Saturday, April 19, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday, April 19, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, the Netherlands

Tati Wirahadiraksa could not hide her excitement upon hearing her documentary film had been chosen to be screened at the Amsterdam CinemAsia Film Festival recently.

The festival, which screens more than 50 films from countries all over the world, showcases flourishing talent that crosses both geographical and cultural borders.

"I think they (Asian films) are underrepresented (here). That is why I like to make my contribution," Tati told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview at Rialto cinema in southern Amsterdam.

Her documentary film, Images from Another World, is about a Chinese-Indonesian woman who migrated from Indonesia to the Netherlands. The woman, Anita Lim, struggled to discover her own identity as an Asian-Dutch woman.

The story depicts how Lim, amid her own personal struggles in reshaping her own cultural identity, created choreography through the improvisation of Chinese calligraphy.

Two other Dutch filmmakers with an affinity for Asian communities, Hesdy Lonwijk and Vivian Wenli Lin, also participated in the festival. Their pieces were expected to help shore up Asian-Dutch representation in the Dutch film and television industry.

Successful Asian-Dutch film directors -- like Yan Ting Yuen, Fow Pyng Hu and In-Soo Radstake -- do exist in the country, but their numbers are dwindling.

Some believe this is not only due to prejudices still lingering among film industry executives, but also because many Asian-Dutch youths prefer careers that are deemed to have "better" job prospects, such economics or computer science, over film.

"The festival had a lot of publicity and visitors ... it represented our statement of 'making films in the context of the Asian diaspora'," Tati said.

She said it was not easy to make it in the film industry here.

"There are many who want their product shown and there is only limited space, but I am sure that if a film or documentary is good, it will find its way to (reach) an audience.

"I am focusing on making something good, something worthwhile, something with my whole heart," she said.

Tati's interest in multicultural theater and film is inseparable from the fact that she grew up in a mixed family. Half-Dutch, half-Indonesian, Tati has been a multicultural theater enthusiast since she was young.

Born on Sept. 22, 1967 in Amsterdam, Tati studied psychology at Amsterdam University. However, after one year she just could not resist her passion and decided to switch to theater studies at the same university, where she graduated in 1994.

She immersed herself in the study of multicultural theater and her passion was manifested in her thesis, which was an exploration of the government subsidy on multicultural theaters in the Netherlands.

"After the 1980s, the government began to provide earmarked subsidies to non-Dutch theater," said Tati, whose father hails from Bandung, West Java.

Tati said "non-Dutch" people were those living in the Netherlands who were mostly Moroccan, Turk and Surinamese descendants whose cultures and traditions were overshadowed by liberal European-Dutch culture.

She said their history in the Netherlands -- a multicultural society -- can be traced back to the 1950-60s when the country was experiencing a shortage of cheap laborers.

"The Netherlands attracted people from countries like Morocco and Turkey. We also have people from former colonies living here, like Indonesia and Suriname, and we have economic and politic refugees from all over the world. So there are many people living here for many reasons," Tati said.

Tati said she had worked for several theater groups, including Diagonaal, Monsterverbond, Toneelgroep Ceremonia and Untold (1992-2005).

When asked about the current state of the Netherlands as a multicultural society, which many deem as a failure here, Tati said: "That is a very complex matter. Unfortunately (now) there are many people thinking differently who see (other) people a threat to their lives. There is the huge problem of misunderstanding and not knowing each other well, which creates a climate of racism. I am not happy with that.”

"On the other hand, I see a lot of good things happening. We are living in a global world and people have to get used to the idea that boundaries and borders are not so restricted anymore as they were before," she said, adding film could become a medium by which to promote understanding among people.

After studying theater at the Mime-School of the Arts for a year, Tati continued her studies at the Open Studio and Media Academy where she learned more about film editing in 2003.

She completed an editing apprenticeship at the Dutch television station Nederlandse Christelijke Radio Vereniging.

She later edited for documentaries such as Undocumented (about a Ghanaian pastor who works with illegal people, shown in the internationally respected de Balie theater), Urban Lifestyle (about an urban youth program, shown on The Box television station) and Memento Mori (a documentary from Saskia Vredeveld about the work of photographer Roger Ballen).

Tati also worked for Noord Holland radio and TV, editing news and various programs.

Moving from theater to filmmaking was a challenging undertaking, but she said there were some constructive overlaps.

Asked about her upcoming projects, the mother of one said she aimed to produce a documentary on Indonesian people from a different angle, "telling about their loss and struggle during colonialism and how they managed to win their independence".

"Because such a story is seldom told here ... many times the stories are (merely) about people who moved to the Netherlands after Indonesia's independence," Tati said.

