Indonesia in Cinema
Indonesian exploitation films from the 1980s employed subversive and exploitative techniques to struggle against a dominant order. Produced under the New Order Regime, the films positioned their villains and criminals as symbols of the Suharto government.
What does it mean to be French after seeing Battle of Algiers (1965)? Or American after watching Season of the Whirlwind (1978) from Vietnam? Or Dutch after viewing Usmar Ismail’s Darah dan Doa (1950)? Before the Timor invasion and occupation, we, as a formerly colonized people, may have conveniently asked such questions. Today, we’re privileged to have a similar question put to us: what does it mean to be an Indonesian after seeing Beatriz’s War?
Both films really show us the dilemma of documentary when it encounters criminals, perpetrators, and killers. It forces us to not only think about how documentary can be used for exposing such heinous acts, but also whether it in fact should be.
National cinema in Indonesia is called "film nasional", and commonly appears in commentary, scholarship, and discussions of film and the film industry. One of its ambitions is to be "tuan di rumah sendiri" or "master in one’s own house", meaning that Indonesian films should become prolific and popular enough to beat imported films at the box-office.
We need to position Joshua Oppenheimer’s films within the network of cultural activism that already exists in Indonesia. This requires a more open discussion about the ramifications of power as part of the process and limitations of activists and filmmakers in creating cultural interventions.
The Look of Silence was celebrated and supported by human rights activists. National Commission on Human Rights even provided a letter of support for the film screenings in Indonesia. The questions are, how could they support a film which exploited its subjects, a film that creates a new stigma against the powerless, a film which has questionable ethics in its making? Is it true that we do not need ethics in our fights for human rights?
Rumor has it that every third-world leader whispered the same phrases the morning after independence: “Now the real problems start.” Indonesia is no exception. In Lewat Djam Malam, Usmar Ismail narrates how revolution could go wrong.