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Interview Media & Entertainment

Sitting down with the director: Joko Anwar at CinemAsia 2018

Neysa Azalia
Written by Neysa Azalia

The beginning of March saw the weeklong entry of Amsterdam’s annual CinemAsia, which housed Asian cinema’s up-and-coming films and talents. With special focus this year on the Indonesian cinema, represented by none other than nationally renowned and thriving director, Joko Anwar. The screening of his latest film, Satan’s Slaves (Pengabdi Setan) has been the talk of the crowd – of both Indonesians as well as international audiences, ranging from Asia to its Western counterparts. Nonetheless, Anwar’s role in the film industry has been well placed, as the merits of his experiences has resumed his voyage, but this time bearing the goal to expand Indonesian cinema to the world market.

Joko Anwar in the eleventh edition of CinemAsia Film Festival
A previous article that I’ve written details the varied programs that the CinemAsia film festival offered. The screenings of films originating from Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and, of course, Indonesia were major parts of the program’s most anticipated competition. That was where Anwar came in, bestowing his title as a jury member of the Competition Program in addition to enthralling moviegoers with his latest horror produce.

An experienced associate in the film industry such as Anwar himself has attended numerous international film festivals prior to this edition. He even claimed to have attended CinemAsia in the past with the screening of his previous films such as Joni’s Promise (2005) Dead Time (2007), as well as The Gathering (2003) – even though he wrote but didn’t direct the latter. His 2018 experience at CinemAsia, however, is somewhat of a milestone as it was his first time as a jury member. He wouldn’t have it any other way, seeing that the festival exudes warmth and friendliness all around. On top of that, he’s had close ties with the organisers of the festival due to past collaborations and a preserving friendship that still dates to the present.

Now’s the time for Indonesia to shine

Special focus: Indonesian cinema
Endowed with this – ‘special focus’ – title, I was curious what distinguishes Indonesian cinema from other Asian cinemas. In other words, what was the rationale behind this entitlement? According to Anwar himself, the surge of recognition that Indonesian films have gained from international markets have deliberately formed a foundation for the cinema, which deserves to be acknowledged. “Recently, [for] the past five years, […] Indonesian movies [have been] getting recognition from international critics. […] There are more interesting films coming up in Indonesia.” Neighbouring cinemas in Thailand, for one, had been in the spotlight several years ago – now’s the time for Indonesia to shine. To that, he then adds, “It doesn’t mean that we are the best.” Still, it’s worthy of recognition in support of the world’s growing need for diversity to be rid of stereotypes conceived by a global audience.

Indonesian films have always revolved around non-risky formulas

The standard film release of 130 in amount per year has also saw a proliferating increase in commercial ticket sales, with its peak in 2017 with approximately 43 million tickets sold. The industry is constantly evolving by getting a few steps ahead of its previous conventional filmmaking formula. “[translated from Indonesian] Indonesian films have always revolved around non-risky formulas – teen romance, horror. Even so, I think it’s going to be okay because we’re used to making teen romance, although not at the level that can be accepted internationally in terms of aesthetic and technical reasons. Now, we’re catching up – we are starting to make quality films. So, even though there’s not a development in themes, I think we can still develop [aesthetically and technically].”

The key to cinema
Film, in the words of Anwar, “[is] a medium for filmmakers to tell their stories, using aesthetic and mechanical tools.” Anwar schools me briefly on the highlighted importance of perseverance in learning outside of the complacencies usually offered by talent. For people who are not handed the silver platter, a message from the writer and director: “[translated from Indonesian] Talent exists, it holds an important role and we can’t deny that – that takes up fifty percent of the effort. But there are also people who have thirty percent talent and [are] still working hard to the point that [they reach] a level that exceeds people with fifty percent talent.” Watching films and getting all the references could only get you so far. It’s another thing to get a book and actually learn the technicalities of filmmaking.

Cover: Linh Dinh

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About the author

Neysa Azalia

Neysa Azalia

Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, Neysa aims to make the most of her experiences studying and residing 11,000 kilometres away from her country of birth. She enjoys creative storytelling through mostly visual and textual instruments.