Homegrown & Well Known: AGUNG BAWANTARA and MARIA EKARISTI

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Photo: The Beat

You can learn a thing or two about dedication and integrity from this die-hard duo. Agung and Eka have brought local documentary movies back alive and kicking. Actually, it’s deeper than that: they have brought back hope and confidence to the industry.

Previously, you guys weren’t really involved with documentary movies. But lately you seem very concerned about it. How come?
Agung: As a matter of fact, I’ve been exploring the audio-visual world since 1996. I was working as a journalist for now-defunct politic tabloid, Detik. At the time I remember that I went to Bali for a project, there was quite a big drama in Bali, as a videoclip from this American rock band, Saigon Kick, was accused of insulting Bali. I chose not to get dragged into that controversy, rather, I chose to learn how to make a proper movie from Eros Djarot, who was a respectable movie director also the Chief Editor of Detik.

I thought that rather than the Balinese going berserk and getting offended, in this case as it was a motion picture, it’d be wiser to counter it by making a motion picture which told a positive story about Bali. Other than Eros, I also learned from movie kingpins like Slamet Rahardjo, Chalid Arifin, Soemardjono, and Gotot Prakosa. Things evolved from there, I got involved with various movie productions, whether for television or cinema. Then I decided to return to Bali in 2007.

There I met Eka and we built our company, that focuses on writing, publishing books and making documentary movies; the things that integrate us—with our different skills and backgrounds—together.

That same year I proposed to the committee of the biggest and longest running art festival in Bali, Pesta Kesenian Bali (PKB), to include movies as part of their annual program. My idea of including movies in the festival became a big issue in the media, but didn’t come to fruition. Finally in 2010 we were asked by the government of Bali to manage and execute a documentary movie competition (Lomba Film Dokumenter) as a part of PKB.

Even though it was so late to be confirmed, and the budget given to us was so small, we felt appreciated. We did the best we could to make sure it ran well. At the time the scope was only local, Bali centric. The following year, with a similarly small budget, we widened the scale. Plus we changed the name to Festival Film Dokumenter Bali. This time the participants weren’t only from Bali but from all over Indonesia. We also had big name judges involved, such as the producer of the Ring of Fire documentary movie, Dr. Lawrence Blair, the famous movie director, Slamet Rahardjo Djarot, and photography master, Rio Helmi.

In 2012, supported by Arti Foundation, we developed the festival even further. We grabbed Marlowe Bandem, a young Balinese activist who’s been giving serious support to the local creative movement, and Marcella Zalianty, a movie actress who was previously awarded a Citra (Indonesian version of an Oscar) yet lately has been busy making her own documentary movies. We had them on the team, hoping to elevate the festival, and magnify the attention it received from the public. The government from the City of Denpasar could sense the potential of the festival, they came in and supported us well. This year, the name of the festival has been once again changed to the Denpasar Film Festival.

Eka: Along the way we discovered that to start and then develop a documentary movie festival takes special, focused attention and energy. We are not only activating the competition, but also workshops that cater for the type of people who appreciate documentary movies. In 2011 we even visited all the capital cities in Bali and gave workshops.

Agung: We have had to put our plans to produce our own documentary movie on hold till our documentary movie festival is a little more established—which I think won’t be long now.

Eka: However, we are still involved in helping other (overseas) directors when making documentary movies domestically, for example Tarsier Towers (in North Sulawesi, 2012) and Living Prayer (in Bali, 2012).

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Maria Ekaristi, Agung Bawantara and Slamet Rahardjo during Festival Film Dokumenter Bali, 2012 • Photo: Guz Wier
Maria Ekaristi, Michael Sheridan, and Agung Bawantara
Maria Ekaristi, Michael Sheridan, and Agung Bawantara during a movie workshop, November 2012

What’s the story with documentary movies in Bali and in Indonesia in general?
As far as I’m concerned, lately documentary movies are pretty “in” here in Indonesia. And I think this isn’t just euphoria, or a temporary trend, but an awareness from the young creatives that making movies isn’t really a too-difficult, way-expensive thing to do anymore, especially due to sophisticated technology these days. Gadgets to make films are easy to find, easy to use, and in the palm of their hands everyday.

Workshops and festivals that we have held were designed with the intention to facilitate relevant exchange of information and ideas about documentary movies. As well as to update participants about the progress of documentary movies in the world today.

So you think you’ve gotten enough support from the government?
The Mayor of Denpasar especially, is the one who’s very supportive. He is genuinely concerned that creativity remains healthy and alive within Denpasar society. That’s why our program gets full support from him.

In other cities, I guess it’s different. But we don’t really know details beyond Denpasar.

Generally in Indonesia, and not only for movies, creative industries are not taken care of properly by the government. As a matter of fact, the concept of creative industries, and how they should be supported, was well planned, and ready to go from 2006. It has been applied only sporadically and of course been overshadowed with corruption. Only a few events have represented a true movement with real, participative spirit.
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How is it going so far for this year’s Denpasar Film Festival, still as tough as before or already a little easier?
Agung: The festival is planned for August this year. Before that, we’ll hold a series of workshops involving instructors from Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Jakarta Art Institute (IKJ), and the European Broadcast Union.

Eka: The composition of curators and the panel of judges is going to be a bit different this year. Still same faces in the judging panels plus new judges like Prof. I Made Bandem, Dr. Lawrence Blair, Wayan Juniartha, and fresh faces will also appear in the curators panel like Erick EST and a few more (details: http://denpasarfilmfestival.blogspot.com/p/juri-dan.html). This year is a bit easier—well, kind of, as we seem to already have some momentum—but still very challenging.

Name three documentary movies that you think can inspire local film makers and why.
We think Myth, Magic and Monster by Dr. Lawrence Blair is worth watching. Not only enlightening in the way it compares cultures in a unique way, but it also shows Indonesia’s beauty (which we may have never really bother to look at, or worry about, previously).

Also The Farmer’s Wife by David Sutherland which is like a guide in how to make a documentary movie with a live reality approach.

And Negeri di Bawah Kabut by Salahuddin Siregar due to its terrific contents and cinematography.
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Any last nagging words?
Agung: Use your own initiative and move whatever needs to be moved, change whatever needs to be changed, to get things right. That’s the start of setting your environment and the universe straight.

Eka: Nobody can help you but yourself. Make as many friends as you can and take notice of the insights their friendships create in your own life.

SEE ALSO
Homegrown & Well Known: ERICK EST

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Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the 26th edition, was firstly published—a slightly different version—on The Beat (Bali) #333, Mar 15-28, 2013

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