Monday, July 3, 2017

Indonesia’s Three Sisters Movies, Cultural Importance, and the Legacy of Challenging the Society (Chinese and English version)

 By Ekky Imanjaya
(For English version of unedited article, please scroll down).

Notes: 
It is always an honor to know that our works are translated into other languages (other than English). 
Once, a film magazine in Berlin translated one of my popular writing into Germany back in 2013. And recently, Taipei Film Festival asked me to write an article on "Tiga Dara" (1957) and "Ini Kisah Tiga Dara" (2016), and they translated the article into Chinese.  The Chinese version of this article were published in a catalog of Taipei Film Festival (29 June- 15 July 2017).
Here's the files the final version of the articles (in Chinese and English).


                                       
In 2016, two important Indonesian films were publicly circulated. They are interconnected and have almost the same titles: Tiga Dara (Three Sisters, Usmar Ismail, 1956)  was re-released in August and Ini Kisah Tiga Dara (Three Sassy Sisters, Nia Dinata, 2016) was circulated a month later in the same year. Both films have their own cultural importance in their own time and have similar spirit of challenging the society with the issues of women’s social status in Indonesian society, particularly the marriage culture and issues of finding husbands.

It is worth to note that, in particular cultures in Indonesia, women should marry in certain age. If she is still single, after “the deadline”, let’s say after 30, she will get social pressure to get married as soon as possible, and get bad stereotype of just being single. Surely, as time goes by, the perspective has changed as social values also constantly change.  By watching both films, audience can compare and contrast how society has developed and  the differences between generations farther away, namely between the conservative/old-fashioned one and liberal/permissive one.
Below, I will elaborate why both films are important as social archive in Indonesian context. And probably non-Indonesia audience can reflect and produce their own meaning towards the films with their own culture values and perspectives.

Tiga Dara: Cultural Importance

Tiga Dara was recently fully restored and publicly screened in the cinema in Indonesia.  Although It is not the first film that got full restoration--the first one would be Usmar Ismail’s Lewat Djam Malam(After Curfew, 1954), which was also screened at 2012 Cannes Classic--but Tiga Dara  is the first Indonesian film which got 4K restoration.  In fact, it is the first Asian film to be restored in 4K format—the second one would be Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Similar with After Curfew, Tiga Dara was restored by    L'Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna, Italy. It took around $220,000 to restore the film, sponsored by SA Films from Indonesia. Two Indonesian citizens, Lintang Gitomartoyo and Lisabona Rahman, were involved in this process.  The Lab was chosen because it is the only studio to be able to deal with a tropical mold normally found in celluloid from tropical lands, such as vinegar syndrome. It took 8 months to do the process.
After the restoration, PT Render Digital Indonesia converted the 35mm into 4K digital. The film has 150 thousands frames and each frame took 2 hours to be converted into 4K digital format in 53 Gigabyte. In total, there are 12 Terabyte files and the process took another 6 months to do the digital conversion.
Actually, in 2011, the film was in process of restoration by EYE Museum Amsterdam, almost the same time with After Curfew, but being abandoned due to the economy crisis of the country, until SA Films took over the process. 
The film was theatrically and domestically released in August 2016 and got around 30 thousands spectators in 8 weeks. Soon, the movie will be released in DVD and Blu-ray.
Tiga Dara was chosen to be fully restored in 4K because it is considered as one of important cultural heritage in film format, both as text and context.
First of all, Tiga Dara, in very popular and entertaining way, questions the patriarchal culture which was dominated the 1950s era. The director Usmar Ismail, known as the Father of Indonesian Cinema, critically raises some issues regarding women rights and social status and marriage. In the movie,   there are some topics regarding the bad stereotype towards unmarried young women as well as their roles in domestic sectors.  It is important to note that the film was originally produced, distributed, and exhibited nationwide only 12 years after Indonesia’s independence, when the numbers of illiterate citizens dominated the nation.  Later, the idea of feminism and progressive women would occur in few of Usmar Ismail’s later films, particularly in Ananda (1970), his last movie.
These kinds of issue are still relevant even in a millennial era, and still echo in some recent Indonesian films, including Ini Kisah Tiga Dara (see below).
Of course, Ismail also put great songs, involving best composers and singers and that led to the timeless and jazzy ear-catchy songs. Big names such as Sjaiful Bachrie, Ismail Marzuki, Sam Saimun, and Bing Slamet were part of the soundtrack and music scoring team. In 1957 Indonesian Film Festival, the film got Citra Awards-Indonesia’s equivalent of Oscar—for the Best Music.
Related to historical importance, Tiga Dara was the trendsetter in the 1950s.    It was a box office film, premiered at Capitol Theater and screened in prestigious movie-theatres associated as the outlet of A-class Hollywood and other imported movies for 8 weeks in a row. At that time, it was very rare for an Indonesian movie to be screened in the A-class movie-theatres. In addition, President Soekarno, an American cinema fan,    asked the producer to screen the film at the Presidential Palace for a private birthday party of Hartini, his beloved wife. In society, the film was one of the most discussed films of the 1950s.   The social and cultural impact of the film in the era is inevitable. There was a Tiga Dara contest which attracted many young girls and boys. Afterwards, there were some products using Tiga Dara as their brands, from soft-drinks to batik clothing companies.
In addition, the film got imported to Malaysia, Italy (including 1959 Venice Film Festival), Yugoslavia, New Guinea, and Suriname.
 We can also consider the film as a “time machine”. Therefore, we can have access to and understand the zeitgeist of Jakarta and Bandung in mid 1950s, and even we can watch the development of the capital city (particularly the Cilincing picnic scene) and social life and social problems in the era.

