Reading Indonesia

Indonesia Council

Garin Nugoroho, Independent Filmaker

As a filmmaker, to create art is akin to mapping my thoughts and feelings about Indonesia’s social and political condition. Creating narrative film, documentary or theatre is like reading a condensed version of ‘Indonesia’ from a personal perspective. The films and theatre productions I created between 1991 to 2020 emerged from Indonesia’s diverse historical and contemporary context. Yet, they tend to share similar subject matter, namely an engagement with topics which are considered to be sensitive or taboo in Indonesia. For example, Puisi Tak Terkuburkan [The Poet, 1999] is about an Acehnese poet who witnessed the anti-communist killings of 1965-66; Mata Tertutup [The Blindfold, 2011] talks about the dangerous lure of Islamic radicalism faced by young Indonesians; Nyai: A Woman from Java (2018) based during the Dutch East Indies period in the 1920s is about a woman’s struggle to maintain her independence; Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku [Memories of My Body, 2019] speaks about the challenges of expressing non-normative gender identity in Indonesia. And more recently, The Planet: A Lament (2020) is a multi-disciplinary performance that speaks about climate change from the perspective of Eastern Indonesia.

The keynote lecture will reflect on the challenges artists and filmmakers face producing work that deals with sensitive subject matter. We are currently in era when the international film circuit is demanding a localised framing of the subject, yet local filmmakers may still face the challenges of market domination and censorship from radical elements in their home country. The lecture will discuss the strategies to navigate these challenges through building an understanding of the specific market, adapting with the ever-changing technology and younger audience and most importantly, the power of storytelling. Films and other art forms now face a huge task in connecting to the audience in relation to some of the urgent issues facing our world, from democratic regression to climate change. What role can arts and activism play in bringing change and hope? How can an Indonesian perspective contribute to building resilient and tolerant communities in future Asias?


Born in Jogjakarta, Indonesia in 1961 and completed his studies in 1985 at the film academy in Jakarta. Garin Nugroho is considered to be a pioneer of a new generation of Indonesian filmmakers from the 1990s. His films have been screened at numerous film festivals, such as Cannes, Venice and Berlin, and have won multiple awards. He began his career as film critic and documentary maker; his body of work is represented across a broad range of criticism of the establishment, social issues, historical taboos, and native cultures and customs in Indonesia. In addition to his provocative films, he also demonstrates his many talents to dance drama, fine art, and music.

Nugroho’s debut film Love Is A Slice Of Bread (1991) was selected as the Best Young Director at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival. Letter For An Angel (1994) won Best Film at the Taormina Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival. His film Leaf On A Pillow (1998) won the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 1998 and screening at CANNES Film Festival 1998. Since then, his name skyrocketed and spread to various international film festivals. In celebration of 250 years of Mozart (2006), he was selected as one of the six ‘innovative directors’ world to make the film. The result, Opera Jawa, was based on the Ramayana and produced by Simon Fields and was premiered in Venice 2006. Opera Jawa was nominated for Best Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2007. The Mirror Never Lies (Laut Bercermin) produced by Nugroho and Nadine Chandrawinata won the APSA Best Children’s Feature film in 2012. His most recent film Memories of My Body (Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku) won the APSA Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO at the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.




The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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