Cover Story / March 2019

The Making of Women Filmmakers

A year ago, Dian wowed Indonesian audiences with her striking performance as an investigative journalist in Edwin’s drama-slash-culinary film “Aruna dan Lidahnya” (“Aruna and Her Palate”). The role landed her a nomination for best female actor in a leading role at the Indonesian Film Festival. A few weeks after “Aruna,” she appeared as a Mandarin-speaking, yo-yo-choking villain in Timo Tjahjanto’s action thriller “The Night Comes for Us,” which was released exclusively on Netflix. It was the first time Dian played a cold-blooded killer. She even shared significant screen time with martial-artist-turned-actor Iko Uwais. The big change was long overdue and viewers were impressed.

Dian, whose popularity rocketed after winning a teen magazine cover girl competition and playing Cinta in the franchise “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?” (What’s Up With Love?”), is ready for an even bigger change. Her upcoming film project is a comedy heist that involves teachers and their very low salaries. The current working title is “Guru-Guru Gokil” (“Wacky Teachers”). The film, which is still in script development without director or cast, will be her debut as a producer.

In a sea of horror flicks and teen dramas, Dian craves to create something different. “Filmmakers and viewers should expand and grow. We should all expose ourselves to other genres that are not horror or romance,” she says.

Dian realized that to be a film producer in an industry that is not yet mature, like Indonesia’s, is a double-edged sword. At the moment, it is arguably hard to understand what kind of stories appeal to Indonesian viewers. A lack of transparency on viewer numbers is one of the factors that add to the confusion.

As an aspiring film producer, Dian says she wants to be able to associate the first film she makes with her identity as an artist. She has been in the industry long enough to understand that a passion project is the thing that will help filmmakers grow.

On the other hand, film is still a business that must be sustainable. “I am actually really torn between finding my own voice as filmmaker and making a movie that is sustainably lucrative. Because I am also facing an economic challenge,” Dian says. And yet, she still believes that finding the balance between both is worth trying.

If anything, what every film producer requires to make the Indonesian film market grow right now, is stability in terms of viewer numbers. “At the moment, the number of viewers is still fluctuating. We need to establish a certain number that projects the size of the Indonesian film market. Therefore, we need more films that meet audience expectations and make them trust our filmmakers,” she says.

As a female filmmaker, Dian thinks the film industry is still very much a male-dominated area, especially in the directing and scriptwriting departments.

The mother of two says she is constantly learning from fellow female filmmakers, from film director Nan Achnas, director and producer Mira Lesmana, producer Shanty Harmayn, and Hollywood actors and producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. For Dian, these women have shown that age is not an obstacle to continue producing art.

Dian also has lots of praise for director Mouly Surya for her work on “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts,” which saw her win almost every major category at the 2018 Indonesian Festival Film, including best picture and best director. Dian says Mouly is a good example of a female filmmaker who can translate herself in a patriarchal world, where things do not always work in a woman’s favor. “I think Indonesian cinema had exciting women’s stories in 2018, but we need more,” she adds.

Now that she has control over her own production cast and crew, Dian says she would like to give more opportunities to female filmmakers and actors who want to break free from their typecast. “I think hiring women filmmakers is going to be a priority, so they can have their own voice and tell their stories. Their performance should be on par with our male counterparts. We will expect a lot of things from them,” she says.

According to Dian, she is also planning to involve new talent in her production team, regardless of experience. “I know it’s going to be complicated, because they need to acquire some skills, but there’s a learning curve. We should give them time and energy so they can catch up and perform. Indonesian people are fast learners, and learning should be in our culture,” she says.

At age 36, Dian says she has grown so much as a woman, especially since she became a mother to Shailendra Sastraguna Sutowo (7) and Ishana Ariandra Sutowo (5). She is also busier than ever. Apart from film producing, Dian is also involved in various business ventures, from food and beverage outlets to a beauty clinic and a photography service for special occasions.

“I never run a new business on my own. I always have partners who run everything, and I usually help with the marketing. I won’t be able to do everything, so I delegate,” she says.

When she is not doing business, Dian performs social outreach work through the Dian Sastrowardoyo Foundation, which provides scholarships to five selected female students every year. Dian works with a nonprofit organization to select the students, and she is personally involved in drawing up the shortlist. The foundation has funded 19 students in the past three years.

Dian genuinely wants to help young girls thrive in education. To educate women, is to educate the country and Dian believes in the positive effect that will bring. When she looks back at her younger years, Dian says she wishes she had put more effort into her own education.

“Back then, as a younger girl, I was too distracted by trends, love life, peer pressure, fashion, what people think of me. I should have focused more on my abilities, my education, more books to read and designed my goals. To set your goals, you need to spend some time with yourself. Now I know it’s really important,” she says.