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Keeping it Reel

October 30, 2012

2010 was a big year for independent short filmmaker Adhyatmika.  That was the year he won the Democracy Video Challenge, flew to the U.S., met Hillary Clinton, and was featured on America’s most popular morning TV show. 

Filmmaker, Adhyatmika.

Adhyatmika makes thoughtful, insightful, sometimes funny, but always poignant short films.  In his film, Democracy is Yet to Learn (Masih Belajar), he conveyed in 2 minutes and 10 seconds the exact nature of democracy in Indonesia.  The film went on to win the Democracy Video Challenge–a global contest that asks participants to finish the sentence “Democracy is….”  With 800 entries and only one winner selected from each of the six worldwide regions, Adhyatmika had his work cut out for him.  But Adhyatmika has a gift when it comes to the ability to succinctly translate mammoth themes into minute movies.  Where one would perceive an epic poem, Adhyatmika envisions a haiku.  The filmmaker, who also fancies himself a dreamer, has since continued to produce short films that are both beautiful and evocative explorations of pertinent issues.

 When making a film, what is your ultimate intention? 

Over the years I’ve tried, or perhaps struggled, to find my own voice.  As a film school trained filmmaker, I’ve made quite a range of short films to practice my skills and hone my craft.  There is always something that I want to say in each film.  I believe that to make films is to communicate with others.  Film is a universal medium that can transcend space, age, and time.  Mike Mills, (who directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Thumbsucker) once said, “If I’m going to die tomorrow, this is the best story I’ve got. This is my best chance to try to communicate something about being human.”  That’s what I want to do; tell an essentially human story.

Adhyatmika, Masih Belajar

Official Poster for Masih Belajar

How long have you been making films?

While other new filmmakers usually shoot their first film in their house, school, or neighborhood, I shot my first short film in the airport!  It was a story about a young boy who is fascinated by airplanes, but controlled by his father.  It was quite tricky to get permission to shoot inside the airport, but my dad helped me to gain access.  I was 16 back then, and in looking back…not bad for a 16 year old boy.

If you couldn’t make films, what would your second choice be?

Either a desperate guitarist or a writer.  Definitely not a math teacher.

Adhyatmika Euuy, Democracy Video Challenge

Scene from, Democracy is Yet to Learn (Masih Belajar)

You seem to relish nuance in your films, is this a mindful choice in your work? 

Yes. Although I’m starting to find that it irritates me.  My high school friend asked me recently why I always make films that give an answer to a question.  I dunno, but it’s already inside me I suppose.

When I first decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker, I took a hint from Stanley Kubrick’s approach to storytelling.   He prefers subtle and layered meaning rather than an in-your-face situation, even when he makes comedies.  As an audience member, I found that his films really provoked me; he made me think about what he wanted to convey, while still having fun.  And once you understood his message, it just doubled the fun.

What are your main obstacles to making films?

I believe every single filmmaker in this country will say the same thing, shoot me if they don’t: Money and distribution.  We could have an endless discussion about this. In fact, I was at a seminar about film finance and distribution, and a film lecturer from Jakarta’s Art Institute told me he’d been at seminar like this ten years ago, and still nobody has come up with an answer or done anything about it.  If mature and seasoned professional filmmakers have complained about money and distribution problems since forever, how are young, independent filmmakers supposed to resolve these issues?

For me right now, the key is to know the market.  I realized that I can’t hit the big screen, yet.  Film festivals and communities may not be my best friends; it’s a whole different story there.  But, if I hit my audience in the right spot, little by little, I can poison their minds with my films.

I believe the future of independent filmmaking lies with the internet.  Viral media is one promising, yet scary, monster.  You can become an overnight sensation (for better or worse) or hit ground zero.  If a filmmaker plays his/her cards right, and encounters a bit of luck, they can get a million viewers, and also build a strong portfolio for potential clients.

What’s in store for you in 2012?  What do you hope to accomplish this year?

The hippies’ icon, Peter Fonda, once came to my college to give a speech.  He said that mind expansion is better than taking LSD or any other drug.  And what is mind expansion?   It’s learning  something new.  I’ll be 23 this year, perhaps not old enough to be a man, and not young enough to be a boy.  I’ve learned many lessons over these couple years, and I’m eager to learn more.

My highest priority this year is to study film production in the United States.  Why America?  Well, show me another country where the film industry is well established and the system has been running for almost a century.  What Indonesian cinema needs now is not only great films, but also a system that accommodates both the makers and the audience.  I’m interested learning how Hollywood has done it.  How do they make their art, sell their products, and how can we replicate that model in Indonesia?

Filmmaking is a collaborative art which requires many creative minds.  I’m always excited to meet passionate young creative people who want to make films.  They always surprise me with their ideas and bravado.  Personally, I’m looking for someone with a talent for business.  When the art of filmmaking meets the art of business, it creates one powerful combination, so buzz me if you’re one!

Check out Adhyatmika’s work for yourself online at: http://www.youtube.com/user/superrandompanda

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