copyright 2012, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 54, fall 2012

Transnational collaborations for art and impact in new documentary cinema

by Daniel Miller

Have non-violent resolutions to conflict between Israel and Palestine actually worked? What terrible things happened to young people in Iran's "Green Wave" revolution? How do families in Indonesia, still between rural life and the globalized economies of Jakarta, deal with i-Phone-loving teenagers like ours?

One might think that long form documentary feature films would find it increasingly difficult in this hyperspeed journalistic present to produce in depth real stories on topics like these, ones that matter. But in fact, as a professor of documentary film in a School of Journalism, I see my  students learn about issues that matter, that are radically news to them through such recent documentaries. Furthermore, in the face of severe economic pressures on funders, communities of support are coming together to improve the financing of documentary filmmakers.[1][open endnotes in new window]

I hope in a modest way to show in this paper that the traditional genres of documentary film live on in new forms and for important purposes. They not only reach student, festival and art house audiences worldwide, but they have a greater outreach and many share an ambition to effect change. I am taking as examples three films that screened in 2010 at one of the world's largest film festivals, the International Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), where I first saw them. In their various ways, all three represent the promise that documentary films coming from all over the world and—importantly—going on to screenings all over the world might have a considerable impact on worldwide opinion. And they potentially can have a big effect on the future of media practice as well as education.

Among the films I saw were three that stood out: Julia Bacha’s Budrus, about the 2004 ten-month non-violent protest movement in the Palestinian village of Budrus;[2] Ali Samadi Ahadi’s The Green Wave, about the 2009 Iranian election protests;[3] and Leonard Helmrich and Hetty Retel Helmrich’s Position Among the Stars, the most recent film in their trilogy about three generations of an Indonesian family facing globalization.[4] Despite the fact that all three of these films appeared at IDFA, they have differing methods of production and distribution, which may affect the kinds of impact they can have. In fact, testifying to the importance of the documentary festival circuit, all three were invited to around fifty film festivals in their first year, giving them exposure not only to audiences but also access to film communities in cities from Berlin and London and Mumbai to small towns such as Bend, Oregon and Bil'in, Palestine.[5]

These films in particular share the following attributes. They

The first two films—Julia Bacha’s Budrus and Ali Samadi Ahadi’s The Green Wave—use images, sounds, and words gathered through new media technologies and new social media platforms by citizen witnesses and participants in the events.[7] The third, Leonard Retel-Helmrich’s and Hetty Naijken’s (Retel-Helmrich’s) Position Among the Stars, uses new small handheld hi-definition cameras with advanced auto-features, in conjunction with Leonard’s hand made, “steady-wing" mounting devices, to facilitate his "single shot cinema" moving camera, direct cinema/ verité technique. Characteristically, his camera moves in orbits around his subjects, easily following movement high and low in long uninterrupted "single shot" scenes.[8] Helmrich gives workshops in his innovative equipment and practice; for example, he was at Harvard for a term and is going to teach at New York University.

All three films powerfully document both individual human stories and broader social issues and events across national boundaries. They do so "transnationally," using border-crossing collaborations. Nonetheless, above all, the new documentary is still like the old in that it tells stories that communicate human experience. Summing up the need for this quality, at a festival panel on documentary film funding proposal criteria, a group of some of the most influential funders agreed that above all they were looking for dramatic and compelling stories with strong and empathetic characters. Even funders mandated specifically to fund social civil and human rights issue films such as Orlando Bagwell, Director of the Ford Foundation, agreed that story and character came first. As Judith Helfand, co-founder of Chicken and Egg Pictures, also on the panel put it,

“When we were children, our mothers did not tell us bedtime reports, they told us bedtime stories.”[9]


Budrus focuses on the story of the ten month non-violent protest movement in Budrus, Palestine against the building of a partition for the Israeli Security fence there and the wholesale destruction of ancient olive groves, grave yards, buildings, roads and even school yards it required. To tell the story, director Julia Bacha, who heard about the demolitions several years after the fact, had to reconstruct rather than film events directly, but she was determined that her representation of this recent history should read as authentic and immediate. She began by searching for footage taken by citizen participants in the movement. Social media had in fact kept that community connected and accessible. She discovered hundreds of people who had participated in the protest movement and who had recorded footage during it. She contacted them and sent out widespread requests for photos and video they might have captured. The results were astonishing. She eventually received hundreds of hours of personally recorded images and sounds documenting the Israeli destruction and enforcement efforts. More important, she could use this material to give eye witness accounts, with accompanying video, of the village's ten month nonviolent protest movement and the family discussions, meetings, marches, confrontations, conferences, battles and stand-offs.

As the movement grew to include not only Budrus citizen activists, but also Palestinians from other areas, Israeli peace activists, South Africans, South Americans, and participants from other many other nations—truly a transnational movement—-it attracted news coverage as well. Eventually archival b-roll shot directly by these participants and witnesses during the actual events, some contemporary b-roll footage and sit-down interviews, and archival news images comprised the film and the content of the story.

The story of Budrus is propelled by father and daughter Ayed and Iltezam Morrar. Ayed emerges as a new kind of leader. After years spent away from his family in prison, he proposes a non-violent struggle against the injustice of this state-imposed fence and accompanying violence. Iltezam defies tradition herself at the age of sixteen, joining the protests with her father’s consent and becoming an important spokesperson and leader of the Budrus movement. Her example encourages hundreds of other women to join the protests.

In one of her critical moments on film, Iltezam, risking injury or death, defiantly stands in front of an Israeli bulldozer that is uprooting and destroying ancient olive groves. She has brought with her a small group of other women who join her in front of the bulldozers. Someone there with a video camera captures the event. The traditional-looking women are led by Iltezam, wearing the hibab, their heads covered, with long skirts, but scrambling over the rocks to confront bulldozers and armed Israelis face to face. They transform the violent confrontation of Israeli men and Palestinian men and boys into a different kind of conflict. The men cannot stand up to the Israeli trucks, but, as she says, "the girls can."

Later the women are filmed going to the rescue of Israeli mathematician and peace activist Kobi Snitz, who is being beaten by Israeli forces. He has organized Israeli activists to come to Budrus and join the cause. When he refuses to stand down from his protest against Israeli Defense Forces, they react violently, isolating, pummeling and attempting to arrest him and drag him away. In one of the most remarkable moments I have seen on film, in video captured by one of the citizen cameras, Palestinian women run across the open ground to his aid and astonishingly expose themselves to beatings and reprisals in order to try to free him. Iltezam says in the film that she could not believe that Israelis would ever risk their lives for Palestinians as he did. Likewise I am sure that Kobi was amazed that Iltezam and other Palestinian women would risk their lives for an Israeli. Their perceptions of the world and their possibilities for the future were transformed by the events in Budrus they witnessed and participated in.

