Streets of Jakarta
Jalanan: A documentary film by Daniel Ziv.
Director/producer: Daniel Ziv,
Editor: Ernest Hariyanto,
characters: Ho, Titi, dan Boni,
Duration: 107 minutes
JALANAN won the best documentary film category in the Busan International Film Festival 2013.
At one point in Daniel Ziv's award-winning new documentary about street buskers in Jakarta, Boni, one of the three characters around which the story is skilfully crafted, walks into a glitzy shopping mall in the city center. He strolls past luxury-brand stores and heads for the toilet. Boni, who lives with his wife under a bridge and over an open sewer, has a broken water pipe as his only source of running water. After relieving himself and washing up, he speculates about the mixing of all the different waste: from foreigners, rich people and poor people like himself. "Their feces seems to mix just fine," he says, "so why can't we?"
Jalanan is one of the finest portrayals of Indonesian life to emerge for outside audiences in years. Shorn of stereotypes and finely observed, it presents a gritty reality that even Indonesians find shocking. The film follows the lives of three street musicians who make a living belting out their own songs on the city's dilapidated mini-buses. Boni, Ho and Titi, nearly destitute, live precariously on the margins of Jakarta. Spliced between beautifully filmed and recorded music sequences featuring their original songs, is the story of their struggle to overcome their impoverished circumstances and find fulfillment.
Almost six years in the making, and coming sharply on the heels of another more controversial documentary about Indonesia made by a foreigner, Jalanan elevates Indonesia to something more than a place of exotic tourism. Earlier this year Joshua Oppenheimer's award-winning Act of Killing, about the slaughter of more than a million people accused of communist sympathies in the 1960s, lit up the festival circuit. Likewise, Jalanan has now won a coveted best documentary award at the recent Busan Film festival.
Indonesia has long been an artistic cul-de-sacin global termsburdened by crude stereotypes, a poor image and weak marketing. For many years Indonesia was stuck in the 1960s era of poverty and military thuggery, depicted by Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously, based on the eponymous book by Christopher Koch. The image stuck, as Indonesia wrestled first with the end of authoritarian rule, a brutal religious war in Maluku, and then a botched and bloody withdrawal from East Timor at the turn of the 21st century. A democratic transition that should have been greeted as a good-news story was then marred by the Bali bombings and the emergence of violent Islamic extremism. All this has made Indonesia a hard sell.
Jalanan provides a refreshing corrective, without papering over the enduring problems the country faces. For one thing it is a story about real Indonesians. The characters themselves are realistic about the hardships they face. The contradictions and hypocrisies that are a burden to millions of Indonesians trying to make their way in what is often bitterly referred to as the 'era of reform', are cuttingly portrayed.
At one point in the film, Ho is arrested by city officials for busking. He ends up in a city jail and decides to compose a song there for his fellow inmates. "They call this a democratic country," he sings with his raucous voice, "but it is still unsafeespecially when you busk in the streets. We are Indonesians but treated as aliens." Ho is filmed hanging out at several of the city's incessant street demonstrations, which in recent years have focused on corruption. "This is bullshit," he remarks, "they are all hypocrites."
It's hard not to like Ho, with his dramatic dreadlocks and profane sense of humor. But much of the film dwells on Titi from East Java and mother of three children. She has drifted to the city for the opportunities she imagined would be available, and to prove that she can be somebody. She lands up with a no-gooder from a strict Muslim family who leeches off her meager takings on the buses.
The film paints an intimate portrait of a believable and typical character, exposing her emotions and beliefs with moving candor. Titi lingers at a market stall over cosmetics and tells the vendor "street buskers must look nice, too," but she can't afford to buy anything. A few minutes later she gives some change to an old woman who begs nearby because the woman has no children to support her. At home Titi is forced to wear a jilbab (headscarf), but when she leaves to ride the buses she picks up her guitar at a nearby food stall and casually stuffs the head-covering in the casea scene that prompted spontaneous applause in one recent public showing in Indonesia.
The reality of these stories is painful, yet also endearing. Unlike the Act of Killing, which uses all kinds of artistic devices such as theatrical re-enactments to induce confessions from a pair of thugs who participated in the killings of communists in the 1960s, Jalanan is constructed like a long sequence of time-lapse photography.
Canadian-born Ziv spent over four years shooting the characters almost full time, resulting in about 250 hours of raw footage. "Cool shit doesn't happen on demand," he says. "So I followed them for about four and a half years, and every six months or so something amazing would happen. It was only after around four years of shooting that I felt I had captured a big enoughand deep enoughslice of their lives to somehow represent who they are and what their world is about."
The cinematography is at times patchy, but given the challenges of following street musicians on and off crowded buses on Jakarta's city streets, the overall effect is stunningly vivid, and full of energy. Ziv attributes a great deal of the film's look to editor Ernesto Hariyanto and almost two years in post-production.
