Osaka 2016: Joko Anwar Talks Politics, Pirates And A COPY OF MY MIND
Joko Anwar has made a name for himself as one of Indonesia’s most popular directors, earning critical and commercial success for his dark thrillers, Kala, The Forbidden Door and Ritual. Arriving at the recent Osaka Asian Film Festival, where he also sat on the Competition Jury, the director brought something a little different, a touching drama set on the streets of bustling, modern Jakarta.
A Copy of My Mind is the richly detailed tale of a young working-class couple and their everyday lives until an unfortunate act sets the pair on a tragic path. Sari (Tara Basro) is a movie-loving beautician who half-heartedly strives to improve her lot by moving to a better salon while her boyfriend Alek (Chicco Jerikho) makes a living adding subtitles to pirated DVDs. While the couple’s tender relationship is the central focus of the piece, Anwar paints a much broader picture involving political scandal, corruption and piracy from the street to the upper echelons of Indonesian society.
Anwar sat down at the festival to talk about the pirates and politics in his latest film, as well as pushing boundaries, baiting censors, and the upcoming sequels to come out of his newly formed production company, Lo-Fi Flicks.
So, what was the origin of this project?
Actually, so far I’ve been planning all my projects from early on in my career, I just go along with that plan. That’s why in my first project there was a link to my second film, the second film contains a hint for my third film etc. But A Copy of My Mind in particular has been on my mind for years.
I’ve been wondering why people in Indonesia, for years now, people in Indonesia have been tolerant of corruption. It’s not just because it is being done by officials, high-ranking officials, but everyone’s doing it. From the richest to the poor, they’re fairly corrupt. Stealing things, little things, but they consider it normal. So I wanted to make a time capsule of this culture - a view on Indonesian corruption.
Of course, I want to feature it through a fairly accessible point of view, that's why I chose two young people in love. They’re everyday people in professions that sometimes people forget exist.
Are these everyday people? For me, it’s interesting that he’s actually a DVD pirate! Would that be considered a regular profession?
Exactly, that's the thing I want to point out, that piracy is also corruption. It’s very regular in Indonesia, everybody’s doing it. People who are pirating DVDs are corrupt, but people who are buying the DVDs are also corrupt. But this is considered something everyday in Indonesia; you can see pirated DVDs everywhere in big malls and on the streets.
As a filmmaker, how did you feel putting a kind face on a DVD pirate? Were you able to relate to this character as being a fairly decent guy?
That’s right, there’s no one in this movie, not a single character, that’s wholly antagonistic. I mean, the lead character, the woman, she steals all the time. And his job is stealing, so really everybody is just trying to get by, to make a living, but since stealing, or corruption is considered very normal, everybody’s doing it.
It’s interesting that we get to see behind the curtains of the piracy industry. Is that something that you had to research or is it widely known how these people operate?
I did a lot of research. But part of it is because when I was very poor at the beginning of my career I also bought pirated DVDs. It’s not just because I did not have money to buy the real ones, there just aren’t any! You cannot buy legit DVDs, titles are very limited and we do not have VOD. Only recently can we access Netflix, but there is also only limited titles on that.
Watching films is a primary hobby for people in Indonesia but we cannot access the films. Theatres have only limited screens and they show only limited titles. When we yearn for some titles we cannot find them anywhere. Also, we do not have Indonesian film festivals in Indonesia. So the only way we can access them is through piracy, whether through pirated DVDs or illegal downloads. So it’s very complex, because you want the government to close the illegal DVD centers but at the same time they’re not able to give us legal access to films.
And you filmed in the actual piracy centers? Tell me about that place.
It’s Called Glodok. It’s the center of movie piracy in Asia. It’s very huge. I think it’s as big as the Dotomburi area [the major shopping and tourist street in Osaka]. And you can see everything is pirated, and you can access it very easily. There are no police catching all the pirates, it’s just like a legal business. Many foreigners who come to Jakarta go there, it’s just like a tourist attraction. They'll go and buy a bunch of DVDs for like 40 cents! You buy 5, you get one free! All kinds of titles! And good copies too. Piracy is common all over Southeast Asia but not as much as in Jakarta or Indonesia. I mean, in Malaysia you need to go and find certain places, certain malls where you can see pirated DVDs. But in Jakarta it’s in big malls, on the sides of streets, everywhere.
You told me earlier that the backstreet where the newly subbed DVDs are passed on to the pirate is the actual location where these things take place. How was it filming at this location?
We asked the police to give us permission because if you want to shoot on location in Indonesia you have to ask for permission. And you have to pay the thugs, because in every area they have thugs, mafia. Especially places like that, and then you have to pay the real owner of the place, the shop owner or whatever.
For this particular location we asked for permission from the police. The police station is right next to the piracy center, just two meters from the entrance! And when we asked for permission they said “Are you sure you want to film there!? We cannot give you permission.” And I said, “Why not? You are the police!” But they would not talk about it. And then we went to some military people who we thought we could help us get permission to shoot and they said, “Good luck, we cannot give you that protection.”
