DocTalk and Public Lecture: Deciphering Various Forms of Concerns

— Program Highlight
FFD 2019
Hari HAM

The habit of constantly questioning something that’s right in front of us needs to be developed in order to hone critical attitudes, including towards cultural products like movies. As a work of human beings that is always produced, reproduced, and criticized, movies don’t appear just like that. Borrowing a part of Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s latest speech, titled “Culture in A Toothpick’s Package”, culture is a battleground of ideologies—and ideology is the perspective and methods used by certain parties that have their own intentions.

That is how a discussion program becomes relevant in movie festivals. The main goal is not to explain the messages the audience fails to comprehend. Without aiming to build a utopian position as the motion director for movie insights, the discussion program is held as an attempt to reach new dimensions and discourses. A series of discussion programs are included in Festival Film Dokumenter (FFD) 2019 through the DocTalk and Public Lecture program.

Issues that are brought up in these discussions are subtracted from various concerns. The discussions will not to try and conclude it in one single narration, but they will expand the possibility of producing movie insights. There are at least three main concerns that will be shared. All three will bring together our jumbled movie insights.

The first main concern is about movies, the country, and the market. The discussion of this intersection—of movies with the country and market—becomes relevant when a movie is viewed as a cultural product that cannot be separated from social and political contexts. This discussion is actually very diverse. One of the topics would be short movies’ position, especially documentaries, in taking notes and becoming the representation for democratic participation.

Nevertheless, to be able to fulfill that in reality, movies have to go face-to-face with censorship. The censor form can vary and come from anywhere, like state institutions, military, certain communities, and personal self-censors. In other words, the existence of short movies as an independent medium and how they face censorship will always be linked to the act of democracy.

FFD | Call For Entry 2019

Besides the social and political context, another thing that cannot be dismissed is how Indonesia’s cinematic development always intersects with the economy. For this one matter, it is important to look back at how, in the past decade, numerous funding forums and movie markets started to grow in Indonesia, South-East Asia, and even Asia.

That issue gives impacts to the production pattern that has become more diverse. The funding also influences the aesthetics and narration in a movie. Philip Cheah, founder of pop culture magazine from BigO Singapore, in Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival 2014, stated that funding motives indirectly create new clichés, especially in independent cinemas. “Slow-paced rhythm, long meaningful shots, and absurd but poetic moments,” said Philip as a metaphor easily found in Indonesian movies that made it to international movie festivals and earned funds out of it.

Based on that entire bundle, appeared questions about how funding can create impacts on the process of movie production and distribution. However, funding forum also has its own logic. As an apparatus that brings together social problems and a wider public, then how far can a funded movie negotiate with certain donors and institutions?

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The second concern is about movies and social changes. When discussing that issue, we can see it from two different perspectives: how a movie can encourage social change—although it sounds too grandiose—and how a movie is positioned in the midst of the dynamic social conditions.

On the first perspective, Tapan Bose, an Indian filmmaker said, “Any documentary worth its name is never neutral and non-controversial. If it is to serve as a positive catalyst for social change, it must shock, inspire, and provoke.” Even if it’s heroic, the conditions faced by filmmakers, documentary movies in particular, turn out to be quite complicated.

In order to be a documentary movie that can shock, inspire, and provoke, intimacy becomes the aspect that’s believed to be the measurement. Intimacy is the condition where alienism between the documentary subject and the filmmaker can be overcome.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds because for main documentary subjects (person/public/community), formerly normal daily activities suddenly have to face the camera and the sound recorder. For the filmmakers, the gap can be felt because they may not be close enough with the subjects from whom the issue is brought up. This issue often clashes with ethical matter. For the sake of a movie strength that can gain intimacy, a filmmaker may lead the movie into an exploitative behaviour.

FFD 2018 | Film | Modern Poetry Exhibition/1966

On the other hand, the second perspective is about how a movie is positioned in the midst of a dynamic social condition. Thomas Barker is one of the few scholars who wrote down Indonesia’s cinematic history in that frame through his book, Indonesian Cinema after the New Order: Going Mainstream, a systematic and comprehensive report.

