Toronto International Film Festival 2021
Short Cuts Programme 04
Andrea Nirmala Widjajanto
After the death of her father, 17 year-old Anjani is torn between the past and future. Through the art of shadow puppetry also known as “Wayang”, Anjani has a final moment with her father, and decides what her path must be.
Hi Andrea thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Hi! Thank you so much for reaching out! I must say with full honesty that I am NOT built for this pandemic haha I can't speak for everyone but for me, I'm more prone to burn outs because with the work at home environment, it's becoming even harder to separate the work and the home but taking it one day at a time.
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
This time as in the pandemic? Yes for the inspiration, no for the opportunities. The past year was very challenging and I was still finishing university as well, so any time off I had I would take the opportunity to work and pay the bills through my day job as an Assistant Director (AD).
What does it mean for you to be able to Premiere Srikandi in the Short Cuts Section at TIFF?
As I mentioned before, the pandemic is a trying time for everyone. I am not a fan of repetition and so days you spent planting the seed just seems like you're not progressing anywhere. The first half of 2021 was really hard for me - I was tired of the mountains of "no"s and rejections that I just wanted to eat my fruit. I needed a win and the TIFF World Premiere was that win. But that being said, I hope it's not just a win for me, but for my insanely talented team, and for Indonesian films.
You are the youngest Indonesian director who has competed in the festival, does this add any additional pressure on you?
I feel like this is a rhetorical question. Please excuse me as I find a thousand different ways on how to say "yes".
Can you tell me a little bit about how Srikandi came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
I first started looking into wayang (shadow puppets) because I wanted to go back to my roots as a symptom of being homesick from studying abroad but it grew into so much more. I had been introduced to wayang before as it was so significant to Javanese culture. I learned more about wayang and the myths (lakon), how philosophical they are, and such interesting characters too. The traditional art form is very male-dominated, similar to filmmaking, which is where the personal connection ties in. Which is why in the midst of hundreds of lakon starring male protagonists, the story of Srikandi, a strong female warrior, stood out immediately.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing Srikandi to the screen?
To narrow it down: Casting, location, and global pandemic (lol). Srikandi was originally made through an annual short film competition called Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon and essentially we had 3 weeks to write, shoot, and edit the film. To make things more difficult, we shot it last summer during Covid, and we were limited to 6 people on set including all cast and crew. Shooting in Vancouver, we had difficulty with casting the mom role but also with finding a location here that could play as Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It's almost impossible to find Indonesian actors here, along with the added barrier that the character needs to be fluent in Bahasa Indonesia. I asked around the Indonesian community but no one was up for the challenge until luckily the blessing that is Rina Kusumajuda (or whom I call Aunt Rina) stepped up to the plate and said yes less than a week before production. We didn't have time to rehearse before going to set but she was a natural and I'm grateful until this day for her courage as a non actor.
How important is it for you to use your platform as a filmmaker to explore stories and traditions from your culture and heritage in the medium of film?
I think that's all I aspire to achieve as a filmmaker. Every script I write is stupidly personal and all that I can hope for is that I'm bringing my culture with me.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Okay this is a long story. I've always had an affinity towards the arts since a young age and owe a lot to my father aka my male clone. He taught me Photoshop in 4th grade and for the longest time I wanted to be a graphic designer, just like him. But I also dabbled in painting murals in high school to distract me from the left-brained curriculum. Me and my team would compete in national competitions but there was a moment where there were no mural competitions happening, but there was a short film competition. We said why not and gave it a shot, I mean anything to avoid algebra. We shot during weekends and decided sleep was for the weak, I think our grades might have plummeted but I fell in love. With the process, the ups and downs, everything. Since then, I knew that film was the medium I wanted to explore and to use my voice for.
How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut?
Quite a fair amount. I've grown to think of films as beyond "just" entertainment, but more of a communication tool to educate, but also to learn. We are encouraged to share stories and spark conversations. Genre films are now growing to become a platform to subtly feed the audience political, social, or cultural commentary and I LOVE THAT! It's brilliant and I want to be a part of this movement.
"...that very word–from the Latin “amateur”–“lover” means one who does something for the love of the thing rather than for economic reasons or necessity."
Is there any advice you would offer someone about making their first film?
Make a film that's for YOU and don't be afraid to take risks. Don't make it because you think it might hit a big festival or if that's what the audience wants. As we progress in our filmmaking journeys, it's easy to lose track of why you started doing this and get caught up in climbing the ladder. If I may, I'd like to share an excerpt that was shared to me as well (it puts it way more eloquently than I ever could):
"The major obstacle for amateur filmmakers is their own sense of inferiority vis-a-vis professional productions. The very classification “amateur” has an apologetic ring. But that very word–from the Latin “amateur”–“lover” means one who does something for the love of the thing rather than for economic reasons or necessity. And this is the meaning from which the amateur filmmaker should take his clue. Instead of envying the script and dialogue writers, the trained actors, the elaborate staffs and sets, the enormous production budgets of the professional film, the amateur should make use of the one great advantage which all professionals envy him, namely, freedom–both artistic and physical."
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Srikandi?
I hope to anyone watching this who sees themselves in Anjani, let this be a symbol, to take the first step in forging your own path.