Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki’s Interview 02

Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka
Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki’s Interview with
Indonesian Cinematographer Gunnar Nimpuno
of “The Jungle School” (2013 / Indonesia)

This is the complete, non-abridged interview conducted during the Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka 2014, which took place in September, 2014.  The interview has been translated from Japanese into English and for this reason, the translated English may not be the same English used by cinematographer Gunnar Nimpuno during the interview.


Hariki: We meet for the first time. Thank you for this interview. I hear your association with film director Riri Riza begins with “The Dreamer”.

Nimpuno: That’s right.

Hariki: What were you doing before that?

Nimpuno: I entered the advertising business in 1994 and got into motion pictures in 1999. I gained experience in the advertising business but felt working inside a building wasn’t for me. I wanted to go outside. I always liked shooting visuals and taking photographs so when I quit my advertising job I went to the UK to study motion pictures. I returned to Jakarta in 1999 and worked as a camera assistant to gain experience in the field. It was from 2003 that I started working as a cinematographer. I met Riri Riza while I was still a camera assistant. I worked with him first in “Three Days Forever” but I was still a camera assistant then. Riri Riza was a good friend of mine. One day he called me to see if I wanted to work with him. This was on a film of his called, “Drupadi”. It was an experimental collaborative film, set in Kota Yogyakarta. The shooting of the film took only seven days. It was an interesting motion picture. That was the first time I worked with Riri Riza as a cinematographer. “The Rainbow Troops” was shot by Yadi Sungandi, who I regard as my mentor. Right after that film, we started on “Drupadi”.

Hariki: What does “Drupadi” mean?

Nimpuno: “Drupadi” is the wife to 5 brothers who appear in the ancient Indian epic poem “Mahabharata”.

Hariki: Was it theatrically released?

Nimpuno: It’s a very experimental film. Riri Riza was the film director, Mira Lesmana, the producer and Leila S. Chudori, the writer. Because the 70 minute film isn’t of a commercial nature, it’s very difficult to present it to international film festivals. Besides, the format is a bit off the standard. It was sort of like mixing together a hybrid film with a film made for theatrical release.

Hariki: How did the audience see this motion picture?

Nimpuno: In the form of a private screening.

Hariki: I’d sort of like to see this film.

Nimpuno: As a matter of fact, I think it’s a very interesting film. I feel it’s the best out of all the films I’ve been involved in. I liked it so much I wanted to submit it for my doctorate program in experimental films, which I graduated from in the UK. I think I’m very much suited for this type of film.

Hariki: Is Riri Riza also interested in experimental films?

Nimpuno: It was a time when he really was trying to come up with new techniques in filmmaking. So we did “Drupadi” and immediately afterwards, “The Dreamer”. But by then, the method had changed. The story would be structured first into a drama, and then it would be filmed. But as far as media processing, both Riri Riza and I have always tried to test new methods.

Hariki: Isn’t “Atambua 39°C” if anything, a more experimental film?

Nimpuno: Exactly. We tried to test the hybrid method. We tried making a hybrid mix of a fictional film and a documentary film. First, we went on film location to film a motion picture based on a true story. This gave us 4 real to life characters. Then by building the story with fictional characters as well, something new came into the motion picture allowing us to film scenes where the two reacted with each other. It was a story that really happened but we were able to create it inside a frame of our motion picture.

Hariki: “The Jungle School” is a drama structured film, isn’t it?

Nimpuno: In this case also, we had Butet Manurung’s real to life diary, which we re-presented in the form of a motion picture. We transferred the story, which already existed, into a film script so the timeline was the same. However as far as cinematography was concerned, we always had the thought of mixing techniques. We mixed traditional methods of film production with experimental methods. We shot the film where the real story happened and the main characters are people who really exist. However the visual footage used in the film, we created out of fiction.

Hariki: How did Ms. Butet Manurung feel about the film?

Nimpuno: She told us she really loved it! She’s very sensitive and has much sympathy towards the people who live in the jungle. She’s the type who is easily moved. She starts crying just by looking at these children. So when we showed her our film, she became emotional and began to cry. Children she actually taught appeared as themselves in the film and that’s what moved her so much. She also places great anticipation on what the film can achieve.

