She goes by the name Dini, rhyming with Yuni like one of her latest movies. Kamila Andini is a director and writer that depicts Indonesian women in her movies. Known for movies that engage deeply with the cultural context, Kamila Andini sat down with us to share her creative process and her perspective on representing Indonesian women and the complexity of patriarchal society in movies.
The main characters in your movies are usually women, from Laut Bercermin, Yuni, to Nana, what drives you to tell their stories?
It happened unconsciously, actually. When I made the first two films (Laut Bercermin and Sekala dan Niskala), although the main characters were children, I felt like there should be a woman character to be there to express ideas that are relatable to me as a woman myself. Along the journey, their voice has become essential because there are many women characters in Indonesian movies but they don’t actually represent women. It also gives a diverse representation; such as, usually to have a heroine, women are portrayed as a “strong” person. To me, it doesn’t resonate with who I am. I’m emotional, I need time to process feelings. As an Asian woman, I grew up in a patriarchal society. We’re not confrontative, we’re not blunt. We are not used to being decisive because most decisions are taken by a male figure in our family. So it’s not easy for us to be like the women portrayed in Hollywood movies; outspoken and bold. We have our own characters, textures, and strength. That’s what I want to explore in my movies; how we find our own strength.
In one media, you were talking about the challenge of writing about Southeast Asian women. Could you please elaborate that?
It’s not easy to talk about Southeast Asian women because of their role and position in society. Sendiri Diana Sendiri tells a story of a woman whose husband cheated on her. It tells a long winding story of how she needs to make a decision. It looks so complex to just come to one decision; to divorce or not. As an Indonesian woman, our decision is not just ours; it ripples to our family and children. It’s difficult to claim our own decision. Now, it’s much more progressive, but this is still the reality of many women in Indonesia. It is challenging to see this perspective from Western point of view. That’s why there should be discussion of how far we have become and which parts that we, as Indonesian women, are still struggling with.
What’s the challenge to tell a story from the perspective of Indonesian women?
We’re used to watching Hollywood movies,cause the lack of diversity for us to see our identity. As Indonesian, a country with a majority of Muslims, we do not see much of films from Muslim countries or even other Southeast Asian movies. Through films, we can see how our and others’ identities are reflected. This identity is reflected in how relationships are formed amongst people. My movies are part of my mission to find these forms, because it’s always related to the environment where the character lives. In every culture and ethnicity in Indonesia, they have different forms of relation in couples, mothers and daughters, and families.
Your films show the diversity of each region and ethnicity in Indonesia, is there any reason behind this?
Indonesia is such a diverse place and I want to show it through visuals, audio, even the fashion, weathers, seasons, and languages. It’s important for my character to talk in their mother tongue. There’s a certain gesture when they talk in their mother tongue – maybe your gesture would look bolder, because some languages have higher and harsher intonation or even through the word of choice. These are the small textures that I want to show. It’s so different when you compare to them speaking Indonesian during the reading process as the accent just switches to Jakarta Indonesian with its particular gesture. I think mother tongue language is an irreplaceable element. Then there is also body language. Like in Sekala and Niskala, I learned that as Indonesians, we do not express our thoughts verbally – instead we communicate through movements; dances and prayers. So movements are crucial in Sekala and Niskala.
The actresses are mostly from Jakarta, though. What are the challenges?
That makes the whole process become longer and more complex. In my movies, we always work together with the local language community. In Yuni we work together with Jaseng community, in Nana we work with Sundanese community. They translate the script and mentor the actress and actors; they also get the chance to live-in with locals. Last, the mentors are always next to me throughout the shooting process. So if the shoot is good to me, but if the language is not spoken as it should be according to them, we have to retake it. It’s complicated but it’s a pleasant complexity.
What’s the most fun part of your creative process in recent years?
I write my own movies so I need to do the research myself. It takes a lot of going out there and observing to experience and get all the elements.
Such as how the people dress up, how they communicate with each other, or like in Nana, bamboo takes a huge space because that’s the landscape of West Java or the juxtaposition in Yuni because you can see rice paddies next to a factory in Serang or the damp hot weather in Serang that affects how they dress up. Details like these can only be found when you go jalan-jalan. This is my favorite part of the process, that’s why it could take me up to 3 years to write the movie.
It takes a lot of observation and when you’re a director, you need to observe – always. Because at the end of the day, you’re always questioning; Oh, where should these two characters meet up? How should they respond to this question? How’s their upbringing that leads them to responding like that? How’s their body language? Those are the questions to develop one scene that we work on together with the team and with the actors. That makes producing a movie takes time, but there are also movie productions that are done so fast that they have no time to answer all of these questions.
What motivates you to stay creative?
Collaboration. I know that I have a good plan, but I also know that it will be a much better plan when we work together with my team. Trying to put the puzzle pieces together excites me to stay creative. I believe that we grow through collaboration and cinema also allows me to make it my playground for me to always grow.
Support system plays a big role for a creative person. How’s yours?
This is a very important thing for women. I’m very privileged to have a family (both my parents and my in-laws) and a team that understands my dream and my role as a director, a woman, a daughter, and also a mother – after all.
My mother and my husband trusted me to go to Timor Leste when I was 8 month pregnant, they trusted me to bring my two year olds to the rice paddies when we were shooting for Sekala dan Niskala.
There was a time when I wanted to stop making films after having my baby, then I did not make any film for a year. But then there was an offer to make a short film (Sendiri Diana Sendiri). I had to tell the whole crew before the filming process that they are working with a mother and a director, so there would be many things to adjust. Luckily, most of the crews were women. I almost cried when I sat on the director’s seat on the first day of shooting because I knew that I loved cinema that much.
Any words to say for girls who aspire to be filmmakers?
When I stepped into this industry, I did not have any fear at all. I knew that I would make it because women play a big role in our film industry. There was Christine Hakim when Indonesian cinema was “in a coma”. During the reformation, there were Mira Lesmana and Nia Dinata that changed the whole landscape. But the most important thing is the support system. You have to be assertive and let the people around you know about your dreams.