Reflecting on the Lives of the Bajo
As the daughter of award-winning independent filmmaker Garin Nugroho, Kamila Andini grew up around movies. But she did not choose an easy path with her debut feature film, instead traveling to the edge of Indonesia to to find inspiration for what is a lyrical film looking at the lives of some of the most remotely located people in the country.
The 24-year-old’s passion for diving led her to learn about the Bajo people, an ethnic group originally from the Philippines that has spread throughout Southeast Asia, including areas of Kalimantan and Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia. The Bajo are sometime referred to as “sea gypsies,” because they have traditionally spent much of their lives on the ocean.
Kamila’s debut feature film, “The Mirror Never Lies,” is one of the first movies to take a look at the lives of the Bajonese. It will have its premiere in local theaters on Thursday.
The main character in the film is Pakis, played by 12-year-old Bajonese actress Gita Novalista. She and her best friend, Lumo (Eko), live in the tall bamboo houses of a small village in Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi. Pakis is going through a difficult period in her life due to the loss of her father, who has gone missing while at sea. Every few days, she goes to a shaman to undergo a searching ritual in which she looks for her father in a mirror. Although Pakis never sees her father during the rituals, she never gives up hope.
Pakis’s mother, Tayung (Atiqah Hasiholan), on the other hand, has already resigned herself to the fact that her husband is not coming back. Tayung wants Pakis to stay away from the mirror and go on with her life, but Pakis resists.
The mother-daughter relationship becomes even more tense when a dolphin researcher from Jakarta, Tudo (Reza Rahadian), arrives in their village. The village chief appoints Tayung to host Tudo during his stay.
Although Pakis’s father is never shown in the film, his presence looms large throughout. Sometimes Pakis narrates the film, recalling bits and pieces of her father’s wisdom. The thrust of the story is how Pakis and Tayung attempt to move on with their lives without him.
In addition to Gita and Eko, Bajonese actors play many of the other characters in the film, giving the movie authenticity and providing insight into the lives of these relatively unknown people. The movie’s dialogue is delivered in both Indonesian and Bajonese, with Indonesian subtitles.
The Bajonese language is similar to, but distinct from, Malay. Two weeks before shooting began, Atiqah, who is not Bajonese, had a coach train her in the dialect, which she speaks fluently throughout the film.
The movie features gorgeous cinematography from award-winning director of photography Rahmat “Ipung” Syaiful. Every frame of the film is filled with the natural beauty of Wakatobi, its clear blue skies, turquoise water and gorgeous coral reefs. No doubt it will get plenty of tourists interested in visiting the area to see it for themselves.
The film also depicts Bajonese traditions that have never been seen by the majority of Indonesians, such as their wedding ceremonies and ritual sacrifices to the sea. These traditions form an integral part of the script, written by Dirmawan Hatta and Kamila.
“Film, for me, is a medium to share my thoughts with others,” the 24-year old director said during a press conference on Tuesday.
For her first feature-length film, Kamila worked with her father and a former Miss Indonesia, Nadine Chandrawinata, who served as the movie’s producers.
The local government of Wakatobi and the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia also sponsored the making of the film.
Although “The Mirror Never Lies” is her first attempt at feature filmmaking, Kamila is hardly inexperienced.
When she was younger, she said, she was not too interested in film, due to the fear of having to work in her father’s shadow. But she slowly developed a passion for it after becoming involved in a few local film communities in Jakarta.
Since then, Kamila has worked on music videos, short films, documentaries and television programs.
She is also fond of photography, an influence that can easily be seen in way she frames her shots throughout the movie.
Getting the chance to make her first full-length film has been a dream come true for Kamila.
“In the end, every filmmaker wants to make a feature film,” she said.
Kamila said Wakatobi’s extreme weather, especially the frequent rainstorms, made the shoot quite difficult, forcing them to postpone production twice.
Despite the difficult shoot, she said the effort would be more than worth it if it helped spread information and awareness about the Bajonese.
She made it clear that the intent of the movie was, above all else, to honor them.
“The goal of this project is to show people the beautiful traditions and native wisdom of the Bajonese,” she said.