Big Screen, Bigger Issues for Indonesia’s Lesbians
Two years ago, eight young Indonesian women came together for a project. Although at first it seemed small, the endeavor would end up having a bigger impact on their lives than they ever imagined.
Now, their hard work has resulted in a 75-minute feature-length film, “Children of Srikandi.” The film’s tagline is: “For the first time, queer Indonesian women are breaking the code of silence.”
In a country where a declaration of homosexuality at best raises eyebrows and at worst incites blind hatred and prejudice, “Srikandi” is a brave movie that sheds light on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here.
It is especially unique because the filmmakers themselves are part of that community and were able to honestly convey their own experiences, feelings and thoughts on the screen.
Stea Lim, who is both a director and executive producer of the film, said the project was initiated by Laura Coppens, a German visual anthropologist who wanted to make a film about the struggles of Indonesian women. The project was realized with the help of the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural organization, and In-Docs, the documentary program of the Society of Independent Indonesian Films (YMMFI).
Coppens said she began traveling to the region and Indonesia on a regular basis about five years ago.
“This was basically because I am an Indonesian film curator and festival programmer for Asian Hot Shots Berlin, a festival for Asian independent cinema I founded with two friends in 2007 in Berlin,” she said.
After becoming more involved with the regional cinema scene, Coppens realized there was a general lack of films about homosexual women, and there certainly weren’t any examples from Indonesia.
“From the very beginning, I wanted to organize a workshop to train people in basic filmmaking skills,” she said. “Since I am not a trained filmmaker and I knew that I never would manage this challenge alone, I was looking for someone to help me with that and eventually make a film out of it.”
She found support from Berlin-based filmmaker Angelika Levi, who became a mentor and editor for the film. Together, the two have seen the project through from beginning to end.
“She is an experienced filmmaker and a wonderful storyteller. It is mainly also because of her involvement and engagement that our film is as successful and beautiful as it is now,” Coppens said of Levi.
“And of course, there are the wonderful women we are working with,” she added, referring to the eight workshop participants and stressing that they see themselves as a collective. “Their desire to tell their story and their bravery makes it a very special project.”
The diversity of the group members was key, Stea said.
“Each of us has different backgrounds,” she said. “So everybody brought different ideas to the workshop, and it eventually took the shape of becoming an anthology. It is now a collection of eight short films — part documentary, part fiction.”
Eight women, eight films. But the participants did more than simply work on their own stories. They acted in one another’s films, helped with narrative development and served as crew members.
The namesake of the film’s title, Srikandi, is a character in the Mahabharata epic. “Srikandi is a strong female warrior,” Stea explained. “She represents what we are doing now, our struggles, our expectations, our roles in society.”
Coppens said Srikandi was a fascinating character because while most women characters in wayang tales were devoted mothers and wives, Srikandi was “the ultimate model of independent womanhood.”
Srikandi not only makes an appearance in the title of the film, she also plays an active part in it: her story is told between the eight short films through Indonesian shadow theater scenes performed by puppeteer Soleh and singer Anik, two male-to-female transgender individuals from Surabaya.
For the women involved in the project, making “Srikandi” was a unique experience. Many of them had never done anything like try to make a movie.
One of the women is Edith, a political science student in Yogyakarta. She said she enjoyed being part of the project.
“It was very exciting for me to learn how to make the storyboard, to think about the visuals, the images and the sounds, and how it all needs to be connected,” she said, adding that she could even imagine continuing with filmmaking in the future.
“My film shows my own experience and how I deal with my identity,” Edith said. “I believe that everybody has multiple identities and I especially tried to show the connection between your sexual identity and your spiritual identity. Very often [in Indonesia] people say, ‘Oh, you are not eligible to talk about your faith when you have a certain sexual identity.’ ”
Another woman involved in the project, Winnie, looks at relationships and some of the typical prejudices she sees in society.
“People always think that if you are part of the LGBT community you have to hang out with other members of that community as well,” she said. “But why can’t we live like what they would call ‘normal people?’ ”
The filmmakers are well aware that “Srikandi” might draw criticism, but so far, the feedback has been positive.
“A lot of people that we talked to about this project have been very supportive,” Stea said. “We did this film with very limited funding. All the funding has come from different organizations, our families and friends, and our own pockets.”
Friends who couldn’t afford to support the project with cash found other ways to help, donating time and energy to do things like assist with the lights or participate on the camera team, she added.
“Without them, I don’t think we could have finished the film,” she said. “We had to overcome a lot of struggles, but we
always met a lot of people who would tell us, come on, you have to do this.”
While the film’s final cut has been completed, there is still post-production work to be done, primarily with sound and color. The group is still looking for funding to finance this final part of the project.
“Crowd-sourcing is one of the more creative ways to find funding for independent films,” Coppens said. “It is very successful in the United States, but rather new in Germany. We thought we’d give it a try and raise some funds that could cover our post-production costs. So far it has been very successful — out of the $5,000 we asked for, we already raised $4,000. The campaign ends in 14 days and we really hope that people will help us to meet our goal.”
The group’s main motivation for completing “Srikandi” is to provide a platform for people to discuss a topic that is often deliberately overlooked.
“There has been discussion put on by organizations and activists, but a film takes it to a whole new audience,” Stea said. “Instead of simply talking about experiences, you can now see it: our issues with religion, society, our families. Hopefully, it can spark some dialogue.”
It is undeniable that the film has already made an impact. In Germany it was selected as an official entry for the Panorama program at the Berlinale, Berlin’s international film festival, which will take place from Feb. 9 to 19.
“From the beginning, it was our dream to show this film at a major film festival,” Coppens said. “This kind of festival means major outreach and helps people to see the stories.”
In addition to “Srikandi,” the Berlin festival will showcase two other feature films from Indonesia: “Postcards From the Zoo” by Edwin and “The Mirror Never Lies” by Kamila Andini, as well as the short film “7 Deadly Kisses” by Sammaria Simanjuntak.
“This is an enormous success for Indonesian cinema and hopefully it will give a boost to the local film scene and encourage filmmakers and young ones especially to continue their wonderful work,” Coppens said. “There is a lot of talent out there that is ready to be discovered and I hope the Berlinale is a first step that will encourage more people to look at the Indonesian film industry closely and with a new curiosity.”
The eight “Srikandi” women welcomed the news about the Berlinale with much excitement and joy.
“We are obviously ecstatic about it,” Stea said, adding that it was also quite overwhelming.
“By doing this film, we opened up and talked about our issues, and what was personal will now become public. But I hope it can make a difference.”
For more information about ‘Children of Srikandi,’ visit www.childrenofsrikandi.com
To be part of the crowd-funding campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/Children-of-Srikandi