Indonesians are raised to be familiar with the term “gotong-royong”, described as a way of communal living ideology of cooperation to achieve a common goal. Synonymous with “solidarity”, every region in the country practices this way of living. This year’s Indonesia Raja explores this very idea, specifically in one special region, Aceh, which holds a special autonomous status and implements Sharia law. For me, this begs a simple question; In a region with a rich history, traditions, and ideologies that seemingly set it apart from the rest of Indonesia as a “Special Region” (Daerah Istimewa), what does solidarity mean?
Solidarity grows from this very soil to underlie all aspects of society. From problem-solving within small areas to larger ones, solidarity is what to rely on. Indonesia Raja 2023: Aceh, programmed by Muhammad Akbar Rafsanjani, presents us with three short films that shed light on different dimensions of Aceh’s solidarity: one reflects how solidarity gives hope, one presents how it deals with problems, and one explores how it solves a public issue. Without undermining or ignoring the challenges which exist in Aceh’s society, these films guide us through Aceh to present multiple sides of Aceh’s solidarity.
The first film of the program reflects how solidarity offers hope, but above that, how breaking free from destructive patriarchal cultural beliefs is learned. Jamuan Laut (The Blue Ceremony) (Arief Rachman Missuari, 2022) portrays a case of a marriage that is uncomfortable to digest. Zulham believes he has failed as a husband for not providing for his family, pushing him to fail as a father, too. The passive father and the overbearing mother—a tale as old as time, and not for no reason. This phenomenon can be traced back to the patriarchal dynamics of the model family. The father is expected to provide; the mother is required to tend to her husband and children. But what is left for dad if mom is to take on his role in addition to her own? The results are born in many forms, and most definitely, their child can explain them all to you.
Jamuan Laut is undeniably a film about marriage dynamics rather than focusing solely on solidarity. It explores the roles and expectations within the family, highlighting how the inability to fulfill these roles can be destructive to a family. Nevertheless, it ends with an emphasis on community—how we are always bound to rely on them to live, both as individuals within society and as a family—which is an apt opening to IR2023’s Aceh program.
The second film presents to the audience how the community in Aceh deals with complicated issues, which is by relying on a traditional trial. Suloh (Azhari, 2021) is a delightful twist on the courtroom drama, taking the form of a village trial centered on an accident involving a broken car windshield and a mother of a special needs child. Laila’s disabled child is the main suspect in this trial. This interaction highlights the community’s awareness of the system’s faults, making them believe only they alone can fix such problems. As a society built on a strong sense of community, the only answer that makes sense is to take this matter into their own hands. However, where can Laila turn to when her own community evades listening to her?
Although this film aims to highlight the solidarity among the villagers, it does not shy away from depicting some of the ugly aspects of it—all the prejudice, ableism, and practicality-over-truth approach to the trial. In doing so, it also portrays this community as imperfect as the regional system itself. It is hence quite ironic, in criticizing a larger system you do not believe in, you decide to take matters into your own hands, yet suffer from the same faults as the subject of your criticism. Perhaps this film does not frame solidarity in Aceh as a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather as a critique of it.
The closing film of this program is Jalan Darurat (Abdul Manaf & M. Iqbal, 2022), a documentary showcasing the story of ambulance escort volunteers in the Aceh streets affected by traffic. Calling themselves Emergensi Relawan Parwal Atjeh (ERPA), these volunteers escort ambulances around Aceh to make it easier for drivers to make their way faster to the hospital. An ambulance driver admits that before ERPA, people were less aware of what to do when encountering ambulances. Now, they know to slide away and make way for them.
“Every second of time is valuable for the patient,” says Alfatal Baari, Head of ERPA in the Pasee area. This reason is the driving force of volunteers’ participation: humanity. They do not expect nor accept any kind of financial aid, every resource originates entirely from them. This short film captures the purest kind of solidarity in Aceh society. As members are volunteers expecting no reward of any kind, their actions come purely from their will to help each of those who are in need of their help, a true act of solidarity.
Through the three short films in Indonesia Raja 2023’s Aceh program, solidarity within the Aceh community is framed and explored in diverse ways. As the first short film, Jamuan Laut introduces us to life in Aceh the way many can relate; a portrayal of a family on a journey of revolution. Although its focus is on the family, the role the community plays at the end provides a gentle introduction to solidarity in Aceh. The second short film, Suloh, offers a more critical view of solidarity from the perspective of the minority, presenting us with a criticism of solidarity that is not always reliable. It invites us to reflect on solidarity and what kind of people it actually benefits.
The program ends with a hopeful note through its final short film, Jalan Darurat, which regains our hope in what solidarity means in Aceh. It depicts solidarity as an innate and inspiring part of Aceh from the perspective of its agents. From Jamuan Laut and Jalan Darurat, we learn that solidarity gives hope. From Suloh, we learn that solidarity without inclusivity is hypocritical. This program takes us on a journey searching for the meaning of solidarity in the context of Aceh and leaves us with multiple answers, none of which (no matter how contradictory) are false.
Indonesia Raja 2023’s Aceh program does not present Aceh as a flawless model for solidarity. It successfully portray many aspects of solidarity honestly, no sugar coating. It shows how people come together through the cracks, scrambling to find solutions that best lessen the burdens of everyday life. Instead of promoting solidarity in Aceh, it invites us to reflect on the meaning of solidarity in Aceh. As programmer Muhammad Akbar mentions, solidarity is a heritage of wisdom in Indonesian society we should ever reflect on. Strong communal ties in Aceh, specifically, offer reflections of what it means to live in a society built on the ideology of solidarity.
Editor: Bintang Panglima
The writer is one of the four selected participants in the Minikino Hybrid Internship for Film Festival Writers (May-November 2023). Indonesia Raja 2023 Program is available for public in-person screening. You can borrow the program and organize your own screening. More information is available at https://minikino.org/indonesiaraja/