Poetics and Politics in Garin Nugroho's A Poet (2)

It is in this willingness to look, to take off the mask, that the historical importance of A Poet lies. The film forms part of a wave of long-repressed criticism of the crimes of the Suharto regime unleashed in the last few years. (12) The film could not have been made during the Suharto era, and Nugroho admits that its 1999 release in Indonesia would have been unlikely if Habibie had been re-elected as president. (13) The new scrutiny of public life coincides with a critical time for the Indonesian film industry. Economic crisis and the collapse of the rupiah at the end of the '90s, which closed cinemas and at first threatened the demise of the movie industries, have in fact opened up new opportunities for cheaper local films, and for a new social realist cinema. (14) Described as 'a one man "new wave"', (15) Nugroho has survived through this period, shooting A Poet on the cheaper digital video format and winning numerous awards with the film. (16)

Although one commentator has written that Nugroho has "graduated" from working in documentaries to making feature films, his work has in fact alternated between both modes. Before making A Poet, he made a documentary on the life of Ibrahim Kadir, and alongside his earlier feature about street kids he also directed a documentary about life on the streets in Jogjakarta. Nugroho clearly chooses the medium appropriate to his task: as Tony Rayns writes, "each film is radically different in form and theme from others". (17) While the titles at the beginning of A Poet state that "a fair and neutral investigation of [the murder of the seven generals that sparked the massacres] was never conducted", Nugroho does not attempt this kind of investigation. In A Poet, we never see the perpetrators of the atrocities, and as for the cause, we are left only with the confusion and questioning of the inmates, "why is this happening?", "what has gone wrong?", "why are our lives so out of kilter?" (18)

Walter Benjamin writes, of the process of storytelling:
It is not the object of the story to convey a happening per se, which is the purpose of information; rather, it embeds it in the life of the storyteller in order to pass it on as experience to those listening. It thus bears the marks of the storyteller much as the earthen vessel bears the marks of the potter's hand. (19)
A Poet embeds this story in the lives of the listener-viewer in a profoundly embodied way, inscribed through the texture of the cell walls, the restless pace of the camera, the emotional qualities of the voice, the cyclic structures of repetition. Bowen argues that the western idea that history or politics can be understood as objects distinct from cultural and aesthetic forms is inadequate to address the embodiment of politics in cultural form. Certainly, the disembodied voice of history exists in contemporary Indonesia, but Nugroho emphasises his choice to avoid the historical approach (sejarah), and to work with the emotional registers of "the verbal tradition". (20)

The film bears the marks of two storytellers, the filmmakers and Ibrahim Kadir. (21) Kadir's performance sees him acting a highly stylised role. It is a performance, and a masterful one at that, winning him Best Actor awards at two international festivals, but it is also much more. There is an intensity to his performance, a complex dialectic between distance and proximity in his role representing both himself and the voice of the storyteller. Kadir, the storyteller, is the potter whose bodily memory marks the "earthen vessel" of the story. Just as Kadir does not locate himself outside the events re-enacted, nor does Nugroho, the other storyteller, take up an authorial voice outside or above the experience of these events, the "judicial" voice of interrogation which would present a case, but render culture, experience and feeling as artefacts or objects to be scrutinised. The trajectories of a history that meet in the experience of Kadir and his fellow inmates are not separate from the cultural histories that weave through the tradition of didong. Nor are these events removed from the experience of them, or the deep incisions they have left in the bodily memory of those who survived.

Bowen claims that, in the '70s, "the poetic medium [of didong was] deemed to be 'cultural', and thus somewhat safe from direct suppression" despite its political criticisms. (22) He does, however, document the strategy of the New Order regime in the '70s and '80s "to subsume all social movements and cultural expression under the Pancasila, the Five Principles that form the state ideology". (23) With resonances that go beyond the '60s into the current struggle in Aceh against the central government, didong grounds A Poet in the sense of local culture and cultural affiliation as the life-blood of a people, the vital core of resistance to decimation by military might. (24) Kadir's performance embodies both the refusal to bury the memory of the victims and a refusal to surrender a rich poetic tradition to the homogenising demands of a national culture. By working with the multi-layered affective tradition of didong, Nugroho embeds his film within the complex mesh of layered meanings in contemporary Indonesian cultural politics.

