Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Nia Dinata: A vow to make 'mature' films

Joko E.H. Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

While top female executives are still rare to find, it seems like there is no shortage of women's roles in the film industry.

The industry is just emerging from a period of hibernation and female filmmakers have tended to outgrow their male counterparts.

Arthouse movie Pasir Berbisik (Whispering Sand) was well known for its mostly female crew, while female producer Mira Lesmana has co-produced two of today's most successful local films.

While there are still many filmmakers trying to obtain financial backing to realize their vision, 33 year-old female director Nia Dinata has already had the chance to direct a big budget movie, Ca Bau Kan.

Some critics may lambast Nia Dinata's big screen directing debut but then she would argue the film is still a satisfying work.

"I don't really care about what the critics say," the 33 year- old director said. "If (all filmmakers) take everything critics say seriously, many of us would stop working."

The outspoken fan of Woody Allen's films is very passionate about her work.

After the film opened at cinemas, Nia admitted often sitting in movie theaters so that she could be among the audience after the film ended to hear what they had to say about the movie.

"Many people loved it. There was one middle-aged woman who called her friends after seeing the movie, urging them to see it," Nia said enthusiastically. "That matters more than what the critics say," she added.

However, she admitted the film still had a few shortcomings, most of them came from the fact that the film, which was based on a novel by Remy Sylado, was edited to a short running time for commercial reasons.

Before they edited the movie, Nia said, the filmmakers had a meeting with officials from 21 multiplexes who said the film's original 160 minutes was too long to be commercially successful.

The film was eventually edited to its current 124 minutes in order to get four screenings a day instead of three, therefore a larger audience.

With a budget of about Rp 5 billion, a very large sum of money for a locally made film, it is understandable that filmmakers should try to get some of their money back from the profit.

As a result, many critics complained the filmmakers' decision had sacrificed the film's coherent plot.

"I never regretted that I made the 124-minute version. It was as good as it could be for that short running time," Nia said.

Nia is preparing the film's 160-minute director's cut version for home video release and a book on the making of the film, which will also contain the film's script.

Nia said that Ca Bau Kan was watched by 200,000 viewers, which was still far below the figure the film had to attract in order to break even.

However, Nia argued the figure was already an accomplishment given the fact that the film, which tells the story of an interracial love affair, was an adult drama.

She said it would be unfair to compare Ca Bau Kan's rating at the box office with that of recent teen-oriented big hits such as Ada Apa dengan Cinta? (What's Up with Cinta?) and Jelangkung.

"A twenty one group official told me that as an adult drama, Ca Bau Kan performed better than most Hollywood films of the same genre," she said, refuting allegations that the film was a financial flop.

Nia said that she never had any intention to make large profits by making teen-oriented movies.

"It was impossible for me to make a teen-oriented movie. I could never relate to the teen world. I guess because I was mature before my age," Nia said.

"I mean I enjoyed movies like Clueless or Cruel Intention but I wouldn't have the passion to make that kind of movie."

Nia also did not have any intention to go back to her past job of producing commercial ads.

"In making commercials, you have to please your clients. It requires a special kind of art. I don't think I'm very good at it," she said.

She also vowed to keep making films for mature audiences since movies offering adult problems were still rare compared to those that targeted younger audiences.

Nia is happily married to a computer engineer, has two kids and says she grew up as a true film buff, with films such as mafia comedy Bugsy Malone and The Pink Panther cartoons among her childhood favorites.

She also admires works from prolific film directors such as Jane Campion, Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar-Wai.

Daughter of a successful businessman, she graduated with a Mass Communications degree from Boston University but then decided to pursue a career in the movie industry.

Her first step was taking a film course in New York.

Shortly after she returned to Indonesia, she joined the large production house company, Yasawirya Tama Cipta (YTC), where she served as an assistant director for commercials.

She continued to direct her own commercials and music videos at production house Iguana Production.

Nia got her big break after co-producing the TV children musical Mencari Pelangi (Looking for the Rainbow), which won top prize at the Indonesian Sinetron Festival (FSI).

Ca Bau Kan may seem like an inauspicious big screen debut, but the film also shows the potential that Nia will grow more mature as a filmmaker.

In short, there is a lot to look forward to coming from her in the future.