Iltezam says that they did this knowing little about efforts to fight against the wall:

"The Wall and the resistance against it were marginalized in the media."[11]

Perhaps the perceptions of audiences witnessing what she experienced would similarly undergo a kind of transformation—at least in some small way. The way that politics in Israel and Palestine are difficult, local, seldom unified at a national level, means also that a story such as Budrus must be local, must come from among the people. Although dignitaries and politicians at the national level such as Salam Fayyad, Palestinian Prime Minister, visit the Budrus protests, Morrar says:

“My relationship with these officials is necessary but very touchy. I don't like it. You know their importance, but they don't feel your importance or value. They think the whole world is a tent and they control the tent. And everyone must play by their rules. We are living under occupation, you cannot lead society while sitting in your office. You have to be among the people to lead them.”

Ammad Awwad, a Palestinian high school teacher and Hamas member, tells Bacha in an interview that he was shocked to see Israelis standing hand in hand with Palestinians and risking their lives in solidarity with them. He says that witnessing this changed him and his attitude toward Israelis and the means by which Palestinians could fight injustice. He says that in Budrus non-violence was the only way, as any violence would only give an excuse to the Israeli government to rationalize and engage in total war on the Budrus protest. Seeing him, a Hamas member, participating in this non-violent protest hand in hand with Israelis and women, within the leadership and leadership of Ayed Morror, who is not a member of Hamas, defies stereotype and reveals humanity—as does the Israeli mathematician and peace activist Kobi Snitz, who joins the Budrus protest because he feels that the Israeli Peace Movement’s efforts are ineffective and that the direct action of non-violent resistance taking place in Budrus offers another way. Thus in 2003, this was a remarkable coming together of father, daughter, men, women, militant Hamas member and non-violent Morrar, Palestinian and Israeli. And the images that made up the film came largely from among the people as well, those who were there.

Over the course of ten months, thousands of people, including Palestinians, Israelis, a delegation from South Africa, and from many other nations came and participated in the Budrus movement. Their efforts achieved the unthinkable, changing the course and the policy of the Israeli Government through non-violent means. The Israeli fence was moved back from Budrus, toward the green zone along the border.

As a scholar of and former participant in the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the nonviolent protests of the Vietnam era, I cannot tell you how moved I was by seeing that the images of the largest Budrus protests looked so much like those of the U.S. and South African Civil Rights movements—and that in Budrus they achieved similar results—in part because of the visibility made possible through journalists, citizens and participants filming them. The Israeli news coverage helped to change Israeli policy and to save Budrus’ olive groves. However, it was not sufficient to make the world notice that non-violent protest had worked in Palestine. Gaining more attention for that amazing news in itself is part of the activist work of Budrus.

This film helps demonstrate a potential future strategy for documentary. Footage collected by small affordable recording devices in the hands of people participating directly in events, citizens if you will, can be formed by a documentarist into a unified, compelling and important story that transcends the individual media itself. Budrus is a high-quality film that its audiences receive not as raw news or social media, but as cinematically powerful. “Transmedia" practices can do more than inform audiences—it can transform them—or at least their embedded attitudes. The events at Budrus happened several years ago; the non-violent victory there was six years past when the film came out in 2010; and participants as well as news organizations in Arab countries and Israel have been filming important events for a decade. So the significance of this film now lies in its finding more audiences, interesting major journalists, gaining screenings to audiences in Europe, the United States, Australia, and South America as well as in Israel and Palestine. The film needs as well to have a pedagogical use, since its story could convey practical as well as inspiring examples to organizations and groups working for non-violent solutions to conflict and it could serve as a prompt for fund-raising and discussion.

Reviews of the film caused a reconsideration of history. When the film came out in 2010—and not when the events occurred in 2003—the story of Budrus was now covered by major news organizations all over the world, and not just as a film event. Stories appeared in The New York Times, The Economist, The Nation, Newsweek, and on PBS's "Charlie Rose" show and MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," for example, and in over 170 other newspapers, magazines, and television outlets.[12] Kristof notes in particular the compelling effect of the women in the protest:

"Israeli security forces knew how to deal with bombers but were flummoxed by peaceful Palestinian women. Even when beaten and fired on with rubber bullets, the women persevered."[13]

Most of us, including most of the participants at Budrus, perhaps have believed that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict would not yield to nonviolent resolutions. Budrus demonstrates that it can. But before the screening of the film and subsequent reviews, the event had passed without this kind of notice.

In addition to the artistic merit of the film, it has succeeded in reaching widespread audiences by a distribution plan that addresses both the influential but politically diverse audiences of major film festivals and theatrical screenings in major cities and the activist organizations and potential recruits working to advance non-violent approaches to conflicts, from Amnesty International and Human Rights work sponsored by the United Nations to the women's groups of Israel and Palestine.[14] For example, Queen Noor first introduced the film at a Gala screening in Dubai. Her ongoing support is based on the belief that non-violent protest is invisible in today's news, so she has used her celebrity to help promote attention—for example, appearing on the Charlie Rose show about Budrus together with Julia Bacha.

Julia Bacha and Ronit Avni belong to an organization, Just Vision, whose aim is to use high-quality films and added educational materials produced about them to promote peaceful conflict resolution in Israel and Palestine.[15] Budrus started as a major entry on the festival circuit, had a certain success in art theater distribution, and has now established itself online and in screenings to serve as an educational and organizational resource in considerable demand for its lessons on organizing peaceful protest (do include women) and its message of possible success. Just Vision encourages the audience for Budrus with a host of resources available from the web site, and also in the form of speakers they will provide.

Although the film might well be counted as a great success, however, the campaign for peaceful resolution to conflict in Israel and Palestine continues to be so difficult that even legal victories such as the one at Budrus may not resolve issues—even laws successfully passed may not be carried out.[16]

The Green Wave

Civil and human rights struggle in another Muslim country, Iran, is the subject of the second film we discuss here, Ali Samadi Ahadi’s The Green Wave. This film about the contested June 2009 national elections in Iran shows the massive wave of popular non-violent demonstrations in support of reform and protests against government repression that the world witnessed in 2009 and that resonated in the similar protests in other Arab countries during the Arab Spring of 2011. These events were fueled by an unprecedented social media explosion of witnessing, reporting, and documenting that reached millions throughout the world and inaugurated a new age of activist transnational communication. In Iran, however, the reprisals came swiftly and the end of "The Green Wave" is tragic.

