A Film With a (Paid-for) Message
Hanung Bramantyo, director of the controversial film “?” or “Tanda Tanya” (“Question Mark”), has found the questions turned back on himself with the upcoming release of his newest film, “Pengejar Angin” (“The Wind Chaser”).
Funded by the South Sumatran government for release ahead of this month’s Southeast Asian Games, which Palembang, the capital of the province, is co-hosting, Hanung’s latest film has been criticized as being politically biased and glaringly commercial in its promotion of the sporting event. South Sumatra’s governor, Alex Noerdin, for example, appears in several scenes.
At the film’s premiere on Monday at Gandaria City mall in South Jakarta, Hanung was open about the origins of the film’s funding and said he liked the idea of local governments funding movies.
“Honestly, it’s been great because with the funding from the local government, we didn’t have the burden of the film having to be commercially successful,” he said. The funding, he insisted, allowed him to tell a local story in a professional-quality film.
However, Hanung acknowledged that he had to make certain concessions to the government in return for the funding. The director was obligated to include references to sport, the process of building the SEA Games venues and the local government’s programs to provide free education and health care. There are loving shots in the film of Palembang’s new Gelora Sriwijaya sports stadium, while a handful of scenes discuss government health and education services with the conviction of a soap commercial.
“I was working under the suspicion that this film is a government project, but actually, it has always been my mission to portray lives outside of Jakarta,” Hanung said. “Most of all, [the local government] said they wanted a film that really reflected the character of South Sumatra.”
“Pengejar Angin” follows the story of Dapunta (Qausar Harta Yudana), a high school student whose dream is to win a regional sprint competition — and he heart of Nyimas (Siti Helda Meilita).
But Dapunta’s father (Mathias Muchus) has other plans. His dream is for his son to eventually take his place as the leader of a gang of highway robbers, known rather colorfully as bajing loncat, or “jumping squirrels.” To become a worthy replacement, Dapunta must become the fastest runner in the area, known as the “pengejar angin,” “the wind chaser.”
The film opens with shots of Dapunta’s father’s gang running, jumping and climbing through thick forest by the side of a highway. The scene cuts to passengers in a passing tour bus, who are warned by their guides to hide their money and valuables as they pass through the danger zone. But the band of thieves manages to get on board the bus and rob the group, without being caught by the police.
Next we get a peek into Dapunta’s home life, where his mother (Wanda Hamidah) encourages him to pursue higher education and his father pushes him to take up his legacy as the gang leader.
At school, Dapunta competes academically against his more privileged rival, Jusuf (Giorgino Abraham). When Jusuf finds out what Dapunta’s father does for a living, he threatens to have Dapunta kicked out of school. Working against the odds, Dapunta must decide whether to pursue his dream or accept his fate and follow his father into a life of crime.
Producer Ramdhoni Ramadhan said the film was openly supportive of South Sumatra’s efforts to promote itself and the SEA Games.
“This film is a pilot project for the South Sumatran government in raising public awareness of its programs,” he said.
Hanung further defended the government funding for the film, saying it allowed him to give younger talents a chance without fear of commercial failure. He said that while his own name was listed as the director of the film, much of the credit should go to his co-director, Hestu Saputra, from the young filmmakers’ community Dapur Film, or Film Kitchen.
Hanung said the movie’s plot had also inspired him to shift his focus from religious-based themes to making more films for teenagers, and especially to show the lives of young people living outside Java.
While Hanung’s 2008 film “Ayat-Ayat Cinta” (“Verses of Love”) was a crowd-pleaser, with its love story involving a devout Muslim protagonist, his last film, “?” created controversy with its focus on issues of interfaith tolerance. The film was pulled from a scheduled screening on SCTV in September under threat of violence from the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which claimed the movie incited hatred toward Islam through its depiction of violent Muslims.
Hanung said his next project would be a more neutral teen flick, based on the novel “Perahu Kertas” (“Paper Boat”) by best-selling author Dewi “Dee” Lestari. The movie is due to go into production early next year.
The director said it was too bad that people were always suspicious of the government no matter what it did, and that this suspicion had extended to his movie. Mathias Muchus, who plays the protagonist’s highway robber father, said the film was in fact a true portrayal of life in South Sumatra, where he was born.
“Working on this film has been very nostalgic for me,” he said. “It really reflects our culture, our emotional state of being, our temperament and sensitivities. That’s just how South Sumatran people are.”