Hariki: The hope for education as well as the significance of education…I feel Riri Riza’s films strongly address these messages. However the interesting thing about him is that he also stresses the point of education destroying traditional society. I think this dilemma is very well presented in his films. Perhaps the interesting thing about him is that he shoulders both the shining light and the dark shadow of modernism.

Nimpuno: Exactly. Knowing him for about five and a half years, I can tell you that he’s very interested in guiding and educating the younger generation, which he feels is very important. It’s not just limited to film production. In many ways, he has a conscience of wanting to share knowledge with the young. That’s why he holds workshops and goes back to his home community to make films. That’s one of the reasons why I continue working with him. He’s a film director I really like. I feel that when I work with him, I’m always learning something or gaining new knowledge whether it be from the work content or the work process or just working together. Very often I learn about what’s being expressed in our films. Riri Riza has been very important to me in the course of building my film career.

Hariki: But here in Japan, we can’t be optimistic about education. It’s a bit different than in Indonesia. I think Riri Riza’s films are wonderful but the matter of fact is that it’s different in Japan. So when we see his films, yes we feel that education is important, but reality in Japan is different so there’s a conflict. It’s difficult to grasp, isn’t it? For example by studying, the children of the forest can go to the outside world and enjoy better lives but what happens to education after they do? I think Japan is at this last stage. Education in Japan has become something that’s used only to better oneself economically and to make money. Not everyone thinks that’s just but under Japan’s present economic society, no one can do anything about it and social constraints are becoming stricter. In other words this isn’t fundamental education anymore.

Nimpuno: That’s scary. Indonesia has such a diverse sub-culture. Its level of growth is also very diverse. Everyone thinks education is very important, especially for our children’s future. But even we don’t think that the content of our educational can be made the same. That’s because our education has to be administered in an environment, which takes into account all our different cultures and growth levels. What’s so great about Butet’s method is that it first begins by going into regional culture to find out what its needs are. After getting the answer, her style then makes special arrangements to education. When the (jungle) tribes receive new knowledge, they then come up with their own form of education, based on what they’ve learned, that will give them growth on their own terms. Butet believes that our country will fall into a state of utter confusion if the content of education was made the same and administered throughout Indonesia.. I think this is what’s so great about her style of education.

Hariki: I think it’s a good thing to accept diversity. But when the war ended in Japan, the country homogenized education and because of this, diversity has virtually disappeared. While the country became strong economically it has become very poor, culturally. It’s very unfortunate. I wouldn’t want to see Indonesia go after the Japanese model (chuckle).

Nimpuro: We’ll all have to try our best so that doesn’t happen (chuckle)

Hariki: I believe that even Riri Riza has to think about what should be done after these people get their advanced education. I felt he thought about this significantly in “Three Days Forever”.

Nimpuro: Exactly.

Hariki: That’s why I think he may go back to education, but what really are his future plans?

Nimpuro: Back in his home community, he’s involved in a really good project that binds culture with education. Every year he does these projects that targets the youth from the eastern region of Indonesia. One of these is the film production project and there’s one for script writing as well. He invites people from the outside. For example he invites me from Jakarta or someone from the Philippines to his home district to have us relay new knowledge to the young. That’s the movement he’s involved in. So as I see it, what he’s doing is fostering the young in his home community in a way that enables them to keep their roots in the community while creating something new from their culture using new medium. Wanting people to do creative work after understanding and grasping their culture is Riri Riza’s style. I feel this can be a role model for other projects. But his future plan is a mystery to me.

Hariki: (Jokingly) Does he have any interest in going into politics?

Nimpuro: (Jokingly) I think he hates politicians.

Hariki: (Jokingly) I’d like him to be the kind of politician that can expand and widen culture. He should become a politician who can secure budgets.

Nimpuro: (Jokingly) I’d like him to do that, too. By the way, Riri Riza and I assisted in the campaign to elect Joko Widodo for President.

Hariki: He got elected, didn’t he?

Nimpuro: Yes he did. Riri Riza and I were volunteers in his election campaign.

Hariki: (Jokingly) I’d like him to become Minister of Culture.

Nimpuro: (Jokingly) Um…but I think Mira Lesmana, the producer, is more fit for that post.

Hariki: (Jokingly)  I can understand that. I think she’s better at politics than he is. I’m sorry for the brevity of our meeting. Thank you so much for today.

Posted on