For Barker, cases that happened in Indonesia are unique. One of which is how cinemas in Indonesia fulfilled the hijrah movement’s demands that are arising at the moment. At the same time, mainstream means working together with the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry, built in 2011.

Instead of becoming a smooth creative world as many people had hoped, the Indonesian movie industry is currently heading towards very different challenges if compared to those before 1998. Barker sees that this industry is like a microcosmic for Indonesia: democratic but weighed down by authoritarian legacy, creative but is facing cultural dispute, international despite being domestically made.

FFD2018 | Film | Pagi Yang Sungsang

The third concern is about how a movie carries burdens in insight producing discussions. FFD recognizes how movies these days deliver insights in an explorative form. One example is entity, called as an ethnographic documentary. In certain cases, this entity may discover various functions. Nevertheless, this entity is also the middle ground for discourses of preferences, empirical experiences, and ethical responsibilities in making documentary movies.

The link between movies and insight producing isn’t always placed at its contents. It can also be referred to the form, like how documentary movies and art videos are recently talked about. At the same time, the meaning between both creations is exchanged. Despite having the same audio-visual element, the distinction can be found in more detailed meanings, including in the space where both cultural products are presented. If movies end up in movie festivals or cinemas, art videos are often presented at art exhibitions—in a more specific phrase: new media art, multimedia art, and the most common one, contemporary art.

These two similar forms can also open other aesthetic alternatives. Garin Nugroho stated that both of them can deliver the public’s opinion in a popular way. Still, there’s a potency of making movie aesthetics—that is different than art school’s version of aesthetics—possible. Both movies and art videos then become the pen and fighting weapon in the middle of certain socio-political situations. Garin also mentioned that technology transformation gave birth to the acceleration of appreciation and distribution—a rocky process of pushing each other down and an adaptive process of new appreciation and creation methods all at once.

FFD | Call For Entry 2019

Every mentioned concern is summarized and shared to an open public in the DocTalk dan Public Lecture programs. The DocTalk program will include discussions about Distribution, Market, & Film Politics Economy: “The Faces of Our Film Distribution”; Intermediality/Over and Cross Modes: “The Maneuver of Mechanical Eyes: Art Video and Documentary Film in Indonesia”; Film & Democracy: “Short Movies and Desired Democracy”; and Hacking Methods & Ethics Issue: “Intimacy and Ethics: Universal or Contextual”.

Other than movie-related matters, FFD also designed DocTalk to discuss the attempts needed to be done in order to create a safe and comfortable community for anyone. This issue is set forth from community program limitations that are often so unclear that, at some points, blur out the line differing volunteer work from professional work. This concern is also brought up from how during all this time, FFD can grow as a place not far from the definition of community.

Militancy imaginations that are carried on often remove the fun of volunteering in community work. Sometimes, militancy imaginations even create exploitative work for the sake of reaching the group’s main goal. That problem will be shared and discussed in the Assembling in A Safe Place: “Rethinking Forms and Prevention of Violence within Communities” program.

Besides DocTalk, FFD will also hold Public Lecture. This time, there will be two panels brought by Thomas Barker and Kek Huat Lau. Thomas Barker will talk about his research results, which has been published as a book titled Indonesian Cinema after the New Order: Going Mainstream. This book highlights 20 years of change, starting from a simple and independent beginning all the way to following the main stream and earning international recognition. He offers the idea of a three-phase movie industry development: the step of reaching success in a local pop culture, especially by the youth; earning financial security; and, finally, getting the creation to be internationally recognized as an art work.

Meanwhile, Kek Huat Lau will elaborate how he designed and executed The Tree Remembers (2019), an ethnographic documentary about the worst politics and racial harassment victims in Malaysia. As someone who was born in Malaysia and living in Taiwan, Kek will explain how he has empirical and emotional experience of the place, time, and social bond regarding the ethnic problems in his country of birth. This, of course, becomes a consideration in creating the intimate yet ethical movie narration.

These DocTalk and Public Lecture programs is held in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of Universitas Gadjah Mada and the Faculty of Visual Art of ISI Yogyakarta, on 2—7 December 2019. Check the festival’s schedule to access the full program list of FFD 2019.