From production to distribution, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly put a damper on the entire chain of the film industry at a global scale. But as UK’s Flatpack and Indonesia’s Sahabat Seni Nusantara (SSN) came to find out, there’s no keeping good cinema down—and certainly not the spirit of those keen to bring it to the masses at a time it was most necessary.
The Urban Legends project kicked off during the long, grim winter of 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic situation in the UK was particularly dire and the novelty of presenting online film events had begun to wear off.
Therefore, for both Flatpack and Sahabat Seni Nusantara (SSN), connecting with one another despite the six-hour time difference and the contrasting weathers—frosty morning in London, sultry afternoon in Jakarta—turned out to be a breath of fresh air.
Through lively, zigzag conversations, they covered the state of filmgoing in their respective countries, horror movies and urban legends, Islamic culture, food, urban planning, and plenty more besides.
Brought together and mediated by SHOUT Festival’s Creative Producer Adam Pushkin, the Flatpack team was able to understand more about the ethos underpinning Indonesia's community film culture, and the way that traditional folklore and Islamic beliefs often intermingle, while SSN learned more about the ins and outs of the Birmingham culture.
As the groups moved into the spring and summer of 2021 and attempted to translate these conversations into concrete activity, things became more difficult. In part this was due to the COVID-19 context: that weird hybrid period when both physical and digital events were in theory possible, but the former were complex and risky, and few people still had appetite for the latter after a long period stuck at home.
Logistics also turned out to be a persistent issue. The lack of available slots at cinemas, the difficulty of viewing or clearing the rights for Indonesian film titles, and the lag in communication were some of the difficulties that arose as all the projects which had been in limbo for a while suddenly came back to life—this situation prompted the groups to run to keep up while also recovering from the shock of the previous year.
However, a host of activities—which included a guest talk by SSN’s Ekky Imanjaya, an online conversation, and a screening of Garin Nugroho’s Memories of My Body—managed to take place in the autumn of 2021. Of his award-winning film and its commingling of religion, culture, gender and sexuality, Garin Nugroho claimed to be inspred by the mixture of Hinduism, Islam and many other religions in Indonesia that underscores the country’s rich history and culture.
“When Memories of My Body was screened in India, they loved it, they said it’s part of [their] history too,” he recalls. “It would be great for the film to create room for discussion among the diverse communities in Birmingham.”
Meanwhile, Ekky Imanjaya noted that his participation in a panel of the Cine Excess festival was part of his mission to promote Indonesian cinema and pop culture as part of global conversations, more specifically the horror genre with a focus on pocong (shroud ghosts).
“These films are still overlooked and shunned by most film scholars, journalists and critics in Indonesia, let alone in global contexts,” he explains. “They underestimate the politics of taste of the audience. [But] the fact that the pocong films were produced massively should highlight something about film consumption and film culture in general.”
Overall, the involvement of Garin Nugroho and Ekky Imanjaya helped highlight the unique cinematic culture in Indonesia—as well as the many cultural contexts that imbue it, specifically in correlation with the Urban Legends theme—and expose it to an audience beyond its geographical borders.
“Indonesia is a diverse country, and in more than 70 years as an independent country, we haven’t had enough films about minorities,” observes Nugroho. “So it’s our duty to develop an atmosphere of diversity, and film is a medium to help develop public discussion [on the subject of diversity].”
While these activities went well despite earlier obstacles, both Flatpack and SSN also agreed that there’s still a lot of room for improvement for future endeavours, particularly in terms of having a project manager to keep things on track and manage conversations on both sides, considering the limitations to a partnership built around Zoom meetings and WhatsApp chats.
Nevertheless, the groups were thrilled by the opportunity to work together and hoped to join forces again in the future for an offline project, where they would be able to meet face-to-face and improve the quality of their collaboration.