Renowned Indonesian film producer and director Mira Lesmana simply exudes confidence. And she has a good reason to feel self-assured — her musical adaptation of Andrea Hirata’s novel “Laskar Pelangi” (“The Rainbow Troops”) is shaping up to be a hit, having already sold thousands of tickets since it opened at Taman Ismail Marzuki on Dec. 17.
The “Laskar Pelangi” stage show is Mira’s first foray into theater production, giving her the chance to take a well-earned break from filmmaking.
“I think the film industry in Indonesia is heavily politicized,” she said. “In this country we have no law on music, dancing or theater, but we have a law on film.”
In an attempt to push for legislative reform, Mira co-founded the Indonesian Film Society (MFI) in 2006.
The MFI went as high as the Constitutional Court to file a petition asking for a judicial review of the 1992 Film Law, which gives the censorship board absolute power over the nation’s films.
In 2008, following a year of hearings and testimonies, the court turned down the petition on the grounds that the 1992 Film Law could not be repealed until a new law was written to replace it.
Unlike many who saw the court ruling as a loss, Mira looked at it as an incentive to push for the birth of a new film law, which was eventually passed by the House of Representatives in 2009.
In a television interview following the plenary session of the House, Mira broke into tears when the law was finally passed.
She was disappointed that no changes had been made to the repressive powers of the censorship board in the new law.
“I can’t believe the House could pass such a law that allows no room for creativity.
Films are considered as potential threats to our society that must be restricted almost in every aspect,” she was quoted as saying by the news portal VIVAnews at the time.
Ultimately, the government still has the final word on what movies can be screened in the country and the censorship board appears to take a dim view of subjects such as nudity, drug use and jokes about the Suharto dictatorship.
Mira is no stranger to the hardships of producing independent films in Indonesia, but despite the difficulties she has faced in her career, she has nonetheless risen to become one of the top names in the country’s film industry.
In fact, many film critics have said that Mira possesses the Midas touch when it comes to producing box-office hits, as everything she touches turns to gold.
Mira first caught the public’s attention for her film-making in 1996.
Her documentary “Anak Seribu Pulau” (“Children of a Thousand Islands”) became a successful series exploring the experience of childhood in various island cultures. Another success followed with the feature film, “Kuldesak” (“Cul-de-sac”), which Mira co-directed along with Riza Mantovani, Riri Riza and Nan Triveni Achnas in 1998.
Showing her versatility, Mira also produced a children’s movie “Petualangan Sherina” (“Sherina’s Adventure”) in 2000, followed a couple of years later by the hit teen flick “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?” (“What’s Up with Cinta?”), which became a huge national success.
Mira’s most recent cinema creation was a film adaptation of Andrea Hirata’s novel “Laskar Pelangi” in 2008, which has since graced the screens of numerous international film festivals.
Mira’s success can be attributed to more than just her talent — she is committed to producing quality cinema.
“A lot of people want to be film directors because that’s the person who receives the credit for a good movie,” Mira said, adding that in the history of Indonesian cinema, producers have usually had enough money to foot the bill for their own films.
Mira suspects that this is also the reason why young people today don’t show much interest in working in the film industry.
“People may not understand what film producing is,” Mira said.
“Even at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ) there was no major in producing offered when I studied there,” she said.
The eldest daughter of the renowned jazz musician, Jack Lesmana, Mira said she has been passionate about film since she was 17 years old.
Mira’s journey that eventually led her to choose the path of film production began in 1986, during her second year at IKJ, when she was approached by now prominent director Garin Nugroho to make a public-service announcement about keeping Jakarta clean.
“At that time, I thought, it would be hard for the Indonesian film industry to work if all we had was a lot of good directors, but no producers to produce their movies,” she said.
“We need producers who have something to say and can then produce a film about it.”
Mira said there are two types of producers in Indonesia: those who produce quality cinema and those who only produce material that they think will sell.
Even though her work often steals the limelight, Mira said not all of her films have been a financial success.
For example, her film “Gie,” based on the diary of Soe Hok Gie, an Indonesian activist in the ’60s, gave the public a lot to talk about, but never managed to break even at the box office.
Mira said she will continue to make “serious films” for Indonesian audiences even if they don’t make a profit.
“Whenever I want to start producing a movie, I always stop to ask myself what issue I want to address,” she said.
For instance, when Mira produced “Petualangan Sherina”, she wanted to address a lack of Indonesian films for children, while her film “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?” was made specifically with a teenage audience in mind.
After a year of working on the “Laskar Pelangi” stage show, Mira said she will be back with a new film in 2011, although she would not yet reveal the film’s subject.
Meanwhile, Mira hopes that the Indonesian film industry will start investigating more varied topics.
“I want films that say more about Indonesia,” she said. “It’s a pity if all our films only speak the language of Jakarta.”