The "Green Wave" and the new media and social media implications had their own contradictions. First came a popular political movement that believed it would elect Mir-Hossein Mousavi as the next president. Then after the election, with the disappointment at losing the election to Ahmadinejad and the conviction that fraud had changed the results, the Green Wave became a protest movement. The Green Wave movement did not have the kind of success the Budrus protests did. Instead, it resulted in a counter-wave of horrific state-sanctioned violence, violations of civil and human rights in Iran that aimed to suppress the protest against rigged elections with wide-spread imprisonment, rape, torture, and murder—and a well-organized effort to hide the extent of this violence.

The film exists to tell the rest of the world about these violent acts against human rights so they are not forgotten, even though the government of Iran has succeeded in stopping most internal debate and in punishing those who would take the news outside Iran. Iranian-born German director Ali Samadi Ahadi and others who made this film are now part of a global Iranian community of expatriates and refugees, and the film is in fact one of several Iranian films recently released that defy efforts at silencing Iranian filmmakers.

Since access to Iran and to the election events have been closed off, Ali Samadi Ahadi—like Julia Bacha— has had to make the story after the fact and discover innovative means to do so. Under pressure to reveal fully the brutality associated with the election in Iran, with news of what happened subject to censorship, and with punishment of eyewitnesses within Iran who could testify in an identifiable way, he and his team embarked on a concentrated effort to gather all the recorded sounds, images, and stories they possibly could from citizens who recorded them at the time of the events.[17]

Ahadi had access to a new source of recorded interpretations of the event that Julia Bacha, who was retrieving material created during the events in Budrus in 2003-4, did not. This resource came from the enormous, unprecedented number of blogs, vlogs, tweets and social media posts recorded and exchanged during the Green Wave events. Iran’s young people are one of the most active blogging and social media populations in the world. After combing through tens of thousands of blog entries, Ali and his team selected, collated, and condensed the most compelling into individual narratives. They also discovered on these sites and from other sources dramatic real time images and sound recordings of the immediate events to use in the film. Twitter quotations roll across the screen during the film.

In order to make the best use of extensive non-visual (blogs, twitters) or visually problematic material (from phone cameras), the filmmakers decided to use animation, a traditional genre in Iranian culture, as a primary documentary story-telling form.[18] The film uses these drawings not only in alternation but also together with real filmed images, including interviews, creating a hybrid form of considerable emotional and aesthetic power.

The documentary centers around two reality-based fictional characters—Azedeh and Keveh—whose stories and words, performed by young Iranian actors in exile, Pegah Ferydoni and Navíd Akhavan , were taken verbatim from the real blogs written at the time. The art director, Ali Reza Darvish, made images of the characters. He is a serious artist with a reputation in the world of books and art as well as film, and the effect of his drawings is itself a major asset of the film.[19] The animators for these stories, Sina Mostafawy and Ali Soozandeh, used an animated panel technique contemporary and accessible to young people, like graphic novels or comics in motion. They combined these animated scenes with intense sound tracks and an emotional score that dramatized the reality and immediacy of the scenes.

In the filmmakers’ endeavor to tell this story within a context of the human rights discussions that would reach and impact an audience, they also incorporated sit-down interviews with older human rights scholars and writers. The gravity and authority of this testimony serves to reinforce the animated sequences that represent the real time experiences of the young on the streets of Tehran.[20] And the younger people interviewed—Mehdi Mohseni, Mitra Khalatbari, and Babak, an activist who is only filmed in silhouette—support the authenticity of The Green Wave's most compelling story. It is primarily the young who blogged, photographed and participated in the events of the Green Wave during May, June and July 2009 in Tehran, who employed social media to spread the word and build the movement, who translated their hope for a better future into a movement, and who produced, directed, and animated the film. And it is primarily the young—and the main characters documented in the film—who have suffered the beatings, rapes, tortures, imprisonments, and murders that the film reveals.

I was surprised at the way Ahadi strikingly combined real-life with animated footage in many of the animated frames. Animated shots of characters looking out windows, for instance—describing terrible events they are witnessing on the streets—include real footage of those very events reflected on the animated surface of the windows. Eyeline match cuts to the real recorded footage of the events then take place. While the real recorded footage lends an aspect of verité testimony to the film, the animation dramatizes the story visually. Most importantly, the animation technique allows the filmmakers to document the stories communicated in the blogs that would have otherwise been invisible to audiences, and to make the characters' experiences central. While making over 50% of a documentary with animation challenges the traditional genre, it also inserts a new form of eyewitness account with the written blogs and tweets, so the cartoon illustration doesn't seem fictional.

The Green Wave's citizen-based, new media accounts of the events are combined with citizen-witnessed and recorded video images, animated images, and sit down interviews filmed in Europe afterward into a remarkably innovative, near-seamless flow. And through these innovative combinations of old and new techniques the film narrates the spirited cameraderie, work, and hope for reform preceding the elections, the courage and resolve of the protest, and the horror of the street, prison, and torture chamber violence that followed, perpetrated by Iranian authorities and sanctioned by the state. A generation of Iranian young people, especially students, suffered this trauma, and the human rights violations against protesters conveyed by The Green Wave have created a generation of Iranians in search of justice.

A scene about the balloting that begins at the Polling Place is at the heart of this story about democratic hope and despair. Those who have been interviewed in person after leaving Iran narrate over scenes of the voting:

Mehdi Mohseni: "That day I went to the southernmost part of the city and made my way north, checking out all the places. I voted at Hafte-Tir Square. I can confirm that I didn't see any Ahmadinejad supporters."

Mitra Khalatbari: "Back then, many people thought that the elections could not be manipulated if voter turnout exceeded a certain percentage."

When the activist Babak and others hear everyone around them cheering for Mousavi and see no one who supports Ahmadinejad, they are sure they have won. But the main animated character, Keveh, says (and this of course cites what someone wrote in a blog):

“I'm concerned about the excitement, the outcry, the illogical color green, the nightly marches of protest, the green mascara and people's green-dyed hair, about the commotion that numbs your senses, the excessive rush to wash away the irrationality of the last four years, about my fellow citizens uninformedly spreading this irrationality. I am concerned about the disappointment after all this excitement. Our history has shown that behind such destructive waves there always lies an endless desert. Suddenly the happily marching sneakers feet can turn into garrison boots marching in step. That scares me. It has happened before, and can happen again."

