Front Row, Jakarta – Cinephiles converged upon The Jakarta Post Building last week for a series of movie screenings and discussions as the newspaper wrapped up the first of two weeks of celebrations for its 40th anniversary.
From Friday to Sunday, The Jakarta Post screened four movies in the evening, showcasing portrayals of Indonesian journalism and politics on the silver screen.
The first movie screened was Gie, a 2005 biopic directed by Riri Riza starring Nicholas Saputra as the Chinese-Indonesian activist Soe Hok Gie. Based on the real life activist's compiled diary Catatan Seorang Demonstran (Notes From a Demonstrator), the movie portrays the nature-loving student's formative years in university as he navigates the political intrigue of Indonesia's turbulent 1960s.
Saturday evening brought a double feature of Secangkir Kopi Pahit (A Cup of Bitter Coffee) followed by Kejarlah Daku... Kau Kutangkap (Chase Me and I'll Catch You), two classics from the 1980s that show slices of life of Indonesian journalists, albeit with two very different approaches and subjects.
Directed by Teguh Karya, the 1985 Secangkir Kopi Pahit tells the story of Togar (Alex Komang), a student from North Sumatra arriving in Jakarta expecting to make it big in the capital. After landing a job as a reporter, his lack of journalistic talent causes more problems in his life.
Meanwhile, Kejarlah Daku... Kau Kutangkap from 1986 is a romantic comedy that brings together bank employee Mona (Lidya Kandouw) and reporter Ramadhan (Deddy Mizwar), whose paths cross unexpectedly when a picture of Mona taken by Ramadhan without permission ends up in the papers.
Closing the week on Sunday was A Copy of My Mind by Joko Anwar, which contrasts an urban love story between salon worker Sari (Tara Basro) and Alex (Chicco Jerikho), a pirated DVD subtitle maker, with a tempestuous presidential election in Indonesia, where the seedy underbelly of political crime ensnares the duo inadvertently.
A reunion of critics
Prior to the screening of A Copy of My Mind, four of the Post's former film critics convened for an impromptu reunion and discussion of the film criticism scene in Indonesia, as well as some of their own transitions into the film industry.
Film criticism is an integral part of the media, and The Jakarta Post is no exception. After all, filmmaker Joko Anwar himself got his start in the industry after a stint as a film critic for the Post.
Joko was joined by Magdalene.co cofounder and managing editor Hera Diani, actor and author Rizal Iwan, as well as fellow filmmaker and actor Paul Agusta. They each gave their perspectives on Indonesian film criticism along with explanations of their own roots.
Paul, who moderated the session, noted that the Post had a reputation for having a sharp tongue in its film criticism, while Hera recalled being in the same batch of reporters with Joko, with him covering movies while she took an interest in music criticism.
Joko, who noted that he had been writing film reviews since his high school days, said he always wanted to become a filmmaker. However, his initial applications to production houses were not successful, so he went for the next best thing: becoming a film journalist.
After landing a job at the Post, Joko found that journalists didn't have the luxury of covering whatever topics they liked, so he eventually took on other assignments like covering general crime at the National Police headquarters.
"I eventually wrote a review for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which impressed my editor enough to land me a column called 'Now Playing – Still Showing' and allowed me to watch two to three movies each week for free," he said.
After a while, Joko asked his editor whether he could write exclusively about movies. When the answer turned out to be "no", he resigned but kept on writing the column as a freelance reporter. And the rest, they say, is Indonesian cinematic history.