Makassar rising

Riri Riza (in white shirt) is at the helm of the Makassar SEAScreen Academy.

Over the past three years, renowned director Riri Riza returns to his native city of Makassar, in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi, during the third or fourth quarter of the year to organize the SEAScreen Academy.

A program of Rumata Artspace with support from the Government of Makassar and private organizations, the Academy selects twelve participants from different parts of East Indonesia to receive a fully-supported opportunity to learn from well known Southeast Asian directors who share their knowledge and experience through classes, workshops, movie screening and film production.  Aside from technical training, the Academy is also a venue to discuss important issues around identity and film industry in different part of Southeast Asia.

During its inaugural run in 2012, Philip Cheah, vice president of NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) remarked that, “SEAScreen exists for another purpose.  It is the best example of a regional initiative inside Indonesia that exists outside the center of Jakarta. This is important because for a large country such as Indonesia, the question of unknown talent in far-flung areas is a deep mystery. By locating such as institution in an outer region, we actually bring people closer. There is now a chance that less people will be left out, as they will have an easier access to opportunity.”

For its third edition, the five-day workshop was conducted with the brightest minds in Southeast Asian cinema as instructors including Singapore International Film Festival executive director Yuni Hadi, Indonesian cinematographer Gunnar Nimpuno and acclaimed director Edwin, and Mindanao director Teng Mangansakan. Participants were trained to shoot using a Bolex 16mm camera and hand process the prints as well as experience shooting using the state-of-the-art RED Dragon camera.

Mangansakan sat down with Riza and discussed the emergence and the promise of the East Indonesia film scene.

Teng Mangansakan: You left Makassar when you were about nine. You were away (in Jakarta) for more than three decades. In 2011 you and writer Lily Yulianti Farid founded Rumata’ Artspace and then a year after the Makassar SEAScreen Academy was born. Tell me how did these initiatives come to be? What were the challenges?

Riri Riza: I was detached from my hometown for many years.  I went back to Makassar once every two or three years during my teenage years in Jakarta.  As a film graduate in in Jakarta, I worked in Jakarta naturally. For many years the so-called National Cinema in Indonesia was very much located in Jakarta. Film was so politicized if not political. In the late 1980s, back when I was a student, and in the early 1990s when I started as a young filmmaker, to be a film director you need to have a license from the government-approved union, you have to submit your script before you can shoot, and once you were done, you have to submit your film to the censor board and distribution body. All in Jakarta.  So there was no other way to make film and re-imagine Indonesia as an archipelago because everything was controlled by Jakarta.

So I was really excited for young cinema of Garin, Wong Kar Wai, Edward Yang, Fruit Chan, Roberto Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and some of the funky music videos on MTV. It’s very modern stuff.

Then, in 2000, I got a chance to pursue my master degree in London where I went to visit many art spaces in the city. Some of them are really big like National Film Theater or Barbican Center, but some are really small, independent and alternative.  They had exhibitions, screenings and talks in a very small space.  But the atmosphere was great. I thought of one day transforming our house in Makassar and making it an art space. So I broached the idea to my two brothers via email.

After London I became busy making films – from Eliana, GIE and 3 Hari Untuk Selamanya (Three Days to Forever) among others. They were not easy films to make and we always worked with very tight finances. Then I did a box office film in 2008 called Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops). During that time I met Lily (Yulianti Farid) in a presentation of Makassar Young Literature that she initiated in Jakarta. There were discussions, readings and also performances. It was quiet fascinating to see these people most of them I had never met before.

So we met and talked about my ideas, and then realized the potential to start the movement on literature and film (in Makassar). I opened up the idea of reconstructing the house and transforming the 900 square-meter property that I inherited from my parents in Makassar and turn it into an art space.

The challenge was how to return home on a more regular basis, since I have to be involved in leading the network as well as in building the facilities in Makassar while still making films and raise my kids in Jakarta. Lily then was living in Melbourne.

But we managed to finish the reconstruction and Rumata Artspace opened in September 2012.

TM: So now on its third year, Makassar SEAScreen Academy has proved to be an important platform for new filmmakers. In fact, it has attracted a lot of young cinephiles from East Indonesia. What are the developments in the Academy for the last three years?

RR: We started to realize that the potential for filmmakers from East Indonesia to start their stream or movement was getting more and more apparent. Filmmakers here have the passion to tell stories and learn the craft to do it well. I feel that SEAScreen inspired them to learn and to aspire for more.

I also think the issue of regional and East Indonesian cinema started to penetrate the conversations in Jakarta. A lot of regional filmmakers have shown promise and some have become successful in national and international film festivals. What we are doing here, especially with the third edition of SEAScreen Academy, are creating more interest to this region. We are trying to expand the event to reach out to the public.

TM: I understand this year you started with a Story Development Lab. A lot of stories can be told from this part of Indonesia. What do you think are the hurdles for filmmakers from this part of Indonesia to fully realize their stories into film?

RR: The Indonesian film industry, sponsors and marketing and financing possibilities for films are still very much concentrated in Jakarta. The Academy participants have high expectations. For instance, they want to show their film in commercial multiplexes. The Academy is an opportunity to learn about the business side of films including distribution. I believe those who aspire to become filmmakers have nice stories to tell, but it is not enough that we tell stories. We have to learn the ‘cinema’ in telling these stories. Cinematic storytelling is different from everyday storytelling.

TM: What are your hopes for the Academy?

RR: The twelve participants who we invited in SEAScreen this year are the ones that we think have the potential to be developed. Perhaps, five or ten years from now, there will be good movies from these participants that we are going to see in theaters.

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