As he speaks, a series of images appear illustrating the metamorphosis of the vote into something that flies up in the wind on a dry land where dying fish are all around.

After the election results are announced and Ahmadinejad has won, people think there was fraud. While the Green Wave participants represent a range of people both generationally and in education (and importantly, female and male), some commentators on the election have said that rural, uneducated people supported by the right wing, generally more fundamentalist, had been courted by Ahmadinejad with generous social programs. Mousavi's near unanimous popularity among students who blogged was not representative of those Iranians. But the young keep repeating, "Where is this place, where no one ever thinks of us?"

There is little question that there was widespread voting fraud. Nobel prize-winner Dr. Shirin Ebadi says in the film interview, "It was revealed that in 50 towns and cities there were more ballot papers cast than inhabitants living in those places." Where there were a variety of parties and supporters, moderate candidates who would be expected to get part of the votes received no votes at all, zero.[21] However, the question of the film is not, finally, about election fraud; it is about the continuing horror of violence against protests, against the young, and the enactment of violent punishment against families as well as against those who speak out.

One has to look no further than the Friday night sermons throughout the country, principally as attended and as broadcast to the nation from Tehran and delivered by Khameini, to see the demonstrated power of the conservative religious/political leadership. Importantly, we should also note the make-up of those attending the Friday night sermons in person.

Showing this, the film documents a pivotal event in the Green Wave revolution—the June 19 Friday night sermon and speech by Supreme Leader Khameini to the crowd and the nation. "I had hoped that in his speech Mr. Khameini would resolve the matter fairly," says campaign activist Babak. When Khameini appears, instead of seeking a conciliatory process, he sides with Ahmadinejad and blames the protesters:

“The president's opinions are the closest to mine. It is a fallacy to believe that they can exert pressure on the state with demonstrations and can force those in power to yield. No! That is wrong. Whether they like it or not, they are the ones responsible for the bloodshed and brutality.”

The crowd gathered there is both spontaneous and enhanced by the importation and encouragement of fundamentalist supporters of Ahmadinejad. The film dramatically portrays the crowd cheering and chanting in response:

"God is mighty, Khameini is our leader. Death to the opponents of the supreme leader."

After this, believers are licensed to carry out whatever punishment they wish against the infidel protesters. They are told that God will forgive them for torture, murder, or any other sin, under the logic that those being punished are responsible before God for their own deaths. Many witness the military-like Basiji's violence against protesters, but the religious view sanctioned by Khameini says they are responsible for their own suffering.

In his film interview, Mohsen Kadivar, Shiite cleric, said about Ali Khameini's support of Ahmadinejad,

"With the patronage of this liar, he turned against his people. It would have been his duty as the father of the nation to pour oil on troubled waters, but not to take sides."

After Ali Khameni's statement, in an animated scene inside an apartment, there is a white rose on the window sill in the night. Azedeh, the animated female character, is speaking as the camera pushes out to look at the lighted city in the darkness. She says, in an eloquent lament, taken from an actual blog:

“Today is Friday, June 19. Tomorrow is Saturday, [pan across the city, loud noises], tomorrow is the day of our destiny. Tonight the cries 'God is great' are louder than ever." (Again, words taken from blogs) "Where is this place where every door is closed? Where is this place in which the blood of young people is shed and later prayed on? Where is this place in which the citizens are referred to as criminals and riffraff? Where is this place? … This place is home to you and me. This place is Iran.”

In her interview, Mitra says,

"So the expectations were that nobody would go out. Maybe they thought if Khameini made a speech like that, they would intimidate the people. They would go back in their houses and not come out. Exactly the opposite happened."

Mehdi Mohseni says in his interview,

"We are the people. We are not riffraff. We are the people and you can't ignore us. And the people paid a high price for this." [We hear screams as the motorcycles drive down the crowds.]

Note the integration of the later interviews with film of the real events and then a scene of animation.

And immediately after Mehdi speaks, the film cuts to another cell phone camera video shot of an impossibly crowded street scene on that Saturday following Khamenei’s speech—with the people flowing like a river toward the camera and chaotically fleeing in panic-stricken fear away from the militias racing toward them—and the citizen camera in the middle of the crowd on motorcycles. Each motorcycle has a driver and a heavily armed militia or military police officer mounted on the back, beating and shooting at people. This is some of the most frightening violent conflict footage we have ever seen, and the pixilated moving camera, poor-quality video contributes directly to that feeling of being there and being in peril.

During this sequence an ominous single bass piano note bangs down hard in the soundtrack and vibrates on among the sounds of the crowd’s screams and shouts. Animated motorcycles are moving at high speed directly toward the simulated camera. The scene cuts to a boy on the street and there are three split-second reaction shots as he turns towards the oncoming policemen and reacts in shock and fear. The scene cuts to his hand and the yoghurt tub he holds as he lets it go and it drops and then a quick cut to his terrified face and his hand coming up to protect himself. The simulated camera quick zooms into an extreme close up of his terrified eyes. Then we see a reaction shot of one of the women in green as she witnesses the moment of his death and gasps in horror as her hand flashes across her face. As this animation goes on it is accompanied by Mitra's interview testimony about the event.

One might argue at this point and others that the collage and alternation of animation and on-screen testimony might weaken or undercut the scene’s power. I do not agree. Mitra’s on-screen testimony is so stunning, moving, visceral and verité that it empowers rather than diminishes the scene as it plays out before me. As her hands clasp in front of her heart and then reach out while she tells this story, and her face exhibits the same type of shock the animated woman in green exhibits in the film, I believe her, and the truth of the scene.

Scenes of bloody, unfocused violence flash across the scene and then we see a message print out on the screen and hear the sound of a twitter message being typed out on a phone and a cell phone signature “end of message” ringing sound after each line, and we see an innovative texting on screen that emulates the texting of someone tweeting a message.

Twitter messages
June 20th

The widespread attacks by the paramilitary group, the Basij Resistance Force, led by Hossein Taeb, had been endorsed by Khameini himself, so to speak, and the motorcycles driving into the crowd that are shown in the film, and the beating and murder of innocents, also shown, were tolerated and supported by counter-revolutionary crowds shouting "God is Great" who believed they were commiting no sin in the eyes of Allah.[22] After the speech, as nurse Azedeh says, hospitals "are filled to the brink." The Basij took away identity cards, collected the bodies, and loaded them on trucks.

