Indonesian Films Find Home at Babylon Berlin
German film enthusiasts with an interest in all things Indonesian can rejoice: the Indonesian House of Culture Berlin has joined forces with Babylon Berlin to organize a monthly film program called Cinema Indonesia.
The program came after the inaugural film festival Indonesia on Screen in 2018, a festival in collaboration with NGO Watch! Indonesia as well as the screening of two Indonesian movies at this year’s Berlinale film festival.
“I contacted the movie theater Babylon and met with manager Timothy Grossman, who was immediately enthusiastic about the idea,” says Birgit Steffan, coordinator at the Indonesian House of Culture Berlin.
“With Cinema Indonesia, we would like to convey a broad picture of the Indonesian film scene. That’s why we show films of different genres and sometimes even older productions. The only criterion is that the films were already screened at international festivals, if only because of the English subtitles.”
This selection guarantees a certain qualitative standard, she adds, as all films that will be shown at Cinema Indonesia have received both national and international awards.
The new program kicked off with a screening of Garin Nugroho’s Guru Bangsa Tjokroaminoto (Teacher of the Nation Tjokroaminoto), which follows the story of the Indonesian nationalist and leader.
“We hope to be able to introduce Indonesian cinema to a larger audience here in Berlin, not only by simply showing the films but also by giving introductions prior to the screening so that the movie audience will gradually gain a better insight into the Indonesian film scene,” Steffan explains.
As it turns out, Babylon has been the perfect partner for this mission.
“The Babylon is also home to other country-specific programs with films from India and Spain and has therefore always been one of the starting points for fans of non-German or non-mainstream cinema,” Steffan says.
The Babylon is also hosting the week-long Indonesian film festival Indonesia on Screen, which will be held for the second time this year in April. “This shows Babylon’s strong affinity for Indonesian films,” Steffan says.
If the kick-off event of Cinema Indonesia was any indication, Steffan and the Babylon team are heading in the right direction: there were hardly any empty seats in the movie theater, and the audience – a colorful mix of young and old, Indonesian and non-Indonesians – was seemingly enthralled by the movie and by the prospect of having the opportunity to see more films from the archipelago from now on.
This coincides with the vision of Babylon’s manager Timothy Grossman, who hopes to see a growing acceptance and interest in Indonesian film among German cineastes and give it a new home at his movie theater, both through Cinema Indonesia and Indonesia on Screen programs.
“While the main focus will always be on the films, I can also imagine to expand the activities around the ‘Indonesia on Screen’ festival, for instance with readings or music performances, so that Babylon Berlin will become a focal point for Indonesia at least once a year”, he says.
The next edition of Cinema Indonesia, which will take place in March, will see the screening of Salawaku, the debut of film director Pritagita Arianegara.
“This road movie tells the story of two deeply desperate women,” Steffan explains.
“One becomes pregnant without being married yet, while the other just went through an abortion. The journey of the one woman looking for the other takes us to the paradisiac island world of the Moluccas and is, at the same, a journey to find themselves. Well, that is at least how I interpret this film.”
If all goes according to plan, one of the producers of Salawaku will be present for next month’s Cinema Indonesia, and the audience is invited to learn more about the film in a Q&A session directly after the screening.
This article was first published in the Jakarta Post on February 20, 2019.