see the footnote here

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Poetics and Politics in Garin Nugroho's A Poet (1)

".chopped up at the blink of an eye, whether relatives or friends, cleared out completely." (1)

These lines, quoted from a performance staged in 1978 to applaud the achievements of the Suharto regime, celebrate the massacre of between 500,000 and 2 million people which clinched the victory of Suharto's forces in purging Indonesia of communists in 1965. (2) Under Suharto's program of the civic function of the army, strategies of control and intimidation infiltrated the micro-level of daily life and cultural activity. The recruitment of the popular form of didong, the sung poetic duels renowned among the Gayo people of central Aceh, as a tool of the New Order, exemplifies this pervasive influence. John Bowen, the scholar of Sumatran poetics and politics who quotes these lines, has documented how, as the army spread its tentacles during the '60s and '70s down into the grassroots of local cultures, local government recognised that a popular art form such as didong could become a dangerous tool of dissent. (3) Didong had evolved through the middle of the 20th century from a folk form into a tool for engaging the modern world in a popular idiom, a form characterised by humour and word-play which used the veiled language of metaphor as a vehicle for incisive political criticism. (4) Bowen traces the attempts by the central government under Suharto to counter this potential threat by enlisting didong in its service. (5) Despite the 'distaste' that, according to Bowen, many Gayo felt on hearing these lines, their framing within the poetic form of a didong performance provided a potent mnemonic device to keep an awareness of the price of dissent vividly in the popular imagination. (6)

It is no accident that A Poet: Unconcealed Poetry (Puisi tak terkuburkan), the first Indonesian film to revisit the 1965 massacres, works back up from the grassroots of didong to reclaim this history, to give testimony to the trauma of those who lived through it. (7) As a work of mourning, A Poet, directed by Garin Nugroho, affirms the other tradition of didong-the powerful humanist tradition of a poetic form for emotional expression which 'gives dignity to humanity'. (8) The film starts from the ballads of didong poet, Ibrahim Kadir, an eye-witness to the massacres of 1965 who plays himself in the film, and works with many non-professional actors from the Takengon area of central Aceh who also experienced the events and whose relatives and friends were among the victims. (9) Far from the callous gloating of the 1978 performance, accounts of the production of A Poet tell of a process of filming marked by tears and grieving. (10) The difficulties of making a film that could do justice to the scale and enormity of the trauma of '65 must have been a daunting task to the crew of A Poet. Facts, statistics, chronologies could never measure the scars left on a community, a culture, by such a history. The solution Nugroho has found to this challenge is to work on the smallest scale, to focus on the raw experience of a few dozen people caught in the mesh of the rampaging army-rice farmers, fishermen, housewives, mothers. The film revolves around the memories of Kadir, arrested at the height of the massacre and held in custody for 28 days before being released, and follows the inmates of two cells as they struggle to make sense of what is happening and to keep a sense of their own humanity even as they await execution.

The Indonesian title of the film, Puisi tak terkuburkan, means a poetry that cannot be buried, that has not been surrendered to the grave. The English translation, A Poet: Unconcealed Poetry, acts almost as a euphemism as it misses the vital link to the earth, grounded in the knowledge in an agrarian culture of the gritty reality of bodies consigned to the earth. Indeed, the fragile physicality of bodies is ever-present in A Poet. The space of the film is the space of incarceration, shot entirely inside two prison cells and the guard's foyer, a murky amorphous space shot in low resolution, black and white digital video. Fear seeps out of the dingy, musty cell walls-a palpable, all-pervasive fear amplified by the claustrophobia of the camera which pries into tightly crammed corners filled with sleeping bodies, pins people against the cell walls and creeps listlessly in close-up across the startled eyes and clenched faces of prisoners waiting to learn of their fate.

