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."

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