of Samira Makhmalbaf, Yasuhiro Ozuru and Sofia Coppola, says she cannot pick a favorite among the movies she has made. “I always treat my film as my own child somehow. Every time my film’s released, [it means] my daughter or son is born. It’s hard to choose which child is your favorite, because every birth has its own story, experience and identity,” Kamila says.

Upward Trend

The Indonesian film industry is experiencing an upward trend, with more than 100 films produced last year alone – 14 of them attracting more than a million views each. Kamila describes the industry as “very vibrant” and the films produced as “more diverse than before.” She says filmmakers have also showed more support for each other’s work and signature style.

However, on the downside, they struggle to be consistently productive because of the gaps in the ecosystem. “Here in Indonesia, every company makes films from A to Z. We don’t have any distributors. We go straight to the exhibitors. The circle of life in the industry is not actually built yet. So, when you have so many things to do but you have to do everything from the beginning to the end, consistency is something we have to achieve in the next several years,” Kamila says.

Another challenge is finding the right market for arthouse films. She says she has known from the beginning that her films would not do well in local cinemas, so festivals abroad are an alternative market for them. “It’s actually every filmmaker’s dream for their films to be watched. It doesn’t mean that when we make an arthouse film, we don’t want people to watch it,” she says.

On the bright side, Indonesian films have gained more attention at international festivals as the number of participating filmmakers increased. When Kamila brought her first feature “The Mirror Never Lies,” to more than 30 festivals in 2011, Indonesian filmmakers were always a small group. Indonesian films were not yet the talk of town.

However, she observed that starting from Eddie Cahyono’s 2014 black-and-white drama “Siti,” which was screened in Singapore, Rotterdam and Shanghai, among others, people began talking more about Indonesian cinema. After that, Mouly Surya’s “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” and Kamila’s “The Seen and Unseen” stole the hearts of festival juries worldwide. Joko Anwar’s horror hit “Satan’s Slaves” also gained commercial success in cinemas as well as critical acclaim at festivals.

“People started to ask: ‘What’s going on in Indonesia? How come you can make very, very different films in two years?’” She argues that there are two main factors driving the fame of Indonesian films overseas.

“Diversity in the creative aspect and better distribution. They got better sales, funding and everything. They managed to get onto bigger platforms, like big festivals. They won big prizes, which is good acknowledgment for Indonesia as well,” says Kamila, who served on the jury for the Generation Kplus section at this year’s Berlinale.