Mira Lesmana


Mira Lesmana is the principal of Makassar SEAScreen Academy, an important role as she helped plan the curriculum for this filmmaking workshop for Eastern Indonesian filmmakers.

In the last few years, Mira Lesmana has talked about her dream to have a way to give film education that fits the challenges faced by the film industry in Indonesia. Mira has gone through several phases of the Indonesian film industry. In the 60s, her father was a musician who worked with several filmmakers to provide a soundtrack to their movies (Perawan di Sarang Penyamun/Usmar Ismail 1962), and she also experienced the film industry in the 80s as she was studying at Institut Kesenian Jakarta and interacted with major filmmakers of the era, like Teguh Karya and Slamet Rahardjo. Mira is known for making several breakthroughs in the Indonesian film industry with her works, first the omnibus Kuldesak (1998), followed by Petualangan Sherina (2000) and Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (2002), Gie (2005), followed by Laskar Pelangi (2008) and the crowdsourced digital movie Atambua 39° Celsius (2012). Other than a film producer, Mira is an activist of film reformation and she has a great concern for education. In her spare time, when she’s not producing films, Mira teaches at Institut Kesenian Jakarta.

What sort of education would befit Indonesia filmmakers in the current age?

I think other than being well-versed in all the technical aspects, an openness to different ideas and new ways of storytelling must be cultivated. A good filmmaker must be sensitive to his/her environment and must always be able to find stories that relates to them. Film education in Indonesia also needs to give more attention to work ethics, collaboration, and how to interact well in a working team.

With all the film production and big cinemas being in Jakarta, how does the film industry in Indonesia today look like to you?

“Jakarta” has become the center of Indonesian film. That is to say, most of the Indonesian filmmakers are based in Jakarta. The development of film producing facilities is also focused there, whether technical facilities, location, and educational institutes. This dominance ultimately affects what sort of movies show up in the cinema. Most of the stories are about the life of people in Jakarta, including in the use of language. The diverse Indonesia is small and narrow when we look at it through Indonesian films.

The sad result is that people who watch Indonesian film but do not live in Jakarta start identifying themselves through these movies. We must admit that the “Jakartan lifestyle” as portrayed in these films has become an inspiration, especially for the younger generation.

Even young Indonesian filmmakers are affected, as their stories often refer to these films that they’ve seen.

It is very important for filmmakers (or future filmmakers) from outside Jakarta to intervene this condition, by telling stories of life around them, that are based on their realities, so that in the future we can again see the diversity of Indonesia through the movies.

You have traveled to most parts of Indonesia, and you have also made several movies in the backdrop of these different cultures. Why is this important to you?

As I was saying before, this is part of my hope to be able to bring the diverse ‘face’ of Indonesia in Indonesian films.

With film production being centered in Jakarta, there is a question of the availability of film infrastructure in other areas. What do you think a city, let’s say for example Makassar, would need to be able to be ready to have its own film production?

As film production format evolves from celluloid 35mm tape to digital VDO, production related infrastructure is no longer that complex. The film production lab, that used to be a central facility for production and distribution, is no longer needed. The only things that a city would need to be able to produce films are human resources, adequate digital and lighting equipments, and a post-production house that would be able to facilitate the process to prepare the end material in DCP format to be shown at cinemas.

Speaking of cinemas, DCP is the standard format for projection at 21 Cinemas. However, I believe that every city or region, especially those without a network of cinemas, could utilize digital media to open new public spaces, as an alternative cinema.

What potentials does Eastern Indonesia have in the development of Indonesian film in the future?

Eastern Indonesia is very much left behind when it comes to the distribution of Indonesian films in cinemas. So far, there are only cinemas in Makassar, Manado, and Ambon. On the other hand, Eastern Indonesia is also unknown by the general population in Indonesia, despite the fact that it covers a major area and has amazing richness and diversity of culture. The daily life and complexities, as well as the challenges faced of the people in Eastern Indonesia in the midst of changing times need to be voiced, to be expressed. The role that Eastern Indonesia plays in the future of Indonesian film would be great, in terms of painting the face of Indonesia through its movies, and if the films are based on a strong cultural identity, they will add a new style in storytelling creativity.

Can you tell us a bit about the movie you are currently producing, and which other areas will you be exploring after this?

At the moment, I’m working together with Riri Riza as the Director, and we’re at the post-production stage of our latest film, Sokola Rimba. This movie is inspired by a book with the same title, written by Butet Manurung, that tells the story of the life and challenges faced by a marginalized community in the forest of Bukit Duabelas, Jambi, known as Suku Anak Dalam or Orang Rimba (Forest People).

I am also preparing to shoot an action movie about self-defense art (silat) in Eastern Indonesia, precisely East Sumba.