Challenges of independent filmmaking in Indonesia

A screenshot from Annisa Adjam's short film “My Cloduded Mind” which touches on sexual trauma and reproductive health.

This article was originally published by EngageMedia, a non-profit media, technology, and culture organization, and an edited version is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices. ‘Cinemata Features’ is a series highlighting film practitioners in the Asia-Pacific region.

Since 2019, Annisa Adjam, a director, producer, and writer from Indonesia, has independently produced short films ranging from experimental and virtual reality (VR) to documentaries, fiction, and animation that highlight human psychology and social issues. Annisa is the chief executive officer of the Jakarta-based company Sinema 5, which collaborates with emerging filmmakers and provides screenwriting and directing courses to build a creative talent pool. She is also the chairperson of Inteamates, a creative community dedicated to creating social change through various storytelling forms, digital campaigns, public discussions, and social events.

This interview with Annisa Adjam was conducted on March 31, 2023, and has been edited for length and clarity.

EngageMedia (EM): What challenges in your work or advocacy have you overcome or are still facing as a young director and producer?

Annisa Adjam [AA]: I think the most crucial thing is [film distribution]. Some people might think that the biggest challenge is producing the film, but for me and my team, distribution is really the core of everything. Now in Indonesia, we don’t have distributors, So every producer has to do everything from A to Z.

We have communities from different regions [across Indonesia], but there’s no collective that we can also [engage to conduct] activities related to the impact that we are discussing in the film.

My generation of producers and I are now thinking of how to make the [film practice] sustainable. We want to have a collective movement so that [communities] will know that cinema, or film itself, is a tool they can be creative about. So [our work] doesn’t just stop in watching and discussing the films, but [involving] educational institutions and other organisations.

It’s not just enough to get your film out there. You need to make sure that people who watch it [can] inspire other people as well.

We haven’t really nurtured those kinds of synergies. How far [can we take] impact producing, the collaboration with other parties? It’s still something that I think is very challenging because we have a lot of beautiful and interesting content out there, especially in my country, but if we couldn’t make a conversation out of it, I think it will not be as impactful as we hope [it to be].

I think it’s very important for us to not just give birth to a masterpiece but also to make sure that this masterpiece is being consumed properly by the people, by the audience, and to make sure that the message is transferred well to them.

Course gathering of Sinema 5 mentors and students

Course gathering of Sinema 5 mentors and students. Photo from EngageMedia

EM: What pushed you to establish Inteamates? What are some notable accomplishments?

AA: Initially, it was founded by female filmmakers who are tired of the industry. We’re making independent films because we care about social issues, and then we fundraise and make the film.

Inteamates is a foundation that focuses on artivism — art for activism. Our work is transmedia. We have done documentary, animation, live action, and VR. Inteamates is a more inclusive space for everyone and minorities. We are also now touching on issues of gender and sex education, and we promote it to the younger generation.

We [recently] made a film and distributed a textbook about sex education to teenagers in rural areas in Indonesia. We’re working on some exciting things. Hopefully, our work is not affected by politics or religion. We are very careful about the voices we want to address, so we need to collaborate with others for sustainable impact.

EM: Since you touch on sensitive issues, even taboo topics, do you also receive criticism or negative feedback from others?

AA: In every project, we anticipate negative comments during screenings and [question and answer sessions], but so far, we haven’t received any criticism. I think what’s helped is before we screen [the films], we have a focused group discussion and screen tests. I make sure that people on the front lines and activists understand what we do.

The latest project is about the racial gap. It’s very sensitive because it’s about racial group assimilation in Indonesia. We make sure that representatives of these groups comment on our works before we publicly release them. Of course, we are open-minded to any comments. People are free to talk about our projects, but we focus our energies on elevating the projects rather than worrying about negative comments.

EM: Why do you think collaborations and building networks are important?

AA: Filmmaking is teamwork, but at the same time, it’s not easy to find your team. For me, I look for people I’m comfortable working with. Building communities is more like finding a home — finding a collective you can rely on creatively and emotionally as a creative person. In a way, it’s like creating an ecosystem for me. That’s the biggest motivation.

EM: Tell us about your collaboration with Cinemata. How was your experience?

AA: I collaborated with Cinemata first in distributing my independent short film because that short film talks about a sensitive issue, sexual trauma and healing.

We decided to go on Cinemata because [we think Cinemata’s audiences are] very sensitive and ethical, so we thought it’s best to put it there because the story comes from a very personal place. It’s a safe space for us to distribute it there. Secondly, I got funding from EngageMedia and Cinemata is its partner distribution platform.

I also curated a program, [(Un)censored: Women Breaking Biases], when we celebrated Women’s Month. I think that was also great because I could connect with people, especially in my region, who speak about something similar: women’s empowerment.

EM: What are your hopes for the independent filmmaking scene in Indonesia?

AA: I’m keen to learn about alternative schemes for filmmaking and distribution — to find opportunities within technology, within the network, with no boundaries in the digital age — not to rely on what’s already been done but to try innovations and to be brave enough to try things and know if it’s worth it.

All films should make great messages that would be impactful for people no matter how they package them. [But I’m also exploring questions on sustainability]. If I’m going more into something like Inteamates, which is driven by social causes, then how do we create sustainability in terms of financing [the work]?

For independent filmmakers out there, especially in Indonesia, just try out things you are curious about. Nothing will stop you and say this is the wrong way to do it. I think everyone has their own path, and they can make it happen. You don’t need to follow certain ways to achieve success.

I’m encouraging people to be themselves and stay curious, but don’t be afraid to try. Don’t just be at a standstill and hope you’ll survive filmmaking. Filmmaking is a very difficult and tough industry, but at the same time, it gives you fulfilment and contentment after you see your creation.

Watch the full interview through this video:

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