The Legacy of Tiga Dara

The resonance of Tiga Dara is strong, even in today’s film scenes. There are at least two films in the 1980s which were influenced by the film, namely Tiga Dara Mencari Cinta (Three Girls Finding Love, Djun Saptohadi 1980) and   Pacar Ketinggalan Kereta (Prickly Heat, Teguh Karya, 1989),
For a more recent case, we have Three Sassy Sisters. A month after the re-released of Tiga Dara, Ini Kisah Tiga Dara was theatrically released in September 2016.  The female director Nia Dinata remembers that she watched Tiga Dara on TVRI (the only TV station at that time) as one of the first Indonesian musical films she watched. As a director and producer who constantly make films about women rights and equality (such as Berbagi Suami/Love For Share in 2006 and Perempuan Punya Cerita/Chants of Lotus in 2007),  she was interested in making similar film. However, Nia Dinata explains that Ini Kisah Tiga Dara is not a remake of Tiga Dara, but it is “inspired by” the classical film.

The film has many similarities to the classic one. The basic plot and story is similar, about three sisters being raised by a grandmother and a single father and face the problems of marriage culture and women’s rights, as well as sibling rivalries towards a man.  The focus of main storyline is also about the grandma who does many things to patiently “force” her oldest grand-daughter to marry as soon as possible, and problems develop from that situation.  It is also musical, and includes Tiga Dara theme song. In fact, the Indonesian title is a line of the lyrics of Tiga Dara theme song.
However, of course there are some differences. Dinata, with Lucky Kuswandi, wrote the script in   2016, thus with different context and social problems, and more modern and contemporary approaches. Unlike the classic film, in this movie the three sisters got definite jobs (a chef, a PR and marketing staff, and a voluntary teacher for children, respectively) in their dad’s boutique hotel at the seaside of Maumere. The tension between   generations   gets stronger, particularly between the grandma (as the representation of conservative/traditional perspective) and the youngest one (the most liberal and aggressive one).  Discourses of feminism, patriarchism, matriarchism, inevitable became more visible than the classic one.
Since the problems and era are different, Dinata put new songs in the movie as the means to communicate and express her voices. And, the whole spirit of the story was resumed in a song titled Matriarch.  The new songs and arrangement were done by music directors, Aghi Narottama and Bemby Gusti and, unlike the classic film, sung by the original cast.
The strong    aggressiveness of the main young characters (particularly the youngest one) has led the Indonesian censorship board to classify the film as adult movies (only for 21 years old and above).  Discourses of women empowerment more prominently occurs in this film.
The other different elements are the location and color format. The classic film is in black and white and located in Jakarta and Bandung.  The modern version has benefit to explore colorful culture and landscape of Maumere and Flores Island to support the director’s statements. So, the film invites us to take a journey to exotic places such as Geliting traditional market, a 118 years Old Portuguese church in Sikka village, Koka Beach, and Magepanda Mangrove Forest.
The film was screened in some film festivals, including Singapore, Tokyo, and Busan.

Conclusion
Tiga Dara was chosen carefully to be restored with a long and costly process exactly because it has a significant cultural importance back in the 1950s and its messages still resonate beyond millennial era. The film was a trendsetter in the 1950s popular lifestyle and  its discourses (gender issues, patriarchal culture, etc) seem to be timeless and are still relevant until recently.
And the legacy of challenging the society continues. Nia Dinata--a well-known feminist filmmaker who  consistently produces films on gender and women’s rights--capture, interpret and translate the classical film in the context of 2016 and directed Three Sassy Girls.  
Both films share similar ideas and spirit.  Both films are significant for  both Indonesia’s context and other nations and cultures which have similar problems and concerns.