Heard it’s Chelsea Islan’s birthday today. Is that apt enough to reminisce the conversation I had with her and veteran Indonesian actor and director, Lukman Sardi in Melbourne last year?
Happy birthday, Chelsea!
My meeting with this beautiful and talented actress was.. out of my expectations. Chelsea was professional, charismatic and fluent in conveying her dreams and passion for Indonesia’s screen culture. I’m impressed by her energy and enthusiasm, and her open and outgoing personality. She was sincere and was easy to connect with.
“May be because we are about the same age (that it’s so comfortable and easier to connect),” she said after the screening of Di Balik 98 in Melbourne.
But, don’t take my word for it. Scroll and read my conversation with her and Lukman Sardi on Di Balik 98. One of the most fun interviews I’ve had to date. I have so much respect for the two of them.
The original published article is available on The AU Review here.
So our conversations began..
Good afternoon Chelsea and Lukman, congratulations for such an internationally recognised project. What attracted you to the story of Di Balik 98?
Lukman: Thank you. For me it’s not only about the historical and political things but more than that. In that story, we have a story about humanity, love, hope and family. If everybody knows in 1998 big things happened like reformation and a lot of people dying. People had hopes but a lot of them could not reach their hopes because of the political situation at that time. That generates my interest to create a film about the humanity and hope of that period.
How about you Chelsea? What makes you interested to take up the role?
Chelsea: I think it’s because the story itself talks about family. In my character’s case, I am an activist and I was enrolled in Trisakti University based on a true story. I am also a demonstrant and actually as a young generation that time we were actually very interested in politics. And in my case, I represent all the kids at that time and they were really against Soeharto our former President. And in that case, may be you should watch the movie. It is actually based on a true story. Everyone can learn from the movie and we are here to educate and inspire people.
I hope that’s exactly what it will do. Chelsea, you mentioned about your character, Diana. What was your preparation and research like to prepare for the role?
Chelsea: I read a lot of books about the tragedy itself and I also learn about how the kids at that time react to this political situation. Aside from reading books, I met a lot of people who were actually involved at that time and they were the former demonstrants and former activists. I also went to the Trisakti University, I learned from them and we learned from each other. They talked about the situation at that time how they were looking at people dying in front of their eyes and how they were actually next to their friends who were dying so I actually learned a lot from them. And from that time, I actually can make myself into the character. I became the character because they inspired me as they talked about the situation at that time. So I did a lot of research not only Internet based but also meeting people face-to-face.
Wow what an extensive research process Chelsea, it’s impressive. Lukman do you think the story of the protests and subsequent actions from the military is still politically sensitive in Indonesia? And is it difficult for you to create such movie?
Lukman: Yes, I think it’s still a sensitive topic for a movie especially when you look at what happened in 1998. It has been 16 years since the incident and people are still talking about it. What’s more is that the truth is still like a shadow and it is still mysterious, we don’t know it and that makes it very sensitive.
There are a lot of stories and assumptions about 1998 like who did it, who created it and a lot more other things. That’s why when I did the movie; I actually struggled quite a bit especially with things that involve military. For instance when I need to shoot at the military base, I need a permit and they just reacted like, “What do you want to make? I need to know everything.” And then one day before shooting they cancelled it. The plan was to have 100 military men with rifle but one day before shooting they cancelled so I needed to change everything on that day. It’s that challenging but we must start it. If we don’t start, we’ll always be like this forever. Let’s see in about 2 to 3 years hopefully there will be changes.
You know even the story I explained in this film is only fiction based on the historical and political facts, which only take about 20 to 30 percent of the narrative.
Yes, I personally like how you portray the different perspectives on the tragedy. Usually documentaries would only focus on the victims but lack of exploration on the activists’ perspectives and lives. Your focus on humanity is outstanding and refreshing.
Lukman: Yes, like I mentioned before the film focuses on humanity.
Chelsea: I agree, the film has multiple plots and perspectives.
Lukman and Chelsea, can you tell us more about the most challenging scene to shoot and the one you enjoyed the most?