The sound of the film, as if in contest with the tight, rigid, closed-in space, is fluid, mobile, a vehicle of transport, both tugging us in to the space of terror and drawing us back out into the space of survival. The sense of duelling voices, central to the performance of didong, animates the structure of Nugroho's film, as it alternates between the sounds and voices of authority and menace, and the songs and melodies of resistance, of a humanity under duress. (11) Sound echoes the terror of entrapment. The clanging of the prison gates, chains and locks wracks the bodies of the prisoners, ricochets as if through empty shells that can no longer protect the vulnerable organs within, leaving limbs quaking. The voice of the guard calling the names of the inmates to be taken is like an invisible string reeling in unwilling captives. As he recounts the terrible experiences of '65, Kadir is still haunted by bodily memory of the sounds of slaughter-the 'crak crak crak' sound of bodies being severed by the parang, the short sword, as head is separated from body. The memory of a woman shot with her baby at the breast is carried by a scream across shifting levels of reality:
I looked at the moon and from it there came a cry
The moon and the stars were crying just like my own child.

Even in the face of this horror, as a ceh, the leader of a didong group, Kadir's accounts of the events are infused with the spirit of the oral tradition of storytelling, drawing on all of the emotional registers of the voice, and sliding effortlessly from voice to song and dance. The richly layered soundtrack carries the film across invisible boundaries, shifts the mood from the atomised space of isolation and terror, and draws people from the confined space of the cell out into the expanded space of memory, from bewilderment and disintegration back out into the space of communal affirmation.

The animating power of didong continually breaks through the surface of the film. Even as they are held captive, the rhythm, the allusions of the storytelling mode take hold of the inmates, transporting them across time and space, beyond their physical confinement, to evoke the sensuous qualities of memory. Lured into the space of pleasure, warmth and laughter, they recount stories of courtship, tell jokes and break spontaneously into dance and song. If you could say that in A Poet the sound is the air that we breathe, then this life-giving force is in music. The opening credits of the film shake with the pounding rhythm of a group of didong singers as they beat pillows in accompaniment to their singing and rhythmic swaying in a joyous communal performance. In the cell, the rhythm of a prisoner anxiously knocking on the wall becomes a counterpoint to the melody of a song which gives voice to the fear of the inmates:
I fear your fate is that of the little chicken, its heart trembling for fear of the hawk,
Happy are the water fowl that even in murky water can float.
The tremulous song of someone attempting to stay alive is taken up by the group like a lifeline that rekindles and sustains the spirit. At the end of the film, the haunting voice of the singer reintegrates the painful memories once again into the strength of the communal tradition, driven by the rhythm and the vigour of didong performance. It is not just poetry that has refused to be put in the grave, but a poetics, a way of life lived within the ambit of a sensuous poetic tradition.

The intensities of the film are channelled through tightly-controlled and paced theatrical performance, cycling around a limited set of stylised motifs. As Kadir tells another inmate of the executions he has witnessed, his hands mimic the sharp slicing movement of the sword decapitating its victims. Hands are involuntarily transformed into tools of violence: Kadir is forced to tie the hands of the other inmates before they are taken to be killed; a bloodied hand scraped across the wall in anxiety symbolises the fracturing of daily life:
Why do these hands no longer knock on doors in greeting
Why is a knock on the door now frightening
Why do these fingers not point out the many kindnesses
Why do these fingers betray?
The overcrowded platform on which inmates crush together to sleep, a stage for storytelling and dancing, itself becomes a motif as it is suddenly sparse, the few remaining bodies spread out, separated, empty spaces between them. Sacks made for storing rice are transformed into hoods as group after group of prisoners is masked and led out to be killed, a ritual that punctuates the film over and over. The steady supply of sacks brought into the jail dries up, as villagers realise how they are being used and refuse to sell. At the close of the film, one of the last remaining women finally refuses everything the sack stands for:
Tie me up if you will . . . but don't put that sack over my head . . .
Whatever life is, I want to see it.

Author: Anne Rutherford
Anne Rutherford teaches Cinema Studies at University of Western Sydney.

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Jackie Chan plans Chinese earthquake movie

Hong Kong action hero Jackie Chan said Friday he wanted to make a film about the massive earthquake which hit China this month to raise money for victims.

