When I traveled from Germany to Indonesia three weeks ago to attend my internship at Minikino Film Festival, it felt like the pandemic times had ended for me. Sitting on a plane and knowing I was able to follow the internship in person after all these times of insecurities, I was able to get back to an old “normality”, in which border restrictions and corona regulations were not present for me anymore. Arrived at my internship, I started to watch the selection for the Indonesia Raja program 2022, as my main task would consist in writing articles about this program. I was stuck by the presence about the pandemic in these films, making me travel back to a time, in which we all lived in a state of complete isolation. Finding myself far away from home, my current experience was quite the opposite. However, when I watched these films, I was made aware of how differently people experienced the pandemic, not only in the world, but also in Indonesia.
The Indonesia Raja program is part of the Minikino film festival organization and represents a short film program from different regions in Indonesia, offering insights into local specificities and depicting the cultural richness and diversity of the country. Throughout the program, there is a persistent visibility of the pandemic that accompanied us during the past two years, either through the presence of masks or the content of the films. Especially the films Astungkara (May it happen by his will, 2021, Anak Agung Ngurah Bagus Kesuma Yudha), Belajar di Kampung (Learning at the village, 2021, I Made Suarbawa) and Arisan Siasat (The Strategic Gathering, 2021, Erlina Rakhmawati) make the pandemic as their main subject, depicting it from different perspectives and showing personal insights on the time in isolation. The films illustrate how it affected the daily life of people living in different regions, circumstances, and conditions in Indonesia. In doing so, the Indonesia Raja Program succeeds in offering diverse facets of the pandemic and its impact on the people’s life in the country.
The documentary film Astungkara follows Gung Aji and Gung Byang, an elderly couple living on Bali. In the beginning of the film, we see Gung Aji sitting on a stool, reaching for sunlight on his skin. He explains that the coronavirus dies when being exposed to the sun: It’s medicine of the nature. Therefore, the Sun god Betara Surya must be worshiped every single day. Astungkara then follows the couple throughout different rituals that they perform during the day, serving as protection against the virus. We thereby also see the worries it elicits in them. As Gung Byang tells, the Kulkul (a big bell) at the Puri Klungklung temple rang by itself, without anyone hitting it. According to the belief of Balinese, this represents a sign of impending dangers. The film doesn’t tell us much about the couple’s situation in the pandemic or their life in general. Rather, it shows the strong presence of religion in Balinese people’s life and the trust they place in their gods in a situation of crisis. As the last shot of the film depicts, this also reflects itself in the film’s title. Accompanied by a calm music and the voice of Gung Aji saying “Hopefully Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (God Almighty) get rid of this corona. Astungkara (May it happen by his will)”, we see a time lapse shot of the passing sky, filled by the peaceful colors of the sunset. Stylistically, the film is characterized by simplistic shots, that unfold the daily routine of the elderly couple in a slow pace. However, this fits the observational tone of the film, that gives the couple the space to share their experience during these unsettling times.
Belajar di kampung represents a documentary film that follows Puspa through her daily life during homeschooling in the village. As she explains, she usually attends the school in Denpasar. However, as there were cases of Corona at her school, the teachers told them to stay home. As the mother later adds, since then Puspa lives and studies in the kampung (village). During the documentary, we follow Puspa and her family throughout the tasks of the day, accompanying them while praying, preparing food, cleaning or tiding up the house, working in the garden, feeding the chickens or doing the prescribed schoolwork for the day. In doing so, Puspa never complains about her current home-schooling life. However, we can still see what challenges the studying at home can pose for Puspa and her mother: Lack of concentration or motivation, poor internet connection in the village and no friends or social contacts around except for the family. Especially in the ending shot of the film, her isolation becomes quite illustrative as she draws a painting about how to prevent the corona virus by keeping distance to other people, wearing a mask and staying at home. For me, this shot became quite exemplary for the style of the film, depicting her isolation through observational, long shots, without explicitly voicing it.
Arisan Siasat is a fiction film that revolves around an online gathering held by a group of five urban-middle class women living in Yogyakarta. Sticking out through its production in a computer screen format, the film shows how the pandemic can provoke creative aesthetic choices, letting us follow the Arisan from the perspective of Mbak Tika’s flashy social media profile. The Arisan is an Indonesian custom, in which a group of people gather regularly at one of the member’s houses in turn. Most commonly, the Arisan holder receives a payment from each of the members and provides for the meals. During the film, it becomes obvious that the gathering does not merely serve as a place to exchange money or goods, but also represents an important space for the women to chat about their lives during the lockdown, especially in their positions as housewife, mother, daughter, or spouse. The conversations show how the burdens on the women have increased during the pandemic, as the whole family stays at home, constantly expecting them to fulfill their needs.
At the same time, the computer format applied in the film is used in a playful manner, offering many amusing moments to the viewer. However, when Jeng Watik enters the chat room as the last member of the group, the humorous tone of the film disappears. Trying to hide her appearance, she seems anxious. When she unveils her body to her friends, we see it covered in blue and red bruises. The cause of these injuries becomes more obvious when we suddenly hear the screaming voice of her husband, forcing Jeng Watik to leave the picture. Due to the restricted shot of the webcam format, we cannot see what happens to her. However, the sounds of shattering plates and her husband’s choleric voice are enough to fill the viewer’s imagination.
As Astungkara, Belajar di kampung and Arisan siasat show, short films provide an important space to depict difficulties, fears, and challenges of people in our time. Most certainly, everyone has their short story to tell during their times in lockdown. However, although stuck in the same isolation, the films show how much these stories can differ due to regional and local differences, age gaps or gender: While the family home represented a safe space for Busba during the quarantine, it was the opposite for Jeng Watik. Reversely, while the internet served as a social space for the urban middle class woman in Arisan siasat, Puspa had to occupy herself due to poor internet connection in the village. And while religion represents an important anchor for Gung Aji and Gung Byang in difficult times, this was probably more represented through the family and friends in the other films. At the end, what made these films so striking to me was that although the covid virus had such a universal value, the short films displayed how differently it affected us and the mechanisms people cope with it. Surely, there might be small aspects in the films that everyone might be able to relate to, such as fear of uncertainty, studying or working home alone or missing to meet friends in real life. But besides, many people had to cope with problems that might stick with them for longer. Jumping into an airplane and leaving corona behind, showed me how simple it was for me to forget how the pandemic felt like. But especially when watching the last film, I was reminded how important it is to make us aware of other people’s stories. And luckily, Indonesian filmmakers found many great ways to keep on the production telling these stories, also in times of social distancing.