Lukman: For me all is difficult [laughs]. It is like my first baby you know so I want everything to be detailed and perfect but sometimes you know we have a wet weather condition or like I said before we had permit issues as well but thankfully we have a good teamwork and we worked well together.
Chelsea: For me actually everything is hard because I need to struggle just like how my character is struggling for the situation and for her own family. There was the time, if you have watched the movie, she can’t contact her family. She was out of reach from her family and I think that part is actually quite emotional. So the movie is like a rollercoaster you know, it brings you up and down. For me, I have to struggle just like Diana.
So how is the role different from your previous roles in Street Society and Merry Riana?
Chelsea: It is really different because in Street Society I became 2 characters, she was a little bit crazy; and in Merry Riana it was a biopic so I had to study from the real person Ms Merry Riana. Actually in Merry Riana it also tells the story about 1998. In her case she was the minority but in Di Balik 98 I became the pribumi or the majority in Indonesia. So I actually had the chance to become 2 different characters during the same era, 1998.
I see, that must be a wonderful experience for you Chelsea. Lukman, you have had a long career in Indonesian cinema.
Lukman: Oh yeah? [All laughs]
Of course, you have been highly regarded in Indonesian film industry. How have you seen the Indonesian film industry change over your career?
Lukman: [laughs] When I talk about the film industry in Indonesia, for me there are quite few important things because you know I first started in the industry when I was 7 years old.
I see that the film industry in Indonesia is growing – people are becoming more aware of the local film scene and more talents are emerging in the industry. But I think the most important thing we must push is working together with the government to better improve and grow the Indonesian film industry and promote it to the world.
Right now the film industry does not receive much attention from the government and the government is not involved that much when it comes to the film industry probably because they think it is only art and do not see it as something that will bring a lot of revenue to the country. So we are trying to raise government awareness that our film industry could in fact generate high revenue and contribute to Indonesia’s growing economy. We need good regulations to protect Indonesian films and everything.
Chelsea: Yes, that’s right. So we actually need support from the government.
Definitely, I hope with the formation of Badan Perfilman Indonesia (Indonesian Film Association) we will be able to see more support from the government.
Lukman & Chelsea: Yes, we hope so too.
What messages do you both want the Australian audience to take away from this film?
Lukman: May be some Australian audience might have seen and heard about the 1998 tragedy from the news and I hope when they see the film they can understand about the situation and what happened in Indonesia at that time better. I hope they can relate to it, become engaged and perhaps be more involved after seeing the movie. I hope they will go home and think about the situation and the humanity aspects of it. Also, I hope they will realize that this should not happen again to anyone anywhere around the globe not only Indonesia, because it’s not good.
Chelsea: For me, I think it’s for the Australians to learn about Indonesian culture and Indonesian history so it’s not only us who learn from the Australians but also we want the Australians to learn from us. In fact, not only for Australians but for people around the world, hopefully. We really want people to know more about Indonesia.
My last question is what’s next for both of you? What’s on the horizon in 2015?
Lukman: I have a plan to produce a movie but not being an actor or being a director. I plan to release something may be at the end of the year.
Chelsea: For me hopefully there is another movie, unfortunately I can’t discuss the title and details.
Lukman: Well, I can say it [All laughs]. You can’t say it but I can say it [All laughs].
Chelsea: Should we mention it? [laughs] It’s still confidential but 2 months from now you will know it already.
Lukman: It’s a great story and a great movie.
Of course, we can’t wait to hear about it. Thank you very much both of you for your time. Best wishes for your future films and I hope to see you and your films again at next year’s Indonesian Film Festival.
Chelsea: Yes, thank you very much. Amen, your prayer is much appreciated. Good luck
Lukman: Amen, thank you.
So what’s next?
Lukman Sardi and Chelsea Islan were proud supporters of Indonesian Film Festival Australia 2015. Find out more about the festival at www.iffaustralia.com. The two have been busy with their individual projects. I’m pretty sure their future projects would be as inspiring and interesting, too. Their pride for Indonesian film industry truly showed in our conversations. Certainly hope to see their undying passion continue showcasing Indonesian culture at world’s stage for a long long time.