Chan is best known for blockbusters like the "Rush Hour" series and "Drunken Master" but said the new project would represent a change of tone because he had been so deeply affected by what happened.

The official death toll from the quake, which hit Sichuan province on May 12, is now over 55,000. It is China's worst disaster in a generation.

"Tomorrow we have big meeting with some directors, some scriptwriters -- why? I want to make the movie about the earthquake because there's so many touching stories," an emotional Chan told a press conference in London.

"Every story I've seen just makes me cry... I believe there's so, so many touching stories so tomorrow we're going to have a big meeting to see what happens.

"I want through the movie to show the whole world, I really want to salute the whole army of China, really," he said, without giving further details of who he was referring to.

He added that the movie would "raise money for charity".

Chan has donated 1.5 million dollars (953,000 euros) to help earthquake victims and vowed to help rebuild schools affected by the disaster.

He said there would be charity events in Hong Kong and Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, next month to benefit earthquake victims featuring around 100 Asian artists.

The star stopped off in London after visiting the Cannes film festival in France, where he was promoting "Wushu", a film he produced which tells the story of five friends training in martial arts.

Chan, who is to speak to students at Oxford University later, also spoke of his sadness at protests which disrupted the Olympic torch relay around the world ahead of the Beijing games which take place in August.

"A lot of people misunderstand, politic is politic and Olympic is Olympic and not combine together. Somebody used the wrong way to say something," he said.

"Torch is represent love, peace, there is only sport can bring people together in make the world peace... Taking the violent thing for the peace, you destroy the Olympic spirit. I'm really sad."

Pro-Tibet activists demonstrated in London, Paris and San Francisco to protest against China's crackdown on unrest in the Himalayan region in March.

Chan added that he was "very confident" the Beijing Olympics would "achieve its unprecedented success".

Source: http://news.id.msn.com

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Eastwood, Israeli movie, favourites as Cannes hits halfway

A gripping Clint Eastwood thriller starring Angelina Jolie and a new-genre animated documentary from Israel are shaping up as critics' favourites for the Palme d'Or prize as the Cannes film festival hits the halfway mark.

Eastwood's wrenching tale about a mother and her missing son picked up more applause from the critics Tuesday than any of the 11 screened since the world's biggest film festival opened May 14.

Based on a real-life California story in the 1920s, the film hits out at police corruption and incompetence, mirroring a trend at the festival for movies that play up tough realities and real-life dramas, and often blur the line between fiction and documentary.

"The quality of the films is pretty good," Kirk Honeycutt, chief critic at Hollywood Reporter, told AFP.

"But they've been pretty relentlessly grim. For a lot of us critics it's been a tough way to go."

Murder, rape, single moms, gangs, and even the seamy insides of a Manila porn theatre were on the menu this week.

Cannes' top prize is announced Sunday, and with politically minded actor Sean Penn heading this year's jury, the bets are out that its nine members will favour messages over pure fiction.

That would give an edge to an Israeli animation on the notorious 1982 massacres of Palestinians living in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, "Waltz With Bashir", in which director Ari Folman unravels his repressed memories of the horror with the help of Sigmund Freud.

"Waltz With Bashir," said Screen magazine, "could easily turn out to be one of the most powerful statements of this Cannes and will leave its mark forever on the ethics of war films in general."

The animated documentary, the first of its kind to win selection for Cannes, is one of the highest-rated contenders for the Palme, according to a panel of critics who mark the films for Screen each day.

It was also ranked best so far by Emmanuel Burdeau, from France's influential "Cahiers du Cinema".

"All in all," he told AFP, "this year's competition films have been pretty good."

Also popular with the panel in the same vein of reality-bites are China's "24 City" chronicling the country's change in the past 50 years through interviews with factory workers; Argentinian movie "Lion's Den" set in a women's prison, and a gritty Italian movie on the mafia, "Gomorrah."

