What money can’t buy

The lush invitation was printed on a slightly yellow tinted fancy paper; a squared thumbnail positioned in the center shows what looks like a movie poster with a snapshot of 4 people, it reads:

‘Sepuluh’ sebuah film karya Henry Riady (‘Ten’ a film by Henry Riady)

Elegant typeface was used to stylize the text, further uplifting the art-deco design that expresses luxury, rather than art. It was Trajan family, I believed, commonly used by designers to replace the age-old Times New Roman on invitations of such.

Crowds were seen all over the reception area, glasses of white wine were neatly prepared on a table in the corner of the entrance, completely ignored by the loud chatters and amplified speeches heard from the other room separated by a pair of glass door. As we approach the room smiles were seen behind it in anticipation of our distinguished guest, one of the cabinet members expected to attend the launch party that night.

One particular thing struck me as unusual that night, was the crowd.

Indonesia is a country of movie lovers, we have one of the world’s best commercial cinema, high number of intellectual & western minded audiences, but unlike China or India, we have an extremely low number of high quality, locally produced movie.

The quintessential of the moviemakers in Indonesia can be anyone but batik (formal traditional clothing popular for social functions in the country) wearers. It’s those jeans & shirts baby boomers, the me-don’t care bunch that crowds the lesser known moviemaking haven. Hardly ever someone who comes with bodyguards opening their doors and touching their ear walking like a ghost would inhabit such ecosystem. But the landscape seen that night was a rare mix of crowds from both worlds with a different kind of atmosphere, like a bunch of Toms & Jerries mingling together with dozens of Spikes, with no sign of the cartoon fights & barks.

Indonesia, a country where fax is still commonly used, and email’s more of a personal gizmo, is a place of mailing-listers. The community skipped the newsgroups revolution and propelled into a web revolution in the late 90s, but content never really caught up with the growth. That’s where mailing-list came in. Yahoo was, and still is the #1 portal in the country, the directory driven website provided the perfect platform to bridge the people, the privacy concern & the technological gap. Typing content was much easier for people then to paste HTML format their piece. Thus the popularity of mailing list, as simple as writing a note, your message is heard by the hundreds, or thousands of subscribers of their Yahoo ‘milis‘–as it often called by locals. You could find any kind of useful, stupid, passionate & more honest information in the milis for any subject you’d like–more ubiquitous than any websites, books or magazines in the country.

I was a member of one particular milis that fated me to sit together with a young lad named Edwin, in a warm cloudy day of 2007. His post in that milis caught my attention; a link to his trailer of a movie his working on called Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly. At the end of the note, he truthfully signed off himself as:

Edwin Babi. (Edwin the Pig)

Edwin is a humble guy in his mid 20s. His uncombed curvy hair comfortably concealed his pimples around his forehead & cheek. He tucked half of his grey shirt into his dark green khaki pants, and along with his friendly smile, he & his friend Meiske slowly walked towards our table. After a quick introduction I was reminded that I met Meiske before that meeting, her fond memory gently reminded my ignorance, so I decided to spend more time talking to her about Edwin’s project, and liberated Edwin off my questions that I’ve mentally prepared, so he can enlighten my friends instead.

Edwin’s movie, ‘Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly’ is about identity, in particular, it’s about the chinese descent’s lingering dilemma of their being a Chinese descent in a country largely inhabited by Chinese & immigrants; thanks to history, it’s considered taboo to submit to being a Chinese descent in certain period of time, or surrounding, or some place.

By the time I met him, Edwin claimed the movie was 75% done, due to limited budget & support, he had to shoot the movie guerilla style, by a team of indie workers he recruited and signed on without any solid promise but shared passion & common resentment of their rejected efforts from the past.

Our meeting that day, in fact was one of such effort from Edwin & Co. to win support from the other side of the wall, it is through dozens of such meet that they were able to raise enough fund & awareness about his projects, where people started donating their wealth, networks & equipments so that he can source the juice and kick-start the creative engine running. When fund dried up, he would stop production, mark the scene, tick off the list of to-do until another opportunity came and resume business till the last word of ‘cut!’ and ‘it’s a wrap!’ was sounded 20 months from the first shout of action! from Edwin.

After a short speech by my distinguished friend on-stage, we were escorted to the premium located seat of the cold cinema, red-tape were ran around both sides of the lines of seats signaling ‘VIP only’, a security guard loosen the tape and gesturing his hand pointing towards the predefined seat, and the lady escort handed us a piece of printed paper, and a copy of what looks like a CD sleeve reading ‘Theatrical Trailer’. Skipping the usual showcase of commercials, the light gradually darken and projected image started to show from the screen where some part of the curtain still covering each corner side of it, which means the movie was not in anamorphic cinematic ratio, associated with blockbuster & high budgeted hollywood flicks, yet a common practice of low-budgeted, locally produced movies.

However, the colors of the image reflected on the screen was nothing like the usual suspects. The carefully designed set & lighting, along with the sharp lens, camera movement, clean sounds & sights were unlike other recent local movies that I’ve seen, it somehow shared the same passion & dedication as the lush invitation & movie flyer that were given to us. This people were really serious about making this movie a success.

The flyer opens with a single line of quote from Plato:



“Those who tell stories rule the world Such a bold statement, I thought. Printed on the back side was the Indonesian version, reading both versions, it felt like the piece was written as English and later translated, this is odd considering 1) the locale of the audience 2) the mother tongue of the moviemakers, moreover, ss deep as the words and statements were, they seem to be lacking some originality, the written expressions seemed to be projecting wisdom beyond the leagues of the mind behind it.

Beneath the honorable efforts from the technical side, the opening scene didn’t really strike me as something notable in the movie ‘Sepuluh’, persuasion from the caramel popcorn was stronger for me to stay rather than the mediocre opening scene of a drug addict selling his soul. The brilliant camera & soundwork didn’t convince me either. I found myself walking out from the theatre 10 years later in the movie, about 10 minutes out from the opening title.

Edwin’s Blind Pig didn’t quite make it to commercial cinemas, it is mostly shown on private screenings in indie theaters, groups of people, critics, and eventually it landed on film festivals, one such festival was the 2009 International Film Festival in Rotterdam where it won a FIPRESCI award. Personally, the trailer was enough for me to urge myself to call the publicist/producer, my friend Meiske and find out their next screening schedule in Jakarta. For those who are interested, check out this page for the next screening.

It’s funny how two completely different souls, one having an army of help, with limitless ammo, the other fighting guerilla style for the same war, trying to make a movie that appeals to audience and well accepted. Further reading has it that the movie ‘Sepuluh’ was budgeted way above the range of what is considered reasonable; probably the kind of cost a newcomer has to pay to attract such reputable names in filmmaking.

Closing Plato’s quote, the flyer stated that the number of acceptance was not the objective, rather, it was the impact that it shall make–as intended by the creator that was more important. Another bold statement that was worth mentioning, a rarely seen wisdom coming from a 19 year old led production team.

At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world for both Henry & Edwin, rather it’s a new beginning; for them both, and us witnessing such young souls leaving their footprints behind their forefathers, in a way that even their fathers never thought it would be, in a country where filmmaking is not quite an established industry yet. It was all inspiring, each in a particular way. Riady has shown us that money & power could buy us time but something more is required in order to create something that reflects great vision. For this both of them shall learn that nothing beats persistence & clarity to share one’s vision to the world.

— This note was first published on facebook by the author. Revision was made for relevance to current status.