The personal stories are told in animated images of reality-based characters Azedeh and Kevehalong with the images and stories of recorded real life counterparts Mitra Khalatbari and Mehdi Mohseni and others interviewed later. All of these stories combine to use the power of film to tell a personal/national story that seems compellingly believable. But is this film more than a passionate witness—and in fact, what audiences has it reached, and how might it actually bring change to Iran? Sukhdev Sandhu writing in The Guardian asserts the possible significance of film for later movements:

"Because the Arab spring was a revolution spread (if not created) by digital media such as mobile phones, Twitter and amateur video, it could be argued that more Muslims than ever before now associate political freedom with the moving image – rather than the printed word."[23]

In 2011, its first full year of distribution, The Green Wave appeared to European viewers on Arte television, and it was screened widely at film festivals—some 51 of them. The claim that this film might have influenced the "Arab Spring" is credible.[24]

How else might this film change society? It is possible that events that occurred in 2009 may impact U.S. audiences as the film is screened in the United States in 2012. People here could understand more vividly how close the Iranians came to a more moderate leadership with a more democratic society, and even more importantly, perhaps, how the Ahmedinijad government in Iran has been involved in election fraud, human rights abuses, and especially in generating the brutal suppression of women and young people who supported the Green Wave "revolution."

The Green Wave and Budrus share with the third film I will discuss, Position Among the Stars, this eye toward women as well as youth, generational change, and the resonant stories of struggle and dignity. All three films turn on a close-up revelation of the remarkable communities that emerge and the inventiveness and courage of individuals.

While this third film does not include sit-down interviews, citizen-produced new media, or animation, it does portray issues and events as they are reflected in the individual lives of a family. It also shares an extraordinary dedication and sacrifice to the love of a new documentary film art, in this case the "single shot" filming with special equipment that reveals and touches history through the careful observation of ordinary human events. Position Among the Stars completes a trilogy about a lower-middle class Indonesian family directed, produced and written by Leonard Retel-Helmrich and his sister Hetty Retel-Helmrich Naijkens between 1996 and 2010. This film documents the lives of the Shamsjuddin family between 2007-2009.

Position Among the Stars

In the beginning the story is about a family in a transnational crisis. Here are the words that open Position Among the Stars, appearing in white text over a black field of what appears to be stars:

"One Family
Three Generations
Facing a Global Economy."

Stars begin to move right to left. Sounds arise of insects and sprinkler and then of a hand pump sprayer. Fade up from black on to a scene in which a left to right moving camera reveals green rice shoots in the foreground and horizon of palm trees in the background. The stars are revealed to be dew and sprinkler drops on the rice shoots.

As the camera continues slowly moving right, a man wearing an Indonesian rice paddy hat moves across the field, applying insecticide spray from his back-mounted spray reservoir. He is beautifully shot and framed, moving from left to right across the middle ground of the scene exactly at the upper 3/5th horizontal axis of the shot. As he moves he is variously reframed in the shot between the bejeweled backlit green rice shoots in the foreground that are large enough in the foreground of the frame to contain, connect and almost embrace him within both their rootedness to the natural earth and source of their growth, and their reach to the sky that they both point to and seek sunlight and energy from. The framing also effectively freezes the moments of his manual and mechanical labor. The near balletic movements of his free arm moving overhead with the pump handle and the pulling it down are cinematically and thematically captured.

The labor of the rural working class in Indonesia and its interconnection to the land and the sky is simply and beautifully celebrated at the same time that the stars are revealed to be dewdrops. Some of the drops are frosted with insecticide. Irony laces the pastoral, but the coexistence of and contradictions between natural beauty, human labor, and modern chemicals reside in this image held carefully in balance for our attention by the artful filming. Artistic technique itself is a fourth element in the composition.

The next shot is a cut to an extreme close up of a spider in the field glowing in the backlight of the rising sun and firmly connected to and placed within its own web of glistening water droplet stars. The camera follows the spider up its web toward the sky, glowing ever more greatly as it rises closer to the sun. Then there is a cut to a dragon fly flying left to right across the sky and then with an advance cue of the sound of metal moving there is a wide shot again of the countryside, focusing on two tiny silhouetted humans perched on the more severe and calculated geometries of a rising transmission tower backgrounded by completed ones extending into the distance. It is a gesture toward what we later discover to be the far-off metropolis of Jakarta that is extending its technological reach to the homes of these rural farmers throughout the nation. This establishes one of the film’s major themes: the intrusion of global technologies and economies into the heart of our characters' traditional rural homes and lives. The camera pushes in on the precariously perched workers and then there is a cut to an extreme close up of two ladybugs perched on seed laden green rice shoots. Their weight and movement creates a spring and rhythm in the rice shoots.

At this point we begin to hear, in a lovely sound advance and sound and image juxtaposition, the voice of a woman singing, and as the ladybugs take off from the rice shoots we hear the song lyrics: "Little dew star, don’t become too big," And cut to the smiling medium close up of the woman singing on a dirt road in the country—"In the dry and rainy season."

She turns in the shot to the woman following her and embraces her, bringing her forward with one arm encouraging her to join in the song. "You keep the rice paddies wet."

Here the director and cinematographer exercise the first orbiting steadywing shots of the film as he moves from right to left around the first woman to the second woman, replacing the positions of foreground and background in the process, but at the same time binding the two with the camera as the first woman bound them with her embrace and invitation to share the singing of the song. "The harvest can fill a big barn." The camera then walks with them and moves constantly, rising high above them:"Our rice paddies are being"—“What?”/"Being planted." /"Hurray!"

In this way the two old women, the main representatives of the spirit of the film, are introduced together with the main theme as articulated in the title: "Position among the Stars," and the circling positioning of the intimate ubiquitous camera.

Rumidjah Shamsjuddin, the 74 year old matriarch of the Shamsjuddin family, and Rumidjah’s dearest lifelong friend Tumisah are featured in all three films of the trilogy. Over the course of three films viewers have seen Rumidjah and her family experience the major transitions of their times:

This final film in the trilogy, Position Among the Stars, focuses on three generations of the family. Rumidjah lives in her ancestral bamboo frame home in a poor rural village, close to her old friend, Tumisah. Her son, Bakti and her grand-daughter, Tari live in the complicated cityscape of Jakarta.

