Indonesia Distanced Stories is an intensive creative filmmaking workshop by In-Docs, in collaboration with Scottish Documentary Institute, and British Council Indonesia. The outcome of this program seeks to present minority issues through short documentary films about transgender women (Baby Girl), the daily life of disabled families (Falhan’s Love), teacher & housewive (Teacher), ageism and development (Karsih), female farmers (Green Fingers Club), and a young artist with Asperger’s (Scene from the Unseen).
During the filming, participants must try to present the protagonist as a human being with the complexities of life they faced. On our interview with the participants of Indonesia Distanced Stories 2020, we discovered something inspiring: empathy is needed not only in the shooting process but also in the editing process.
Check out our interviews with the filmmakers below, to reveal the creative process of making their films.
This article includes two topics: disabilities & ageism issues; and gender issues.
The interviews was attended by:
- Helga Theresia (Karsih)
- Ary Aristo (Scene from the Unseen)
- M. Ismail & Fr. Magastowo (Falhan’s Love)
When did you decide the idea for your film, which one came to mind first: the topic or the subject?
Ismail: I have known the family that later became my subject before I participated in the workshop. I am already familiar with some parts of their life.
With Magas, I discussed which topic that might be interesting to highlight. We had different views—I wanted to focus on showing the struggle faced by a family whose member has a disability. One of the hardest challenges they faced was to gain access to health insurance from the government.
Magas: I wanted to focus on humanity. I felt it would be difficult to involve the government—given the complicated bureaucracy especially during the pandemic. I also suggested for the film’s theme to focus on the affection that Farhan received from his parents. The main location would be their house, while the public place would be a park which would be easier to gain permission. The film would look more relaxed—the focus would not be about their struggle, but how the family is affectionate towards each other.
Ismail: When we asked them, they had no problems being filmed because we share the same vision and mission. I have a disability, just like them, and we believe the documentary would be important to make other people more aware about what kind of issues people with disabilities face.
How about Helga?
Helga: I met the subject first, Bu Karsih (Mrs. Karsih), because she lives near my house. At first, I didn’t have any plans to make a documentary about her. I just often saw her and other women aged 50-60 years old gathering and chit-chatting with each other. Their relationship looked unique to me, and I wanted to say hi to them.
When Bu Karsih told me her story, it felt relatable to me, especially when she told me about her family: they seemed warm and it made me remember my own family—especially since we grew closer during the pandemic.
When I asked her permission to film her, she was embarrassed at first. I tried to make her feel more comfortable by bringing a camera every time we talked, even though I was not filming. As time went by, she became more used to the camera and was more open to me.
How about Ary?
Ary: The idea had always been in the back of my mind. Ferdi is my student and also my friend, so I didn’t have any difficulty approaching him. Knowing him for two years, we could talk about anything, including discussing each other’s passion. I had a mission to show Ferdi’s version that is unseen to other people, such as his imagination and his subconsciousness—which intertwines with what he experiences in everyday life. It is also the reason I gave the title of the film “Scene from the Unseen”.
When I asked him, he simply said, “Let’s go!”. Likewise, his parents were also open to the idea.
What are your considerations in determining the story, footages, and the editing concept—in order to portray the subject empathetically?
Magas: Besides making the focus of the film about their family instead of their struggle, we also attempted to shoot the picture at eye level in order for the subjects not to be looked down, psychologically, by the audiences. I have seen many documentaries about people with disabilities that positioned the camera higher than the subjects—as if the audiences were more superior.
I also only used natural light, including during the night. This makes the picture look more natural, not too clean, to capture the subject’s feeling as what it is—especially when their life is not going well. I feel that the noise from the picture gave a bit of discomfort to the audiences.
Besides that, I also shot the majority of the pictures using a tripod to reflect the slow movement of the subject—since they don’t move a lot. It also gives a therapeutic feeling which reflects the film’s focus on their affection.
In the editing process, I received a lot of input from Ismail because he has more awareness in representing people with disabilities.
