Bali Film Festival Promises a Surprise, or Two

By Sarita Newson
For The Bali Times

SANUR ~ How do great festivals begin? The BALINALE is going through all the joys and growing pains of a festival in its infancy.
Now in its second year, this international film festival that runs from October 21 to 31 promises to be a visual and cultural feast of creativity.
In 2007 the inaugural festival was billed as the Bali Taksu Film Festival, run on a shoestring, and attracted an audience of more than 1,000. BALINALE follows in the tradition of the BERLINALE and the VIENNALE, both which have more than 50 years of successful events behind them.
The moniker was the brainchild of patron Warwick Purser, whose vision is confident in Bali’s potential to become renowned for this international feast of films – a place where international filmmakers will be inspired as well as a stepping-stone for Indonesian filmmakers to introduce their work to the world.
Venice started it all in 1931, and 1946 saw the beginning of the spring ritual in Cannes. The Berlin festival, aided by US post-war reconstruction funds, got off the ground in 1953. San Francisco’s Italian Film Week, staged by Italian Consul Pierluigi Alvera and Irving “Bud” Levin in 1956, was the precursor to the first San Francisco International Film Festival in December 1957.
The San Francisco IFF was not the only festival that had an against-all-odds survival during its infancy. The first stumbling block was a lack of funding, the scourge of all festivals. It takes a few years to build up the confidence of the corporate sector in funding events like this. A second challenge for the fledgling festival – in an age where communication was ponderous compared to today – was acquiring the best of international cinema.
“There were films from 12 countries,” recalled Irving Levin in a 1979 interview with San Francisco magazine.
BALINALE 2008 is showcasing 50 films from 20 countries shown in five different locations around Bali, as well as a number of workshops and exhibitions.
It comes as no surprise that the festival is flying towards its opening night of October 21 with similar challenges to her predecessors, and all the associated joys of finding support in the most unexpected places.
As the new kid on the block, difficulties in seeking sponsorship to cover the expensive cost of theatres and venues are part and parcel of planning a festival, and without the generous sponsorship of institutions like the Saraswati Foundation for the Arts, which runs the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival; New Media in Denpasar; and progressive Ubud gallerist Toby Raka, the educational program that carries the mission of the Bali Taksu Indonesia Foundation would be difficult to stage.
“With the priority of staging events in settings that give access to the right audiences, it has worked out amazingly well,” says Deborah Gabinetti, the festival’s director.
“Opening night is always great fun, and on October 21 we have a surprise film to show our audience that is at the cutting edge of new cinema.”
This year’s program shows an ambitious expansion over last year – with the first three days at Galeria 21 theater showing premieres of international award-winning films addressing cultural and environmental issues. An encouraging number of international directors are traveling to Bali to introduce their films.
The Indonesian premiere of Son of a Lion, set in the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan where a widowed gunmaker expects his only son to follow in his footsteps, is pure guerrilla filmmaking. Filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour brings the issue of the legacy of war and its impact on children to the forefront, pinpointing the difficulty for the young generation to escape this heritage and achieve new aspirations. Gilmour worked in dangerous and clandestine situations to attain the footage of this remarkable story.
Taking Root – the Vision of Wangari Maathai is an Asian premiere of the Nobel Prize-winner’s work in replanting trees to re-green the environment in her Kenyan homeland of Africa. An Indonesian premiere of Mexican director Sebastian Silva’s film El Viaje de la Nonna (Nonna’s Trip) approaches the universal issues of age and memory, with an elderly woman who dreams of seeing her home once more and is supported by her family in making these dreams come true.
The matinee program for children, a series of Swedish Films based upon stories written by Astrid Lindgren, renowned author of Pippi Longstocking, is a joy for viewers of all ages. Although the beauty of the Swedish countryside and needs no translation, the Swedish Embassy in Jakarta will be providing an Indonesian introduction to the films to help children follow the stories.
Indonesia’s own Garin Nugroho, presently attending the Tokyo International Film Festival, has provided his film Opera Jawa (Requiem from Java) for its Bali premiere in its first public screening. Recipient of the prestigious Best Music Award at Hong Kong IFF 2007, Opera Jawa is inspired by the story of the abduction of Sita, a musical which tells of a passionate love triangle, love, conflict and death.
Indonesian Film Perempuan Punya Cerita (Chants of Lotus) will be introduced by scriptwriter Vivian Idris and actress Shanty. This is a collaboration of four directors – Nia dinata, Upi, Lasja F. Susatyo and Fatimah T. Rony – that depicts the fates of women in four different parts of Indonesian society: an isolated island, a tourist town, a village and the capital city.
Italian film Lezioni di Volo (Flying Lessons), directed by Francesca Archibugi, will also make its Asian premiere at the festival. A story about two young Italian losers who travel to India and meet a disillusioned French doctor, it deals with a spectrum of sociological issues.
The last day also celebrates Charlie Chaplin Night – presenting rare footage of Charlie Chaplin’s 1932 visit to Bali and Charlie’s favorite film, The Gold Rush, filmed in 1925 – the quintessential Chaplin/Little Tramp film.
This 10-day visual feast, put together on a minimal budget with a lot of help from friends, will bring film lovers and filmmakers to Bali on a wonderful tour of cultural discovery, through the creative efforts of filmmakers from far and wide. Young people can attend workshops and exhibitions and be inspired.
The soul of BALINALE is expanding – can you feel it?

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