By Eric Sasono, Film critic

23 June 2016 - 22:20

Indonesian delegates for Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016. (Left: Hanifah Makarim, Fajar Hutomo, Alia Damaihati) (Right: Eric Sasono, Mandy Marahimin, Suryani Liauw) ©

Eric Sasono

What was an Indonesian film delegation doing in Sheffield?

Why did an Indonesian delegation go to the 2016 Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, when there were no Indonesian films being shown there or even seeking funding?*

Amanda Marahimin, Suryani Liauw, Alia Damaihati and I went with our combined funds. The British Council paid our lodging and an allowance. Creative Economy Agency Bekraf provided Mandy, Suryani and Alia with travel expenses; I bought my own train ticket.

Apart from us, Levina Wirawan from the British Council was also there to facilitate us while in Sheffield, as well as two people from Bekraf: Fajar Hutomo (Deputy for Funding Access) and Hanifah Makarim (Head of the Community Fund Subdirectorate).

As far as I could remember, this was the first time such a large Indonesian delegation had attended a documentary film festival with no Indonesian films being shown or taking part in the pitching forum. Mandy confirmed this; documentary filmmakers typically do the festival circuit on their own, picking up funds wherever they can.

Why did the British Council support this visit?

Jane Showell from the British Council in London said that the decision to fund part of our travel expenses was made after listening to input from the Indonesian Industry on the position of documentary films, which have always been on the margins of the sector. Since documentary films are among the fields included in the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Indonesian governments, it was felt necessary to support activities related to documentary films.

Furthermore, the British Council has its own agenda which she felt was a perfect match with this festival in Sheffield. Jane mentioned that the British Council Indonesia is putting special attention on the themes of development of digital technology, access for the disabled people, and involvement of youth as priorities.

She also noted the strength of several projects being presented in the Alternate Reality showcase at Sheffield 2016 is ideally suited to aims of the programme. Specifically, she mentioned two virtual reality projects called “Note on Blindness” (about a person’s gradual journey into blindness) and “In My Shoes” (about the experience of a person with epilepsy).

She saw the possibility of bringing these two projects to be presented in Jakarta. Jane hoped that there would also be projects related to the use of digital technology and access for the disabled people from this visit to Sheffield.

Fajar Hutomo from Bekraf at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016
Fajar Hutomo from Bekraf (Badan Ekonomi dan Kreatif) said that he's ready to support the development of Indonesia's documentary film ecosystem. ©

Eric Sasono

How can you build an 'ecosystem' for funding documentary film?

Fajar Hutomo from Bekraf said that their main reason for going was to study the system for funding of documentary films and, as he explained it to me, he wanted to study how to build an ecosystem for documentary films.

So far, the most important thing is to build an ecosystem. If there’s funding from the government, that can be the seed capital so that it can grow into an industry. How to ensure that there’s a guaranteed supply of talent, constantly available and constantly improving in quality, and how they can meet the market, and also exhibitions – those are the things we need so that it can thrive on its own.” - Fajar Hutomo.

Fajar also asserted that Bekraf is prepared to provide greater support. This is shown by their involvement in the festival, as well as the funding support for travel expenses for the delegation from Indonesia. Also, to help mobilise the parties that will be involved in events such as the documentary film pitching forum, Bekraf expects to be able to do that this year.

"I’d like to see the atmosphere here captured in Indonesia. There’s pitching, mentoring, master classes – these would be very helpful." Fajar said.

Reacting to the Bekraf statement, documentary film producer Suryani Liauw said that as a documentary filmmaker, she feels she has done her duty.

"We in In-Docs have created the 'Dare to Dream' program to choose filmmakers and bring in mentors for production and financing. Now we’re just waiting for Bekraf to play its role to bring in financiers to participate in the pitching forum in our activities,” said Suryani.

Mandy Marahimin said that the initiative by Bekraf is important and deserves appreciation. Nevertheless, she noted that the problems of documentary films in Indonesia are very complex. A film may be well produced but still fail to achieve adequate distribution and appreciation.

“In fact, this is very important so that filmmakers can keep making more films without depending on access constantly being provided by the government,” she added.

Furthermore, Mandy said that Indonesian audiences are not used to watching documentary films.

“Never mind watching documentary films like those shown in Sheffield, even fiction films may face difficulties due to people’s habit of watching Indonesian television programs, whose visual language is so crude.”

“There’s still a lot of homework to be done,” Mandy concluded.


*Daniel Ziv’s project entitled Hijab Nation was officially chosen to be peddled in the meat market to seek a funder; he went there with his own funds for this purpose.

Disclosure of potential conflict of interest: The British Council paid for my hotel and provided an allowance while I was in Sheffield. I am also a member of the board of directors of In-Docs who is not directly involved in operations but provides input for the In-Docs program.

Read more stories from Sheffield by Eric Sasono