Through the film’s strikingly personal cinema verité/ direct cinema style, the audience experiences the story of how these Indonesian family members face and struggle with the political, religious, and economic pressures and contradictions of their changing world. The intimacy and artistry—and global resonance—of this portrayal is so well-achieved cinematically that Position Among the Stars and its predecessors have won almost every major festival award available throughout their run, including both the Best in Festival award at IDFA and at Sundance in 2010 and 2011. The cinematic and storytelling artistry of Retel-Helmrich is so highly regarded that his trilogy was selected for exhibition at MOMA in September, 2011. The New York Times reviewer said of the film:

"Engrossing, poetic and often very funny, Position, like its predecessors, uses the lens of a single family to view the tumult of an entire country."[25]

The visuals capture, in the mirror of car windows, for example, and the story inhabits both the ahistorical and social time. We feel the seeming timelessness of natural beauty, stars, and the poetry of the cinematic look. But the film also examines the historical causes of the family's conflicts—the necessary overthrow of Suharto and the rise of Muslim cultural power. The very title of the film ironically juxtaposes historical and “natural" time. The family must, it seems, fight desperately for a position—economic and social, achievable through education, they believe. They seek a position "among the stars" that will enable the entire family to escape the harsh realities of Indonesian history. Yet the film portrays such escapes visually not as economic successes, but in moments of literally seeing the stars, poetic moments that remind us in images that money isn't everything.

These films represent a breakthrough in the now classic direct-cinema techniques of documentary film. The primary elements of the film's achievement begin with the close attention of Leonard Retel-Helmrich and his sister Hetty Retel-Helmrich Naijkens to the characters, story, and cinema verité /direct cinema process. They lived near or with the Shamsjuddin family for up to six months of each of the twelve years and filmed the family’s daily life for up to six hours every day. Their goal of capturing the depth of human character and story in turn led to Leonard’s deeply theoretical, aesthetic and technical cinematic education and practice that followed from the work of Andre Bazin and resulted in a radical new human-centered technical and aesthetic style that Leonard called "single-shot cinema." The style dictates that observational cinema should be filmed in close, moving, and free proximity to the subject. It relies on Leonard’s small, simple and practical “steady-wing” camera mounting device, new hi-functioning auto-setting cameras, and practice and facility with the technique and style.

This results in the film's amazing artistry, images, and apparently unaffected natural subject behavior. In one memorable shot, the camera glides behind, above, beneath, over and around the child, Bagus, a young nephew who is joyously and mischievously dashing through the narrow alleys and open sewers of his crowded Jakarta neighborhood with the neighbors' pilfered laundry, the shirts flying gloriously behind his outstretched hands. The camera perfectly captures the spirit and joy of his act in a way that is complementary and appropriate to the moment.[27] The shots are filmed with the aid of simple but inventive devices in addition to the steady-wing camera support—bamboo cranes. The same can be said for a shot that follows a working class man crossing a railway trestle on a narrow plank a thousand feet above the valley below. The camera follows him, swoops out from him, in close to him, and then directly over him, without hesitating a moment or missing a beat of movement. It captures for audiences both the extraordinary quality of this dizzying, visionary experience for the viewer and the ordinary quality of it to the worker (who helped film the shots with a camera mounted on a helmet he was wearing.).[28] While these bravura shots dramatically stand out and punctuate and celebrate these lives, mastery of the style lies in the vast majority of shots that exercise the same care, expertise and style in the intimate environs of the domestic space of these characters.

For example, the camera circles sympathetically the scene of wreckage around Bakti's wife, Siri, after he has pushed over the food stand where she was cooking and trying to help out with the family's income. She cries as she holds up the bent and ruined pots. Such understated virtuosity can be seen in the climactic scene in the film, which takes place in Bakti’s small cramped household toward the end of the film. Rumidjah’s son Bakti suddenly erupts in anger, strikes her granddaughter, Tari, pushes Tari into her tiny bedroom and down onto the bed and screams at her. This is in response, we find out, to Tari’s FaceBook and YouTube-promulgated flirtations and her physical contact with a young boy. It’s a clear violation of propriety in this Muslin community and household. Rumidjah witnesses and is caught in the middle of the outburst. The camera navigates the scene within the constricted environment of the tiny household like another one of the characters—familiar with the environment. In the process it records Bakti’s violence, anger and then concern; Tari’s insolence, irreverence, hurt, and then humiliation; and Rumidjah’s devastation.

The key elements of the greater story emerge, collide, converge, and climax here. At heart this film and the trilogy about these three generations has dealt with family survival and re-generation in the face of the profound social, in this case political, religious and economic pressures. Tari is Rumidjah’s and Bakti’s hope, especially through her education. Bakti has long since converted from Christianity to Islam to facilitate it. Rumidjah has mortgaged her house to pay for it, in her beloved village with its daily life and her childhood friend. Tari now has threatened this hope with her youth, pop-cultural fascination, materialism, and forbidden physical encounter with a boy that threatens both her education and reputation in the Muslin community. Tari has become a global teenager, a figure all too familiar to the audience, almost a stereotype (if this were a fiction film, one could complain that the problem of modern youth is all too painfully frequent in recent Indonesian films).[29]

Bakti tells her that she cannot violate the Muslim laws and traditional cultural mores, that she cannot violate her grandmother’s financial risk and support. He says that she is smarter then any of them, that she is the only one capable of a higher education, and she is the hope they have to advance their family’s lives. The camera then moves in to Rumidjah’s face as she listens to the last of this. It moves closer and closer as she struggles with the weight and stress of all that has occurred and her own inability to resolve the issues in her family and Jakarta—and her decision to leave the city. Her brow moves and the camera fades to black in preparation for the final scene featuring the family’s trip to the train station, past the beggars and poorest of the poor and past the palatial neighborhoods and richest of the rich. Tari looks out of the window in which these scenes of Jakarta pass by as reflections. In the final scene of the film Rumidjah returns to the ancestral village, home, and friend she left behind in the first scene. This last scene echoes the first. But rather than dew drops that appear to be stars, we witness real stars. And instead of a childhood song about dew drops, we hear a childhood song about stars and the desire to find a position among the stars.

In the last scene Rumidjah is re-united with Tumisah. That night they take a walk into the fields, to look at the stars, as they have done since they were children. Tumisah, whom Leonard and Hetty describe as the voice of wisdom in the story, says:

"Don’t think of wealth all the time, Rumidjah. Possessions take possession of you."[30]

Rumidjah nods and says, "You cannot see the stars in Jakarta."

As they look up to see the Southern Cross and a Shooting Star, they sing, as they did in the beginning of the film, a traditional children’s song remembered from childhood.

You little star way up high
There you are shining in the sky
I would love to fly and dance with you
and to find my place among the stars.

