Fri, 27 Jun 2003

Lulu turns film mania into profession

Zora Rahman, Contributor, Jakarta

When Lulu Ratna is enthusiastic about something, the words pour out of her mouth so fast that it is nearly impossible to follow her. Her wildly frizzy hair and her beaming smile underline her vivaciousness.

And what Lulu is most enthusiastic up is films. "I am absolutely crazy about anything that has anything to do with this."

The 31-year-old Jakartan was the manager at the first Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) in 1998 and among the initiators of the Independent Film and Video Festival Indonesia (FFVII). In 2000, she founded the Independent Film Community (KONFIDEN) and became curator for film events at the Goethe Institute Jakarta.

Lulu Ratna was already presenting Indonesian Short Films in Oberhausen, Germany, and Tampere, Finland. This June, she was appointed to the jury of the International Short Film Festival in Hamburg. Some months ago she started Boemboe, a foundation that works to sell Indonesian independent and short films overseas.

"This preference for films was not always as clear as today," Lulu said. After high school, she decided to study anthropology at Universitas Indonesia Jakarta. But then she began to develop an interest in the management of cultural events, but was still more into music. When she finished her exams in 1997, she became the manager of popular Indonesian rock band Slank.

But Lulu Ratna would not be the person she is if she did not look for something that she could build herself -- from the ground up. So she left the already established music group and got involved in the organization of cultural events as part of Jakarta's art scene during the troubled reform era in 1998.

This engagement put her in contact with students and faculty from the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) who needed a manager for film and TV.

"When I was helping them to organize themselves, I finally found out that film was be my purest interest," Lulu said.

The energetic woman took a a crash course in cinematography at the H. Usmar Ismail Film Center in Kuningan, Central Jakarta

"There I not only learned the basics of film, but also met a lot of other like-minded people and film freaks," Lulu said. This was the start of an informal network with extended mailing lists and a lively exchange of ideas. Suddenly, a whole new realm of possibilities opened for Lulu, the Jill-of-all-trades.

She got involved in JIFFest, which took place for the first time in 1999 as the first Indonesian film festival without any government involvement. At the same time, Lulu started with like- minded friends to organize the first independent Indonesian film festival that focused on short films by unknown directors, FFVII.

One year later, KONFIDEN was born and Lulu had to give up one of the film festivals.

"It became just too much to work for both at the same time," she explained. And, of course, she favored her own baby, the independent short films, although JIFFest meant more prestige and money.

Since JIFFest screens films from all over the world that have already been successful in their own countries, there is not much space for small experimental films from Indonesia.

"The festival quickly became commercial" Lulu said. "The Indonesian side became underrepresented. So it seemed more exciting for me to work with material that is not yet as perfect."

Although -- or maybe because -- she knows the VIP life, the sister of Indonesian TV star Gugun prefers to deal with unknown filmmakers who are just starting out rather than stars who are already established.

"I love the amateur charm of short films by people who are not yet spoiled by all this fuss around them," Lulu says.

Since she is a filmmaker herself, she also knows about the difficulties of getting support for films. Currently, she is working on a documentary about the daily life on Jakarta busses. To complete the shooting, she has received help from a dozen friends to rent enough equipment for the project.

The paradox is that the autodidact filmmaker became too professional for the grassroots spirit of KONFIDEN. So Lulu left, making room for younger students.

"I want to look for more serious ways of distribution and promotion of Indonesian short films on an international level," she said.

Together with two colleagues Lulu recently founded Boemboe, an institution that aims to develop the networking of independent short filmmakers inside and outside Indonesia. Currently, Indonesian short films only go international through the self- initiative of their producers or local film communities. There is no governmental or commercial support of any sort.

"With Boemboe we want to help create a space to breathe for Indonesian short filmmakers everywhere in the world, by supporting them to become more professional and serious in their production," Lulu said.

This will necessarily involve a lot of work, since there is no standardized distribution system in Indonesia necessary for a successful national and international presentation of short films.

"My dream is that one day it will become normal for Indonesian cinemas to show short films before the main program -- as it is already usual at many places in other countries," Lulu said.

With the participation at several European film festivals and a lot of contacts inside and outside Indonesia, Lulu Ratna has already successfully started a new network that might soon be extended to America: Lulu was just selected for a residency in arts management in the U.S. next year. It would be unlike her if she did not take this chance to introduce Indonesian short films at American film festivals.