Ismail: I work for SIGAB Indonesia (Sasana Inklusi & Gerakan Advokasi Difabel), a civic society organisation that fights for the rights of people with disability throughout Indonesia to manifest equal and inclusive life). And I follow one of our ethical codes to portray children without being exploitative. When we sensed some footage to be exploitative, we would cut it. For example, the scene of Farhan taking a shower might invite pity from the audience. We decided to cut the scene.
Furthermore, we don’t want to show people with disabilities as somewhat holier people. Because of this, we chose to highlight their everyday routines.
How about Helga?
Helga: We were worried, at first, because Bu Karsih didn’t talk much. It was difficult for us to see her emotions and thoughts. However, our mentor, Ann, said this was a good point, because it would be more interesting to simply focus on her gestures. Besides that, it turned out people around her helped by giving explicit information regarding her personality. When I was with Bu Karsih’s family, they told me a lot of stories about her.
I also didn’t position myself as a filmmaker who had the ambition to exploit her story. I positioned myself as her friend instead. She welcomed me as her own kid who liked to visit her and had a conversation with her. The camera would only be turned on when she already felt comfortable.
The focus of the film was not yet determined in the beginning. We only realised during the editing process that the focus would be about her family. Initially we planned to highlight her story as a street cleaner who was not paid enough. However, during the mentoring, we decided to use it simply as the context. There was certainly a moment where she complained about her wage, but we kept the portion small in order not to invite pity from the audience.
How about the editing process?
Ary: I have determined from the beginning to show Ferdi simply as a human being, avoiding to make him look suffered and showing antagonistic characters. He has Asperger syndrome, but so what?
Regarding the images portrayed in the film, I initially wanted to explore the connection between his past, his imagination, and his activity—which would be visualised by an animation made by Ferdi.
However, after having a discussion with my mentor, I understood that not everything can be represented by an animation. We then decided to focus on more subtle visuals. For example, the opening scene of the film is Ferdi sitting in a car while it was raining outside. There is also a scene when Ferdi was playing with swords he made, which represents his childish nature.
We also wanted to show Ferdi’s relationship with his surroundings in the film—parents, other artists, and the gallery visitors. People with autism and Asperger syndrome are stigmatised as being difficult in communicating and forming a connection with other people—they are also perceived to not have any social concerns. This is not true for all people with mental disabilities. Ferdi is straightforward and is easy to talk to: he would talk about his trauma, his future, and even shows concerns over certain social phenomenons. He is no different than non-disabled people.
Is there anything you wanted to explore more but had no time during the workshop?
Ismail: If there was more time, I would like to capture more moments. For example the moment when Farhan won a writing competition, or how his mother used a wheelchair when she met other people. I want to show more of the daily moments of their lives.
Magas: I would like to capture Farhan’s interactions with his friends in the school. I didn’t have the time to film that. I am also interested in the possibility of filming with participatory style, where I would be using footage shot by my own subject.
Helga: I wanted to bring more proper equipment. The sound system we used was not sufficient enough. There was no clip-on, etc. The film crew was just the two of us, and we used a lot of footage when I was shooting on my own—and it affected the sound quality.
Ary: One thing that could be upgraded was how my dialogues with Ferdi could be shot with participatory style. However, I need one more cameraman to make that approach.
Who do you hope would watch the film?
Magas: I want the film to be watched by people who have interests with the issue. I hope they can feel the family’s affection and can relate to it because they are reminded by their own family.
Ismail: When people watch the film, I imagine they would become motivated and more aware that disability does not make you worth less. I also want people to see the film as a family movie.
Helga: I wanted to show the warm atmosphere in the film. Besides that, I also hope more filmmakers would make films about their surroundings. We could make an amazing thing just by being aware of our surroundings.
Ary: I wish many young people would watch the film and they would become inspired to create something that gives impacts to other people’s lives. I also hope parents who have kids with disabilities could watch the film, as it would help them feel less alone and lift off their mental burden.