And yet, much as this seems to resolve the narrative according to Tumisah's wisdom, it is the expression of a utopian, immortal desire ("I would love") rather than the desire for a "position" that animates the family. This latter desire, this hope for an economic rescue with its share of desperation, not only characterizes the family’s historical situation, but in this third film of the trilogy demonstrates how the economic and religious pressures they are now experiencing have replaced the significance of the revolution against Suharto that opened the first film and first motivated documentarist Retel Helmrich's interest.

Position among the Stars focuses on family conflict. But does it do so to continue hiding the horrors of the violent Indonesian past, with the hundreds of thousands of bodies left buried or thrown into the sea during Suharto's regime still unremembered? Should the nostalgia be for these dead rather than for the stars of childhood? Perhaps. But Retel Helmrich has directed a powerful reading of the historical dialectic that catches this family up in the most intimate spaces. Their yearning, however mistaken, is finally invested in Tari, in the future, rather than in nostalgia for returning to the village. The latter would perhaps also entail confronting the terribleness of those past days, left unredeemed after the overthrow of Suharto, together with the revolutionary dreams of Bakti, his family, and Retel Helmrich himself. Thus the ambiguity of the title. Is it about a timeless position within the natural world, suggested by long shots of animals, dewdrops, and stars? Is it a position among the stars of cinema and reality television so admired by Tari? Or the stardom produced by the extraordinary artistry of the camera's single-shot attentiveness? Or a position among the stars of progress and economic success, the idea that obsesses the family, but that contradicts so much that they value?

This final film in the trilogy about the Indonesian family was produced by Scarabee Films, the production company of the Helmrich family, and also by several other institutions: academic (for example, Harvard University), public (e.g. the Netherlands Fund for Film) and film industry (the Sundance Institute). This prestigious support points to an interest in the humanistic and artistic contribution made by Helmrich's filmmaking more than to any political argument he might be making. His portrait of a family in Indonesia is less journalistic and more novelistic than the other two films discussed in this paper.[31] That said, an early review in Variety thought the film too "low-budget" to play outside the Netherlands.[32] The family featured in the films, according to producer Hetty Naijkens,

"were present at the premiere in the Erasmushuis in Indonesia and they said they like the film. Actually they look at the film as a home video and not as a film or documentary. They are not aware of the fact that they are ‘world-famous.’ Only Tari knows about it because she has a connection with the world by Facebook."[33]

The documentary has earned its reputation through the screenings where it has been presented. Like Budrus and Green Wave, this film was accepted in a large number of film festivals (over 40) from Durban, South Africa, to Shanghai. Position among the Stars won the "Best Full-Length Feature" at IDFA and the highest award at Sundance. And the second New York Times review, titled "A Master of Impossible Camera Angles," talked about Helmrich’s "single shot " technique at length, pointing out that it made small things such as the cockroach as significant as moments of high drama.[34] Finally, Position Among the Stars is now available on HBO and at the HBO online website. "Home movies" have found a position among the stars. It is significant because these "home movies" depict with extraordinary artistry the way that intimate lives enact and reflect contradictions that haunt us all.

All of these films document a transnational commonality of human rights. These films do this in very different ways that celebrate the past, present and future of documentary and suggest ways of illuminating and documenting our dissatisfaction with state and corporate violations of civil and human rights, our love of art, creativity and communication, our need for harmony with the natural world of which we are a part, and our position—if you will—-among the stars.

In this way they share a utopian vision of a cinematic avant-garde that unites social revolutions with art, here with innovations in filmmaking. Thus these three films represent a new version of an avant-garde practice in cinema that unites social commitment with aesthetic experiment. Emma Goldman would approve of that union. Bacha's successful integration of participant recordings into her film, Budrus; Ahadi's use of social media and animation to bring to life the reality of the Iranian Green Wave protests and the horror of the aftermath; and Retel-Helmrich's invention of "single-shot" direct-cinema techniques to give us a compelling close-up of an Indonesian family trying to survive—all these represent something new in the relations between cinema and society.


1. For example, "The Good Pitch Europe" for June 2012 is bringing together filmmakers and funders looking for films with a social conscience. The funders, according to a recent email from BRITDOC, will include Amnesty International, BBC Worldwide, Berlinale, Bertha Foundation, British Council, Channel 4, Comic Relief, Edelman, European Fund for Investigative Journalism, Fallon, Google, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, Institut Francais, International Herald Tribune, Kickstarter, New York Times Op-Docs, Nokia, Occupy Movement, Ofcom, Pascal Decroos Fund, Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation Europe, Roddick Foundation, Swedish Film Institute, Sundance Institute, The Co-Operative, The Elders, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Time Warner, Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, Tribeca New Media Fund, Virgin Unite, WWF, Al Jazeera, Ashoka, BFI, Big Lottery Fund, CPH:DOX, Dogwoof, FILMCLUB, IDFA, National Trust, Oak Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Oxfam, Rare Day, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Stonewall, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Trust, WPP, ZDF....

2. Budrus, Julia Bacha, Director, 2010. See the web site at (http://www.justvision.org/budrus) for the trailer, background information, a list of the 46 festivals that selected the film in 2010 and the many awards that it won, and the over 175 stories about it that have been featured in the press internationally.

3. The Green Wave, Directed Ali Samadi Ahadi, Festival screenings 2010-11; Red Flag theatrical release in the U.S. scheduled for 2012. See Imdb for trailer, press reports: (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1667130/). Web site is (http://www.thegreenwave-film.com/). It contains in particular a list of sources to learn more about the Green Revolution in Iran including reports from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

4. Stand van de Sterren (Position among the Stars), Director Leonard Retel Helmrich; producer Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich, 2010. See http://www.standvandesterren.nl/en/home.php?lang=EN for videos and news articles as well as cast and crew.

5. The role international film festivals play today in regards to documentary film is, like the films themselves, growing and evolving. Both dramatic film-centered festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Sundance, Berlin, and Tribeca, and documentary film festivals such as IDFA, Hot Docs, Full Frame, Silver Docs, and Cinéma du Réel are supporting, promoting and featuring documentary films and filmmakers for growing numbers of film audiences. There is a significant rise in the number of documentaries submitted and screened as well as the number of viewers, directors, subjects, funders, distributors, and concerned social issue and human rights organization representatives attending. The numbers of funding, marketing, producing, and educational events supporting and promoting documentary cinema story-telling arts and their social and cultural impact are rising as well. Festivals are thus becoming much more than screenings and competitions; they are increasingly playing a major role in supporting the advancement of films and the culture, media and society they portray. At the same time that I want to acknowledge the problems of festivals: it's hard to be accepted into them, it costs money, and since government funding of these festivals is diminishing, the pressure of funding may be a critical issue. However, they have instigated an audience for documentary films that changes the landscape.