Other stories, she said, are even trapped in the stereotypical portrayal of the "alien and exotic" depiction of Indonesian people and their islands.

Tati, whose favorite genre of music is soul, indie and reggae, believes film can serve as a mode by which to appreciate more of what is evolving now in both countries, in the area of arts, religion, politics, youth culture and other contemporary aspects of society.

"Holland and Indonesia have a partially shared history, but we don't hear much of Indonesia in the media here nowadays. I think film can be one of the means by which to get to know each other better."


First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday, April 19, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Amsterdam

It was timely for the "CinemAsia" film festival to screen Asian movies in the Netherlands (April 2-13) -- a country where multiculturalism has recently faced a deep crisis due to Geert Wilders' anti-Islam movie.

With Indonesian Joko Anwar's thriller Kala and Dimas Djayadiningrat's jesting comedy Quickie Express participating in the festival, it was hopefully an eye-opener for Dutch society to see the Southeast Asian country with the largest Muslim population in the world bring the once taboo topics of sex and homosexuality to the big screen.

The festival, which screened more than 50 films from countries spanning the globe, offered rare evidence of booming talent which is crossing cultural and geographic borders.

"Asian cinema used to be so ethnocentric -- Japanese films were made with Japanese actors in Japan," festival director Doris Yeung told The Jakarta Post.

Now, beside films produced in home countries, the Asian diaspora are working industriously to depict a cultural intersection of dilemma and stereotypes, as insightful stories to be told to the world.

This is not to reinforce the Asian stereotypes such as Chinese cooks or martial arts practitioners, but rather to contribute to a more nuanced, less stereotypical depiction of Asian communities living outside Asia.

"Because of this, CinemAsia FilmLab offered three young talented Dutch filmmakers with Asian backgrounds an opportunity to present their work at the festival," CinemAsia board member Reza Kartose said.

He referred to Tati Wirahadiraksa, Hesdy Lonwijk and Vivian Wenli Lin.

Tati Wirahadiraksa, who is half-Indonesian and half-Dutch, directed a documentary titled Images from Another World. The film is about a Chinese-Indonesian woman who migrated to the Netherlands from Indonesia, struggling to reshape her own Asian-Dutch identity.

Efforts to deconstruct the stereotypes were even evident on the very first day, with the screening of slapstick comedy Finishing the Game by Justin Lin (U.S.). Lin directed a mockumentary of the making of The Game of Death, Bruce Lee's final film.

Set in the 1970s, he satirizes the typecasting of Asians in film by humorously showcasing the troubles encountered in the making of the film. Everybody -- tall, short, even Caucasian -- has an equal opportunity to become "Bruce Lee".

"I was happy to take part in it because I didn't need to master kung fu," main actor Roger Fan said (followed by audience laughter) during a Q&A session after the screening.

The second day presented Dark Matter (Chen Shi-zheng, U.S./China), The Most Distant Course (Iin jin jie, Taiwan) and The Drummer (Kenneth, Hong Kong/Taiwan).

Dark Matter is about sharp Chinese physics student Xing's research -- which leads him to a snare of academic resentment at an American university. The Most Distant Course tells a story of a young Taiwanese man who sends his lover tapes of sounds he records on his journeys through stunning Taiwan scenery. The Drummer is about a man who takes up Chinese Zen drumming.

The third day screened a moving documentary, China's Stolen Children (Jezza Neumann (China/U.K.), comedy Getting Home (Zhang Yang, China), Hong Kong style action romance Blood Brothers (Alexie Tan, Hong Kong) and a Japanese night life tale The Great Happiness Space --Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (Jake Clennell, Japan).

The fourth day saw a Taiwanese interpretation of the classic French film Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (Hou Hsiano Hsien, France/Taiwan) and a Japanese drama AYSL -- Park and Love Hotel (Izuru Kamasaka, Japan).

The fifth day presented CinemAsia Mix Shorts and CinemaAsiaFilmLab, which included the documentary, Images from Another World.

Indonesia's short 10-minute flick, The Matchmaker, directed by Cinzia Puspita Rini was also shown on the eleventh day.

And the closing day honored Indonesia's Kala and Quickie Express. Kala, which has been screened at 27 film festivals all over the world, is considered the country's first futuristic noir thriller.

"Kala is superb, and demonstrates that Indonesia's movies have the potential to compete with Western movies," movie enthusiast Matthias Fischer said.

Quickie Express, which is about a male escort service company, made audiences laugh at every turn.

"It would delight Dutch audiences here ... Quickie Express should be shown in commercial theaters," said Felicitas Speth von Schulzburg, from the International Performing Arts Institute.

Kala's director, Joko Anwar, said he would be pleased if his movie could penetrate the market here.

