Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Tintin moves between continents

Zora Rahman, Contributor, Jakarta

First-grade students at Allermoehe junior high school, Hamburg, Germany, will probably not easily forget the Indonesian guest who dropped by last month: Maria Clementine "Tintin" Wulia.

There, the architect, film music composer, short film director and lover of children made use of her stay at the International Short Film Festival Hamburg in June, and asked for an animation workshop with the German schoolkids.

The result was a short animated film about a Hamburg boy who falls asleep in a train on the way to school. When he wakes up much later, he feels very hot and hears strange voices: The sign in the station shows that he has arrived in Bajawa, Flores.

"This idea developed in its own way because of the children's spontaneous fantasy when I told them about their contemporaries in Flores," Tintin Wulia said. "It might now become an intercultural bridge between the kids here and there."

Bajawa is where the multitalented Balinese is currently working as a video specialist for the Nusa Tenggara Timur Primary Education Partnership (NTTPEP), an initiative funded by the Australian government with the aim of improving teaching techniques at primary schools in East Nusa Tenggara province.

"We must prompt the children to think critically -- short films are a very suitable medium to stimulate this," Tintin said. "We should made use of this and not just leave films as a product for passive consumption."

Thirty-year-old Tintin took a roundabout way to becoming a filmmaker. She studied architecture in Bandung and film music in Boston. While working for a multimedia agency in the U.S., she was introduced to the basics of filmmaking and started shooting for herself.

Returning to Indonesia in 1998, the difficult economic and political situation meant that Tintin still could not focus on films yet. So she started working on TV ads, composing the music for spots and trailers. By 2000, she had accumulated such a huge stock of private footage that she felt she would have to do something with it -- if only to satisfy herself.

There was a quick response: Her experimental film Violence Against Fruit, inspired by the May 1998 riots, was given an award at the Indonesian Independent Film and Video Festival (FFVII) 2000 and since then has been shown at several international film festivals.

The three-minute short shows the cutting of a kaki fruit in close-up after it has been unwrapped from its Chinese packaging. In the background, two voices discuss cruelty to animals. There is no complicated technology, no political discussion, but the message is clear: "Sit back, relax and enjoy the massacre in front of your eyes," says Tintin in the introduction to her film.

But the director who dared to take such a cynical look at the awful happenings five years ago -- herself of Chinese origin -- does not want to be perceived as politically motivated.

"I don't really want to make political statements; ultimately, I also don't know the one and only proper way," Tintin said. "I'm rather interested in human and social impacts."

Tintin's most successful film so far is Ketok (Knock), produced in 2002. The short documentary tells the story of her parents' experience with a mysterious knocking, when they moved into a new house. Using very simple methods, including crayon drawings, shadows and photo collages, the filmmaker continues in the tradition of story-telling without resorting to high-tech tricks.

It is a piece of work being honored at several events: Ketok was the best film at the FFVII 2002, was nominated for the Silver Screen Award at Singapore and received a special mention at the International Short Film Festival Hamburg 2003.

Tintin's parents, whose voices are used in the film, were really surprised at its success: They have never really understood their daughter's engagement, in which she even shoots or edits films while relaxing. Nevertheless, they have never hindered her -- quite the opposite -- they even supported her in building a film community at the parental music school in Denpasar in 2001.

So Minikino was born. Inspired by the repertory cinemas Tintin saw during a journey to Australia in 2001, twice a month it shows a selected short film program.

"We focus on short films, because they are more pithy and easier to discuss afterwards than full-length feature films," she said. "But our program could be extended by films that do not benefit from any other distribution."

Minikino, which started with a handful of friends from Bali, has already grown into a respectable network. After hosting some international films at Denpasar, the program is now also shown once a month at Oktagon gallery, Jakarta. Communities in Bandung and Yogyakarta are interested in becoming partners, as well as the QB bookshop chain.

Following the good response to her films at several festivals, and the extension of Minikino, Tintin has hardly any private time left anymore. "Sometimes I wish I had a more settled life," she said, "but if I stay too long in one place, I get itchy feet and want to move on again."

She will have the chance to move a lot in the near future, having been invited by film festivals in Australia, France, Taiwan and the U.S.

"I would like to seize the opportunity offered by these invitations and intensify my intercultural work. I dreamed before as a child of one unified world, where people from everywhere share mutual relations and live in peace with each other."

As a first step, the "children freak" wants to establish intercultural relations between the kids in Hamburg and Flores: With another animation workshop planned with pupils in Bajawa, she aims to continue the intercontinental story.

"Ideally, the Hamburg boy acquires a friend in Flores and travels to Darwin next September."