We had to shoot it in that area. It had to be there. It is the most authentic thing in the film. So we decided to use a small camera. I went with my actress and my DP went with my lead actor. The first time I pulled out my camera somebody grabbed my arms, it was a lady, one of the owners of the piracy stores and she said what are you doing? And I pretended that I was going to take pictures. In that place if you are going to take pictures, the mafia will come to stop you! So we were browsing the area for maybe like 45 minutes until I got into a corner where I dared to pull out my camera and it turned out that I could hide there, and it was like “Just do it. Go!” So she walked in front of me and I stayed in one corner and she walked past and, yeah, we did it!
What camera were you using?
A black magic cinema pocket. Its pretty thin.
What about the video shop? Wasn’t that also a real place?
The video shop was the only video shop in the area that sells legit DVDs. We told the owner that we were going to shoot something about piracy and because he’s against piracy he said, “OK, you can shoot here.” So we dressed up his shop like a pirate shop. He got quite upset because he saw the pirated DVDs on his shelves, something he was very sensitive about, but in the end we finished it.
You told me before you tried to get certain controversial material -- there’s a scene in which Alek is given some porn films to subtitle only to discover they’re not to his taste! -- into the film!
The gay porn? What I wanted to do with the film is show the contrast of Jakarta. You can see the very big buildings, very luxurious, and next to it is a slum area. You can see art on one side and next to it is trash. And then you can see very religious things going on. In every area there’s at least five mosques and every morning the sound of the call for prayer is very prominent. Next to the shot of the call for prayer we have the shot of the gay porn, we just wanted to contrast it, the beauty of Jakarta contrasts with many things.
But you knew you’d have problems with the censors, and you pushed that?
Erm… yes! For the Indonesian release we took out the explicit scenes like the cum shot. We cut it out. Well, we did not actually cut it, we zoomed in. Actually you can still see the cock on the screen but it is zoomed in so you can’t see anything!
Do you like to push the boundaries like that?
I always try to do it. I mean you have to do it. As an artist you have to push boundaries. That's the most important role of an artist: you have to push the boundaries.
The central relationship was very beautifully captured; it felt so natural and real. How did you go about casting for the main couple?
We were thinking about Tara Basro long before we shot it because when I was writing the story I pictured her as the lead character. So that's why we cast her and I think she’s perfect for it. I shot some short films and commercials with her, we are very close friends so I knew she was going to be perfect.
I was searching for Chicco, the lead actor, for a while. He’s very nice, very smart and he also cares about what’s going on in Indonesia. We did some workshops where we worked on their characters from the day they were born onwards. What kind of family they grew up in, what kind of society. So basically for one month they lived their characters. She went to a facial saloon to see how people do it, and he also lived his character, he went to Globdok many times.
It feels very natural because they lived those characters.
So, this film is planned as part of a trilogy?
Yes, A Copy of My Soul is next. It’s going to be the story of the hit-man from A Copy of My Mind. They are going to be very hard-hitting because we are telling the story of underground crime in Indonesia and they’re going to be linked to some important real-life incidents. A Copy of My Mind is actually what I have in mind about Jakarta. A Copy of My Soul is what I think is the soul of Jakarta and A Copy of My Heart is what I think is the heart of Jakarta and Indonesia. So you can have three different flavors. The mind, the soul and the heart.
You spoke about the main theme of this film being political corruption but seen through the lens of the relationship. The corruption is really underplayed, the way it would be in these people’s day-to-day lives. Even when the situation erupts we’re not focusing on the corruption, we’re focusing on the damage it does to this couple.
Yes, because I’m more interested in characters. In Indonesia and in all incidents in the world, things happen because of characters. Decisions that the characters make that impacts on whatever’s going on around them, including the decisions made by the politicians who happen to hold the fate of many people in their hands. So yes, we’re going to focus on the characters and hope that these characters can echo whatever’s going on which happens to be the big issues that we are trying to portray in the films.
Was the situation portrayed in the film, where Sari visits a powerful official in jail, based on a real event?
The characters are fictitious but what happened to them, including when Sari visits the jail, it really happened. That woman connects entrepreneurs to corrupt legislators and government officials. So if they’re going to make a resort out of a forest they have to have a law that permits that, right? And she will connect those people.
The term they use in the film, “Florida apples”, that's the actual term used for US dollars. In fact in December and January there was another huge scandal about Freeport, the American gold digging company, and some government officials were looking of bribes or something and they used the same terms, “apples”.
So this will have a more immediate impact on Indonesian audiences who pick up on the event?
Yes. And kidnapping happens a lot. Especially early in the beginning of the fall of the Suahrto era, before he fell down from power. Kidnapping happens everyday. We still have so many missing activists, human activists, in fact the biggest activist and chairman of the human rights commission was murdered on a plane, he got poisoned, his name was Munir (Said Thalib). People still don't know who killed him. We have someone in jail for it but know one believes he is the one who actually did it! This incident was carried out by hitmen. So the hitman in A Copy of My Mind is going to have his own story in A Copy of My Soul.