But until the screening of the Eastwood movie, top of the pops for the 11 critics from across the world listed in Screen was a highly-personal drama about family secrets from an auteur director, Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

His "Three Monkeys" is a "brilliant, gorgeously visual film," said The Hollywood Reporter.

French critics in a local film mag however gave a Gallic thumbs up to home-made "A Christmas Tale", a complex family saga featuring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni.

But still to come before the red-carpet finale is a two-part four-hour epic on Latin American revolutionary "Che" Guevara, filmed by "Ocean's" director Steven Soderbergh, as well as a hotly awaited first film by Charlie Kaufman, writer of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

"All eyes are on Che," said Honeycutt, who picked Jolie as well as Argentina's Martina Gusman as the jailed mother in "Lion's Den" as the top contenders for best actress so far.

Julianne Moore in the apocalptic opening film "Blindness" by Brazil's "City of God" film maker Fernando Meirelles also stood out.

Also yet to come are new films by Canada's Atom Egoyan and Germany's Wim Wenders as well as movies from Italy, France, Argentina and Singapore.

Source: http://news.id.msn.com

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Review: Kun Fayakuun

Starting April 17, 2008

Director: Guntur Novaris

Scriptwriter: Yusuf Mansur & Guntur Novaris

Casts: Agus Kuncoro, Desy Ratnasari, Zaskia A. Mecca, Opick, Marini Zumarnis

Production Company: Putaar Production

Website: Kun Fayakuun @ 21 Cineplex

Ardan (Agus Kuncoro) is a mirror salesman working door-to-door to make ends meet. He lives in a meager living condition with his children and dutiful wife (Desy Ratnasari), and is still determined to get his family out of poverty. Yet, a tragedy strikes him and his family hard, pulling the family down to the deep of misery.

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Kereta Hantu Manggarai (The Ghost Train of Manggarai)

Starting April 30, 2008

Director: Nayato Fio Nuala

Scriptwriter: Ery Sofid

Casts: Sheila Marcia Joseph, Melvin Iim, Stefanie Hariadi, Nadila Ernesta, Rina Hassim, Gianina Emanuela, Fendi Trihartanto

Production Company: Rapi Films

Website: Kereta Hantu Manggarai @ 21 Cineplex


Over a heated argument, Rossa incidentally said “Go to hell!” to her younger sister, Emily. Soon after, Emily is gone without a trace, leaving Rossa in deep trouble. The journey to find Emily brings Rossa to Bobby, a guy who believes in the existence of other world creatures and myths. He believes that Emily is taken away by the infamous Manggarai ghost train. Despite Rossa’s skeptical attitude, soon after she is forced to believe the existence of the train when she experiences some mental and physical terrors.

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Indonesian film censorship should be reviewed, reformed

A distinctive feature of modern power is its disciplinary control, its concern with what people have and have not done.This concern illustrates the primary function of modern disciplinary systems: to correct deviant behavior.

The goal is to reform, and means coming to live by society’s standards or norms. Discipline through imposing precise norms (”normalization” ) is what Michel Foucault calls “the deployment of force and the establishment of truth”.

Indonesia, under the New Order system was the perfect example of what Foucault stated. The New Order created mechanisms of ordered politics (Krishna Sen, 1992). And in this term, film occupies a significant position.

During New Order’s power, film had become a propaganda apparatus or a control device which, through its organization of content and production-distribu tion-exhibition process, attempted to create an obedient public.

The New Order era was signified by an extensive surveillance apparatus watchful for any subversive movement. Government regulations over film also structured production of norms based on normality.

Government-sponsore d film organization, censorship, and film festivals functioned not only as a symbol of power but more like mirror for the viewing subjects to reflect his/her own subjectivity.

The year 1998 signified the overturn in Indonesian politic when the fall of Soeharto ended the authoritarian rule that survived for almost 32 years.

The reform movement, which was greatly owed to the student and civil society movement, hardly had any visible impact on the film industry. But indirectly, the reform movement made a strong impact on how democracy is understood.

Media is one of the important keys to change. After 1998, private television numbers rose drastically. Numbers of newspaper and printed media also expanded significantly. Local film production started to grow.

