While West Papua (Irian Jaya) is part of Indonesia, no director
has made a feature there, not until Garin Nugroho's Bird Man Tale,
which is in competition for the Silver Screen Awards at the 16th
Singapore International Film Festival (Apr 17-May 3). The film sets
out to understand this Indonesian province through the infatuation
of a young Papuan boy for a beautiful Indonesian woman. In the process
Garin also covers the mysterious death of Papuan Independence leader,
Theys Hiyo Eluay, in 2001, with documentary footage. But what the
film brilliantly does is to invert the roles of Indonesia and Papua.
Because there is only one Indonesian actress, Lulu Tobin, in the
entire film, Indonesia inadvertently becomes the minority culture
here. What it then does is confront the Indonesian audience to put
themselves in the place of the minority. Garin Nugroho regales Philip
Cheah with his tales of the bird man.
Bird Man Tale screens on April 25, 7 pm at Prince
Tickets at $8.80 from www.filmfest.org.sg.
Man Tale is a brave film on two counts its confrontation
of culture and religion. How did the Jakarta audience react to seeing
black Papuan people as part of the Indonesian cultural diaspora?
the film is more about Christianity. I know that I might make a
confrontation of culture and religion in my film with the reality
of the condition in my country, which is a Muslim majority. But,
I'm doing this because we have to practise acceptance with living
in harmony. I believe we have to teach others about the freedom
to know, to understand other people's religion. And also, the film
is against the stereotypical theme in Indonesian film that never
mixes the religious theme with love and passion. And I also think
that we have to give space to the minority.
Lulu accidentally interrupts a tribal ritual ceremony, it was a
clash between Christianity and tribal faith. What did the actors
feel about it?
Lulu felt when she interrupted the ceremony? I know that she was
scared and full of anxiety because she didn't know that we were
going to shoot that scene. I know for sure that her crying was not
acting at all. For the shoot, as you can see in the film, we put
white tissue on her head so that Lulu will look like the Virgin
Mary. We knew that since the Papuans are Christian, they will not
be against the Virgin Mary. That's how Lulu got into the ceremony
even though it's forbidden for women.
a way that scene goes against the stereotype that Indonesia is just
Islamic fundamentalism that religion in its many forms is
always sensitive until more understanding is achieved.
respect of the Islamic people for those of other faiths is far away
from anything negative. Many people have asked me the same question.
I let this scene happen to make and to create a new discourse among
the cinema community and the public in general. The response is
OK and they can accept this scene. Even in many discussion groups,
Christian friends gave me the freedom to interpret their religion
so I think the Islamic people (as the majority) has to give this
main criticism of the film is that the Lulu character is too undeveloped.
She is almost a phantom that drifts through the film. We never get
to understand her.
just you, but many people never get to understand Lulu's character
in this film. At first, I did question myself but the creative team
decided that we should allow her to be without any motivation. We
wanted to let the audience decide and to figure out for themselves
what is Lulu's motivation. It's just a way to inspire others to
think of other things. For example, a Vietnam War photo will inspire
a certain imagination and a certain emotion.
many ways, the main theme of the film is loving the "other," that
it's very difficult, almost near impossible but absolutely essential
in a truly global world. What did you intend for the film's theme
and what did other critics read into the film?
main theme of the film is loving the "other." I know it is difficult.
But I believe, in film we can discuss almost everything in a peaceful
way. In Bird Man Tale, we presented something sensitive without
violence in it. For example, although I brought 200 flags of Papua,
for the shooting scene, still there was no violence during the actual
production. So, with this film, I try to develop a mutual trust.
That's what counts.