The scene is quite surreal to say the least. A young girl is standing with a VR headset firmly strapped on her head. Behind her, through an open window, a clear sky and lush hills spread towards the not-so-distant sea. Surrounded by her girlfriends who help her keep her balance, she seems to be gently swaying in the breeze.“It feels like falling”, she beams as she removes the headset. She will clearly never forget what she just experienced. Around her villagers are waiting for their turn while the queue keeps getting longer outside.
The pop-up event is the latest collaboration between the Minikino film festival organizers and the traditional Bali Aga village of Pedawa in Northern Bali, The energetic Kayoman Pedawa Group, a community created to promote the village’s unique culture and eco-touristic potential is hosting the event. Kayoman’s eagerness to open the village to modernity and new experiences made Pedawa an obvious choice for Minikino once again, after already making it a regular stop on their annual pop-up cinema roadshow.
Minikino Film Week dipped for the first time into the world of virtual reality during the festival’s last edition, by screening the award-winning film Penggantian (Replacements) by French-Indonesian director Jonathan Hagard. The audience responded so enthusiastically that the festival decided to buy more headsets and to create a new VR programme as part of their next edition. Always eager to reach out to more remote communities on the island, it was a no brainer for the festival organizers to pack their newly bought headsets and head out of town with an extra surprise in tow: the director Jonathan Hagard himself. Currently working on his next project as part of an art residency in Ubud, this short getaway provides him with a well-deserved pause and a potential source of inspiration.
Penggantian is a timelapse journey through 30 years of evolution of Jakarta’s urban landscape, marked by major socio-economic changes and the progressive disappearance of the traditional Javanese way of life, a strong message Hagard ceaselessly brings up off screen as well. The film strongly resonates with Bali’s own evolution, even more so in a place such as Pedawa. While the village is slowly opening up to eco-tourism in hope of improving the livelihoods of its inhabitants, it must also figure out a way to do so in a sustainable manner in order to preserve its rich heritage and pristine environment.
Whether it is plying their visitors with a seemingly unextinguishable supply of their homegrown coffee and famous palm sugar, or taking them on an impromptu tour while eagerly introducing their culture, it is obvious that the Kayoman members take great pride in their village and and preserving its rich heritage.
The team has set up their basecamp at Rumah Bandung Rangki, a traditional Bali Aga house built back in 1936, Pedawa’s striking architectural landmark. Its owner, Wayan Sukrata, a respected local figure and staunch supporter of his village’s opening to such new experiences. is more than happy to host the team.
While most people would think of VR as an individual experience, it is the complete opposite here. Observing the scene feels like a strange mise en abîme, where the people watching the film are having as much fun as the people waiting in line observing and smiling at their expressive reactions.
The experience can indeed prove quite overwhelming. Many exclaim loudly in awe as they experience a virtual flood in Jakarta or recognize familiar elements of their lives on screen. “Oh! A bakso stand!” shouts a man, pointing his finger at the empty air in front of him. He then comically stumbles forward, as a wave of laughter ripples through the onlooking assembly.
The spectacle brings a smile on director Jonathan Hagard’s face, as he suddenly recalls witnessing similar reactions to his film during a screening in a rural village in Japan. Although the neighborhood depicted at the beginning of Penggantian is set in Jakarta several decades ago, its atmosphere, recreated on film through the magic of VR, reminded elderly Japanese viewers of their own childhood and the different way of life they grew up in.
“Life is always changing. This film makes me realize that everything is more complex now, more globalized. We can’t just look into one direction, we must look all around us”, muses Wayan Sukatra after watching the film.
If Penggantian sparks memories of younger days for him and other mature villagers, it raises concern among the younger generation. “At the start everything is clean but by the end of the film, everything is destroyed and flooded. We need to do better and protect Nature and our environment”, says young Puspa with a serious air on her face, her girlfriends nodding approvingly.
Always making a point to engage with local communities as part of all their events and activities, the Minikino team has planned a discussion session, so that the audience can directly ask their questions to the director. While the night progressively envelops Pedawa into a chilled silence, a group of villagers sits in front of Rumah Bandung Rangki, listening to Jonathan Hagard explaining how he worked on Penggantian for several years, clearly impressed by the amount of work that was poured into the film. Hardly has one ever seen a more engaged and genuinely curious audience.
The next morning, as the team prepares to head back home, Edo Wulia, Minikino Film Week’s director, seems satisfied and hopeful. “We introduced cinema culture in Pedawa. We hope that they will nurture it and eventually come up with their own ideas”. It seems Pedawa is already headed in that direction: the village has already confirmed its participation in Minikino’s upcoming pop-up cinema roadshow. “See you in September!” one of villagers can be heard gustily shouting as a farewell to the visitors.