The release of Kuldesak (1997), an omnibus by four young directors (Nan T. Achnas, Riri Riza, Mira Lesmana, and Rizal Mantovani) marked the dawn of was a so-called Indonesian new wave.

The generation of Kuldesak and the following, showed a rupture, and their presence marked an historical resistance to previous film history. Kuldesak is bold statement by young Indonesian filmmakers to break their historical ties with their predecessors.

After 2000, this phenomenon was followed by the emergence of film communities as a core base of filmmaking and film exhibitions. Short films became a form of expression and in some sense, an experiment. Festival films are becoming currency in intellectual discourse, while technological revolution provides the facilities to make and appreciate films.

Since there is only one film school in the country, many filmmakers who work at the community level are self-taught. The rise of pirated DVDs is one of the important phenomenon because it enables many people to access movies - a privilege that in the past was only available for those with money.

Globalization that promotes free markets, freedom of choice (and expression) and deregulation in the labor market and in economic activities, is greatly accepted but at the same time in areas of family, marriage, morality and sexuality, firm controls and state regulations were reinforced.

Censorship is one of the key national regulations that deals with, but is not limited, to those issues. Indonesian censorship system originally was established by Dutch Colonialism. In the New Order era, censorship was a major and important policy to control filmmakers. Filmmakers were forced to comply with censors to avoid the expense of her/his own safety as well as delays in the film’s release.

During the transition period, much has changed, including the landscape of media. But paradoxically, the government maintains film censorship despite the new wave of change and protest from filmmakers.

Most of the members of LSF come from an intelligence agency, the military and police, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Religion, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, religious leaders, and a very limited portion from the film community.

Despite Indonesia’s former president, Abdurahman Wahid dissolved the Ministry of Information (under which the Censorship Board was coordinated) , filmmakers still should follow all the censorship procedures (stipulated in Film Acts, No. 8/1992, Government Regulation No. 7/1994).

That regulation stipulates that all motion pictures, television programs, television commercials and other related promotional materials shall be subject to prior review by the board of censorship before they are exported, imported, copied, distributed, sold, leased, exhibited in theatres or broadcast on television.

The Censorship Board shall delete scenes and disapprove films which are immoral, indecent, contrary to the law or the state’s ideology and good customs, those which are damaging to the prestige of government or its institution or its duly constituted authority, or those which have a dangerous tendency to encourage the commission of a crime, violence or of a wrong.

Regarding pornographic material and violence, films and material shall be reviewed by utmost consideration and evaluation, applying Indonesian moral and cultural values as the standard.

After 1998, many films including fiction as well as documentaries have been cut or banned by censorship bodies or by local or state authorities. The Army Forced Them to be Violent (2001) is documentary film, shot during the 1998 student movement. The title of this film was rejected.

The Censorship Board renamed its title into: Student Movement in Indonesia. The Board viewed that some scenes depicting the violence perpetrated by Indonesian police and army officers could damage the army’s image.

Another case includes Buruan Cium Gue (Kiss Me Quick, 2004). The film passed censorship, but was protested against by prominent Muslim cleric Abdullah Gymnastiar and Din Syamsudin from Indonesian Ulemas Council.

The production house then withdrew its distribution and changed its title. A film by producer-director Nia Dinata, Perempuan Punya Cerita (Chants of Lotus, 2007) was cut by the Censorship Board (more than 190 feet from a total of 4,000 feet) and left the film severely damaged.

As a democratic society, Indonesian film censorship is the only state mechanism that has not yet changed since the 1998 reform movement. The government’s stance on continuing the outdated method of censorship is regrettable.

Censorship violates Article 28C paragraph (1) and Article 28F of the 1945 Constitution (4th Amendment). Censorship is also against another regulation, such as Human Rights Act No. 22/1999 and Copy Rights Act No.19/2002.

Censorship is offensive to the public’s right to information and to the foundation of a democratic society. Therefore, the government should urgently review its Censorship Board to guarantee freedom of expression.

The Jakart Post Opinion and Editorial - February 23, 2008
Veronica Kusuma, Jakarta

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