"But it would me more effective for Indonesian film makers to collect their energy together, rather than going to film festivals individually, which seems to be the case now," said Ekky Imanjaya from Amsterdam University's Department of Media and Culture.

Djauhari Oratmangun, from the Indonesian Embassy (which also supported the festival as part of the Visit Indonesia 2008 campaign) said the embassy was more than ready to facilitate a large Indonesian film festival in the Netherlands -- an opportunity which should be tapped by Indonesia's film industry.

Asked whether Asian movies can penetrate the Dutch mainstream film culture, Martin Egter from television outlet NOS Journaal said there is still a gap between Asian and Dutch movies.

"Only those who can feel the pulse of Asian cultures will enjoy their movies," he said.

"So, we need more rigorous promotion," said Hong Kong-born Dutch actor Aaron Wan, adding that the festival contributed to the endorsement of Asian movies within the Netherlands' increasingly multicultural society.

Friday, April 04, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday, April 05, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

When my colleagues invited me on a tour of the Van Gogh Museum, I immediately accepted the invitation. I have always wanted to see Vincent van Gogh's original masterpieces that symbolized the important junctures of his life -- from his artistic development, sorrowful romance and illness to his suicide.

The museum attracts around one million visitors annually from all over the world. It houses 200 paintings, almost 500 drawings, four sketchbooks and 800 letters.

With headphones, visitors can be guided on an audio tour that passes almost every painting in the museum and other art collections.

On the first floor, I was met with an assortment of Van Gogh's paintings displayed in a chronologic order. The second floor of the museum offers provisional educational presentations, including subjects on restitution research and works on paper. The third and ground floors display a 19th century art collection.

The museum also houses a restaurant and shop that sells memorabilia from books and replicas of paintings to cups featuring Van Gogh's image.

However, it was the journey to episodes of his life and his artistic development that deeply thrilled me.

Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853, in Groot Zundert, the Netherlands. He left school at the age of 15 and never returned.

No one thought he was gifted enough to become an artist at the age of 27. Yet, after ten years he had produced 800 paintings and more than 1,000 drawings, as well as sketches and watercolor pieces.

Unlike Indonesian painter Raden Saleh, who received lessons from several patrons in Europe, or Basuki Abdullah, who received formal training in The Hague, Van Gogh was mostly self-taught. He merely joined a number of lessons at art academies, read textbooks and received guidance from artist colleagues.

During a 19-month stormy relationship with Clasina Maria Hoornik -- a pregnant, unmarried woman with a young daughter -- his talent evolved quickly. His paintings during this time reflected a deep sense of anguish and personal emotion.

In Nuenen, he painted working farmers and weavers with their looms. In 1882 he started using oil paints, which he used mostly in the coming year. During the winter of 1884-1885, he captured farmers and their wives in more than 40 paintings, before producing his first large famous piece The Potato Eaters.

Upon the invitation of his brother and art dealer Theo, Vincent lived in Paris from 1886-1888. Unable to afford models, he used his own face to trial colors and painting techniques. His canvases were covered with small speckles and lines in light, dazzling colors, resulting in 27 self-portraits.

He moved to the southern French town of Arles in February 1888, searching for inspiration from the landscape and light. He rented a house (which he later painted as The Yellow House), aspiring to establish an artists' settlement with Paul Gauguin and other painters.

But in December 1888, a quarrel sparked and Van Gogh angrily cut off a piece of his own ear. It was later discovered that he suffered from epilepsy.

In April 1889, he was treated in a mental clinic in Saint-Remy. He painted everything there -- the rooms, other patients, the corridors and the garden. Sometimes he worked outdoors on landscapes characterized by cypress and olive trees.

He later lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, an artist's village near Paris, after leaving the clinic in May 1890. Van Gogh produced portraits of Paul Gachet, a doctor who was also an art collector, and his daughter as payment for the medical treatment he received.

From then on, Vincent continued to suffer from depression. This culminated with Theo opting to quit his job to establish his own business.

Vincent shot himself in the chest with a revolver on July 27, 1890. He died two days later with his brother by his side. He was refused burial in the cemetery of the Catholic Church of Auvers, but burial was eventually allowed in the nearby township of Méry with a funeral held on July 30.

Theo inherited a large art collection that Vincent had sent him as compensation for financial support. But Theo died six months later, so it was Theo's widow, Jo van Gogh-Bongar, who acquired the collection.

The pieces at the core of this museum make it a fine record of Van Gogh's brilliant works of art and his dramatic life story.

Some of the artist's paintings might also be found in Indonesia, given its colonial history. Nonetheless, so far only one of Van Gogh's pieces has reportedly been found in Indonesia -- The Crocus Flowers, which belongs to Mr. Rudy Mulyono (it was acquired by his art-loving father long ago).