Sat, 12 Aug 2000

Funds snag documentary film producers

By Danielle Bray

JAKARTA (JP): Finding funding is a perennial problem for filmmakers all over the world, but it is particularly acute in Indonesia for projects like documentaries.

"I have had countless projects that have been neglected because of a lack of funds," said Debbie, an editor of commercials, who participated in the recent Cultural Documentary Seminar. "There was not enough money for their release."

She also expressed the sad reality of many independent filmmakers who compromised the quality of their projects due to the high price of film. "Many artists have had to work with video, which is a far cheaper medium."

The seminar, marked by open discussions, a passion for the arts, cultural preservation and stimulating conversation, was judged a success.

Held at the Summitmas building in Central Jakarta from July 28 to July 30, it was intended to promote cultural documentaries within societies where traditions are being lost from daily routines. The seminar continued in Yogyakarta from Aug. 1 to Aug. 3.

It was originally developed on a much smaller scale. However, through the perseverance of project directors Shanty Harmayn and Rhoda Grauer, it grew into proportions beyond their initial vision. They approached Philip Yampolsky from the Ford Foundation for sponsorship; he applauded the aspirations of the duo and suggested the seminar's expansion. The Japan Foundation offered their facilities to host the event, and with the added support of Indonesian Independent Film Community Foundation, their dream became a reality.

Guests included American documentary filmmaker Les Blank and the executive director of the Robert Flaherty seminar, L. Somi Roy. The two guests offered diversity among the group, allowing for an exchange of ideas and cultural education within the relaxed atmosphere. Open discussion was encouraged, and a variety of technical and personal questions confronted the artists.

Somi Roy said that in cultural documentary seminars, "discussion is a conversation breakdown between the presenter and the viewer ... it enables them to see the film through each other's eyes". Not only did the group learn from the distinguished guests, but the visitors also took away some newly acquired knowledge.

The seminar was designed for filmmakers, cultural researchers, scholars and academics. Participants were given an opportunity to view examples of cultural documentaries from a collection of international filmmakers in an open environment of collaboration and exchange. It was free of charge to a limited amount of participants and by invitation only. Of 85 participants registered, about 60 were in attendance each day

They ranged from accomplished filmmakers and directors to recent graduates eager to learn more about the subject. The primary interest of the group was to learn the methods of documentary filmmaking, including how to document culture, tradition and values.

"Cultural studies in film are a great way to communicate with people," a recent graduate in anthropology from the University of Indonesia, Delvi Sinambela, explained. "It gives us the option to talk about the cultures we see."

Indonesia is a location that is studied and documented frequently by international companies, such as the Discovery Channel, and other broad-based corporations. These companies have the luxury of budgets that are unavailable to many local filmmakers. Unfortunately, the arts are rarely awarded the funding they deserve in Indonesia.

There is a large international interest in the country, especially since it has captured world headlines. However, it still lacks the knowledge and foundation to become a force in global documentary production.

"Unfortunately Indonesia is not tapped into the rest of the film world ... there is so much excitement, energy and culture to explore here," Grauer said. The seminar helped to expose the necessity of preserving culture by way of visual mediums. Local documentaries such as Bali Nocturne, Nama Saya Selasih and Mbok Jamu were screened over the weekend which brought hope and encouragement to upcoming filmmakers in the group.

Shanty and Grauer were excited and impressed by the enthusiasm and numbers of the participants. "This was a trial run. It would be great if it could become an annual event," Shanty said.

The audience seemed equally as impressed with the seminar.

"Open discussions on documentary films are very difficult to find in Indonesia ... I think it is important in order to develop a wider variety of this type of film within our own country," said a student from the Jakarta Institute of the Arts.

Indonesia has always had difficulty expressing itself within the global spectrum. Creativity and the individual voice have been stifled. A professor of film studies, Tanete AP Masak, said: "Film schools in Indonesia are relatively poor. The freedom of cultural expression has always been considered dangerous ... a threat to society."

With the country stepping into the reform era, how the individual voice is expressed, including in film, will be important.

The seminar proved a success. In a culture-rich environment such as Indonesia, patrons of the event all agreed on the necessity of preserving depleting traditions. Globalization, influences of the West and lack of concern were all discussed as reasons to work even harder to protect what could be lost in time.

It appears the participants are interested in creating a medium for their message, and exposing what they have to offer internationally. Finance will always pose a hindrance, but hopefully through the continued awareness of the necessity to document culture, the country's filmmakers will find willing patrons of sponsorship.

For more information on international documentary seminars and film databases, please refer to: and