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Women Come to Fore in Indonesian Film Industry

Following Diana
Courtesy of Babibutafilm

The role of women in the industry, and the representation of female experience seem unavoidable in the discourse on Southeast Asian cinema. Mouly Surya, whose “Marlina, the Murderer in Four Acts,” will unspool in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, is not a working in a vacuum. In fact, such directors as Nia Dinata, Nan Achnas, Kamila Andini and female producers including Christine Hakim, Shanty Harmayn, Mira Lesmana, Sheila Timothy and in recent years, Meiske Taurisia, all wield their influence in an industry filled with opportunity.

Actress Hakim produced films by Garin Nugroho and Achnas, and helped propel Silat fighter Iko Uwais from total obscurity to fame through “Merantau.” Through her company Miles Films, Lesmana has produced Riri Riza’s entire repertoire, including the runaway hit “Rainbow Troops.” She also nurtured the careers of Edwin (“Postcards From the Zoo”) and Taurisia. The latter, who started as a costume designer on Riza’s “Three Days to Forever,” has produced all of Edwin’s films starting with his experimental shorts. Her company Palari Films is overseeing Edwin’s two new projects: teen suspense pic “Possessive,” now in post-production, and “Vengeance Is Mine,” the screen adaptation of a novel by Ela Kurniawan. She’s also planning a shoot for a Japanese director in Banda Aceh.

A subject that has captured the imagination of Indonesian filmmakers of both genders is polygamy, an age-old practice that shows no signs of decline despite rapid urbanization and economic progress. While Dinata’s “Love for Share” explored it from multiple social and psychological angles to prove that it cuts across religion, class and ethnicity, Andini’s “Following Diana” nailed the agony and confusion when an educated, urban mother was made to live with it.

Riza’s “Emma” alluded to the pain of being the first wife of a rich merchant through the eyes of her son. Teddy Soeriaatmadja, who previously focused on transgender people, sex workers and the underbelly of society, is prepping for “A Jade Journey,” which dramatizes a woman’s discovery that her husband has a second wife, a week before the couple is supposed to embark on the Hajj to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.

“There is, without doubt, a new energy coming out of Indonesia,” says Anne-Sophie Lehec, head of festivals and sales for Asian Shadows. “We follow very closely a film school created in Jogjakarta by [Eddie] Cahyono and [Ifa] Isfansayah.”

Riza and writer Lily Yulianti Farid set up the South East Asian Screen Academy in 2012 in Makassar to nurture young filmmakers. Riza’s goal to revitalize regional cinema is bearing fruit as more filmmakers venture out of Jakarta to tell stories of rich provincial color.