The music is strong. Most of the songs are original compositions by Boni, Ho and Titi and is all the more remarkable given how poor their backgrounds are. Boni began life as a street urchin and can't write, but describes how he composes songs in his head: "My head is like a tape recorder." Ho's lyrics are bitingly satirical. "I love Indonesia, but does Indonesia love me back?" he asks. He regards himself as a nail hammered into steel: "It won't go in, but gets bent out of shape."
The Busan Festival jury rewarded the film for its 'humanizing and respectful look into the class system of Indonesia' told through 'heartwarming and redemptive characters in a non-sentimental fashion'. For Daniel Ziv, the making of the film was an epic journey into the heart of a city and society he has embraced as his own. Ziv set out to make a short film about the busking community. But over time he says it became clear that he was uncovering a fascinating, important story about Indonesia: "a sort of snapshot of the post-reformasi era from the perspective of those caught in that very uncomfortable crack between two phenomena that we celebrate so often: reformasi and globalization. My buskers were feeling both these things very profoundly, but benefiting from neither."
Despite the temptation to bask in well-deserved glow as a filmmaker, Ziv has instead thrust his subjects into the limelight, insisting that Boni, Ho and Titi deserve all the credit for the courage and patience to allow him to tell their stories. Has it changed their lives? Not really. "They are all mostly in the same place and doing the same thing they were when I met them six years ago," says Ziv. "And that's a hard lesson about the street, and about life in the margins: things rarely ever change, even with money, even with a mysterious foreigner shows up to make a movie about you." l
Michael Vatikiotis is the author of two novels set in Indonesia and two books on Indonesian politics published by Routledge. His latest novel, The Painter of Lost Souls is set in Central Java.
Daniel Ziv, Director of Jalanan
Jakarta, Through the Eyes of Street Musicians
Jakarta changed the career path of Daniel Ziv. In 1999, he first arrived in Jakarta to do research on local elections for his doctoral thesis. However, what he ended up doing was producing the monthly Jakarta Inside Out magazine, the monthly magazine Djakarta and a documentary about street musicians, called Jalanan. Since his decision to stay in Indonesia's capital city, Ziv has been busy observing and documenting the city in different forms.
On October 12, his first film won the best documentary award at the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). The judging committee said "The film covers class system in Indonesia in a humanly, respectful but not emotionally driven narrative through the heartwarming and redeeming characters." Last Monday, Ubud-based writer, journalist and filmmaker Daniel Ziv met with Tempo contributor Seulki Lee. Excerpts:
How does it feel to have won the award?
It was an incredible feeling. I worked very hard on it and this is my first film. To be standing at Incheon Airport on my way back to Bali and told I had just won the top documentary prize in Asia was beyond words. Also to know that the lives of three, very poor, ordinary and very forgotten people in Jakarta, who are now good friends of mine, will be changed following the award, was amazing. It is the first time that an Indonesian film has won the Busan award in its 18 years of history. Thankfully, even though I'm a foreigner, Jalanan has been treated like an Indonesian film. We were represented by the Indonesian Ministry of Creative Industry at Busan. There was a huge sign at Hae-un-dae beach, with all the directors and films in the festival and director's picture and their country. Under my picture, there was Indonesia, which I am very proud of.
How did the audiences in Busan and Ubud react after the screening of your film?
It was interesting, a very different audience. In Korea, the audiences were much more reserved so during the screening they didn't say a word they just sat still watching the screen. But then at the end they clapped a lot. During the Q&A session after the screening they had a lot of good questions. It showed that they were really engaged with the film and understood the issues raised by the film. In Indonesia, it was much more of an emotional response than an intellectual response. Half of the viewers were foreigners and the other half were Indonesians but I'm talking mostly about Indonesia. They laughed out loud, cried and chuckled. You could tell they were interacting with the film very actively. In Korea the viewers were more passive, they sat and observed the film, in Indonesia they interacted almost as if on stage. I think it's because they feel very familiar with the world that they recognize. There's a lot of humor in the film that I think is unique to the Indonesians, and they got it. In January or early February next year, we'll release the film to theaters here.
Why did you decide to make this film?
I've always been interested in streets. What fascinated me the most from the Indonesian street was the phenomenon of street busking. My film characters are street musicians and the story is told through their work. The music is interesting and colorful but it's not the whole picture. I thought I could have done a film through the eyes of street people or the bus conductor or a parking lot attendant. I just like the street musician idea because I love music and their music. A lot of them wrote their own songs and lyrics. These songs and lyrics tended to express or comment on social and political issues of today. I realize it's an interesting mirror to look at Indonesia instead of doing a big piece of research on Indonesian politics. Why not look at it from the micro level through the eyes of some young creative individuals from the street? It's the story of every other working class in Indonesia, their pressures, worries, micro-economies, the personal dramas in their lives. A lot of work has been done on the Reformasi, but very little work has been done on what I call a space in between, the margins. All of these changes reflect ordinary people on the street. In a long-term committed way, that's partly what I tried to do by spending five years shooting street people since 2006.