All three of these films have taken extensive advantage of festival exposure, and then gone on to release the films to theaters and television and DVD sales. I have been able to show them in my classroom. They are of such high quality that 87% of Rotten Tomatoes critics gave Budrus a "fresh" and 100% of critics liked The Green Wave and Position among the Stars.

6. Jay Winter, Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the Twentieth Century (Yale UP: New Haven, CT, 2007).

7. A number of experiments with using citizen journalism and "curating" or editing the resources into films and websites are going forward. A thoughtful and extensive example of "crowdsourcing" is Jigar Mehta's "Eighteen Days in Egypt," which exists in several forms, reaches out to an extensive participatory audience, and can be located on a website: http://beta.18daysinegypt.com

8. See a demonstration of the single shot technique and the steady wing camera attachment at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL2GUHi6W3c.

9. The panel with Judith Helfand and Orlando Bagwell was part of the 2010 Silverdocs Conference, Silver Springs Maryland.

10. Daniel Miller, Interview with Julia Bacha. IDFA, Amsterdam, November 2010.

11. Interview with Iltesham Morrar, Research Interviews with Israeli and Palestinian Peacebuilders , Just Vision Web Site. (http://www.justvision.org/portraits/all)

12. An updated site with links to news coverage of the film and its story is at (http://www.justvision.org/budrus/press/budrus-press-coverage)

13. For a sample of those newsmakers who found it to be "news" in 2010 that there could be nonviolent protest and change in Palestine see, for example:

14. See the "Screenings" list on the Just Vision website:

15. Just Vision also has several other films and an extraordinary website of resources for using them. Just Vision's multi-media outreach and extensive educational website provides a useful model for organizers using any kind of documentary film as a prompt for discussion and fundraising. The website also encourages networking, providing a list of peacebuilding and nonviolence organizations. See http://www.justvision.org

16. For example, nonviolent protest at Bil'in has succeeded also in winning a legal victory against the placement of the wall and building settlements, but the law has not been finally enforced, so the struggle persists. Another award-winning documentary film has emerged from a project at Bil'in, one man's "home movies" of his family, his village, and the protests over settlement. Five Broken Cameras is the product of a joint Israeli-Palestinian effort between Emad Burnat, the Palestinian cinematographer who filmed the town and his relatives and their struggle for more than five years, and Guy Davidi, Israeli activist, director and producer, with production support from Israel and a number of other countries. As in Budrus, the news is from among the people of the town, about the nonviolent international collaboration and the extraordinary film.

17. A commissioning editor at Arte helped them finance this time-driven production, so that they finished the complex filming/animation in ten months. German producers from Arte, Dreamer Joint Venture Filmproduction, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), and VPRO from the Netherlands all collaborated with the Iranian/German director and crew.

18. Information about the making of this film draws upon a personal interview with Daniel Miller carried out with the filmmaker after the screening of the film in November, 2010 at IDFA.

19. See the web site at http://bookcollecting101.com/interview-with-iranian-born-book-artist-alireza-darvish/ for some of his work.

20. Interviewees included Iranians in exile such as Nobel Peace Prize-winning attorney and activist Dr. Shirin Ebadi, and International Criminal Tribunals and Human Rights Representative and Professor Payam Akhavan.

21. See the somewhat controversial Wikipedia entry that says Ahmadinejad may have had the support of the majority of Iranians, before and after the election. The entry says some polling from inside and outside the country before the election and after showed Ahmadinejad ahead. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_presidential_election,_2009#Polling)

22. For reports on the "men of violence" who might be responsible for the Human Rights abuses committed against Green Wave protesters, see the web page from the Iran Human Rights Organization. (http://www.iranhumanrights.org/wp-content/wp-content/menofviolence/MenofViolence.html)

23. Sukhdev Sandhu, "Cinema and the Arab spring: the revolution starts here." The Guardian. Monday 19 September 2011 17.30 EDT (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/sep/19/cinema-and-arab-spring-ica )

24. However, the influence of The Green Wave in the United States probably remains very small because Americans have seen little of it as yet. It is scheduled for distribution by Red Flag beginning in the summer of 2012. It appeared at Sundance in early 2011 and has now been chosen as part of the Sundance "FILM FORWARD: Advancing Cultural Dialogue" project, which showed it in Arizona in March and will take it to India next.

25. Jeannette Catsoulis, "Upheaval in a Family That Hopes to Stand Out." New York Times. September 14, 2011.

26. Leonard Retel-Helmrich and Hetty Naaijkens Retel-Helmrich. Interview with Daniel Miller. At Silver Docs Documentary Film Festival. Silver Springs Md., June, 2011.

27. You can look at the scene of the boy running on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMQ__wVW3vw&feature=related

28. See the bridge scene on YouTube:

29. See, for example, Dag Yngvesson's discussion of Indonesian films about youth culture in the last decade, in "Let's Get Lost: Unmapping History And Reformasi in the Indonesian Film Tiga Hari Untuk Selamanya." "Three Days to Forever."( Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. No. 53, summer 2011). <http://www.ejumpcut.org/currentissue/DagIndonesia/text.html> The Indonesian fiction film, Tiga Hari Untuk Selamany (Three Days to Forever) similarly takes place after nearly a decade of disappointment about the possibility of reform after Suharto. He says that film

"returns ... to the melodramatic space of family conflict, which historically has served as a container and in some sense a hiding place for the most unspeakable aspects of local experience."

30. Helmrich and Naijkens said that the key line in the film was this one, when Rumidjah talks about her family buying things and asking for money, and Tumisah retorts with her statement about possessions. Interview, Daniel Miller. Silver Springs Md., June, 2011.

31. His film was nominated by the European Film Academy for the Documentary Prix Arte award, and by the Writers Guild of America in 2012 for the Best Documentary Screenplay. He has taught at Harvard and is scheduled to teach at New York University in 2012.

32. Leslie Felperin., Review. "Position Among the Stars" (Stand van de sterren). Variety Nov. 29, 2010. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117944130/ (accessed June 7, 2012)

33. Hetty Naijkens' email to Daniel Miller's inquiry about whether the films had screened in Indonesia. She replied that there had been so far only two premieres there. June 13, 2012.

34. John Anderson. "A Master of Impossible Angles." Review. New York Times. September 9, 2011: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/movies/leonard-retel-helmrichs-documentaries-capture-closed-spaces.html?_r=3 (accessed June 7, 2012).

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