Yulia Evina Bhara (Photo: doc. private)

Through her movie, she reintroduces to Indonesian youth a hero who fought with simple words.

Retno Wulandari   05 February 2017 09:10

“Like flowers. We are the flowers, you do not wish to grow. You would prefer to build houses and seize lands.”

That’s a couplet of Bunga dan Tembok, one Wiji Thukul’s poems that is sung tenderly, as an impressive closing of Istirahatlah Kata-kata (previously known as Solo, Solitude), a film about a piece of the poet’s life in his escape to Pontianak as the New Order regime’s fugitive. Wiji was one of the pro-democracy activists during Soeharto’s reign. No one knows his whereabouts after he was allegedly abducted in 1998, only three days before Soeharto stepped down.

Praised by many and commended as one of Indonesia’s best films in 2016, Istirahatlah Kata-kata had impressed international community before even screened in Indonesia. The movie has been taken to several film fests and competitions, such as Locarno IFF 2016 Cineasti del Presente Competition, Vladivostok IFF Pacific Meridian 2016, Busan IFF 2016 A Window of Asian Cinema, QCinema IFF 2016, Festival of 3 Continents 2016 in Nantes, France, International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherland, and Filmfest Hamburg in Germany. The film managed to win the Golden Hanoman Award in Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (JAFF) 2016.

We met producer Yulia Evina Bhara and talk about this film.

Amongst many activists of 1997-1998, why did you choose Wiji Thukul?

Wiji Thukul was just an ordinary man with extraordinary action. He was so honest in protesting the government at that time, protesting against the inequality and injustice. He was one of those people who opened the tap of democracy in Indonesia. Recording his story is just the same as recording our own history.

Through his story, we tried to reach to the young generation so that they can recognize and embrace Wiji Thukul as one of our heroes. We also want to make people remember that the democracy we’re enjoying today is a result of a long journey full of struggle and sacrifice. I believe that Wiji Thukul is a special figure who belongs in the hearts of many people.

In your opinion, why activists like Wiji Thukul, who didn’t even come from a well educated or influential family, could be a threat to the New Order regime?

During that time, democracy is basically dead. People were kept silent, but then they eventually woke up and got the power to speak up and challenge the New Order. Through words, Wiji Thukul moved people and made them question the injustice. 

His poems are simple yet straightforward. His down-to-earth words were easily accepted by the society. And in every demonstration against the regime back then, his words were always taken to the streets, screamed by fellow activists. The government was afraid because the poems burned people’s spirit to rise up and fight.

Prior to the making of the movie, how did you do the research? What were the challenges?

We’re going through 1.5 years of research and script writing. It began with literary research where we read dozens of books and clippings of old newspapers, including old Tempo magazine with Thukul as the main feature. We also got much information from Ihio University. They have many newspapers clipping and reviews of Wiji Thukul’s poems.

We also met his friends in solo, while he was in People's Democratic Party (PRD), and fellow activists, such as Indra Kusuma, Vije, Raharja Waluya Jati, Nining, Lilik HS.

We also worked intensely with his family, and finally talked to Jaap Erkelens, his best friend who wrote an open letter in Kompas on Feb. 18, 2000, questioning Wiji Thukul's whereabouts. From them, we heard a complete story about Thukul’s life and information about the real situation during the New Order.

We found out that activists movements by then were highly structured, well organized, and well documented. For example, in every demonstration, they have a person whose job was taking a note of every single detail and the chronology, minute by minute. Even until today, we can still read about those actions.

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