Interviewing Riri Riza 7,000 Miles Away From Home

After the interview session with Riri Riza. Photo by Author.

Being far from Indonesia does not mean you have to miss Indonesia’s art and culture. Our columnist, Dytha, shares her experience interviewing one of Indonesia’s best filmmakers, Riri Riza, thousands miles away from home.

Who doesn’t know the emblematic movie Petualangan Sherina or Laskar Pelangi? I was studying for my master degree in Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, INALCO for short when I had a chance to interview one of the biggest Indonesian film director, producer and writer, Riri Riza. Never crossed in my mind that living in France, theoretically speaking 11 000 kilometers further from the homeland will give me an opportunity to meet one of the most inspiring movie director in Indonesia. It all happened when I enrolled in my first year of master…

Using Batik skirt for the interview
Using Batik skirt for the interview. Photo by author.

I finished my bachelor degrees in Universitas Indonesia and INALCO, Paris at the same year. It was a double degree and a scholarship program that allowed me to have 2 degrees with 2 different majors: one in French Literature and the other one is in Communication. Long story short, once I got my degree, I tried to look for another scholarship and got accepted in the same university.

This time it was more specific, I was majoring in Intercultural Communication. If you ask what’s the difference between the general communication studies, it is quite the same, but with a lot more cultural and anthropological approach. We studied a lot about the culture difference between people, how they behave in the community, stereotypes, racism and much more. Like any other communication studies, we have the journalism class, which allow us to do interview people with different expertise.

Vesoul – Photo by author

INALCO is known for its expertise in language and culture: they hold a lot of events in Paris including seminars and interviews of writers, ambassadors, experts in social studies, etc. One of the event that is supported by INALCO is Festival International des Cinémas d’Asie or International Asian Film Festival that take place in Vesoul, a city 2 hours from Paris, France. In this festival we can see a lot of writers, filmmakers, movie directors, etc. The Festival is less known than Cannes Festival, but it is really appreciated especially in Asian communities.

So how could I get chosen for the one who Interview Riri Riza? The university made a shortlist of people who could go the Festival and the one who would get a chance to interview the filmmakers. Every interviewer chosen is the one who can speak the mother tongue of each filmmaker or director. It sounds quite obvious but it’s quite rare in France to find someone who speaks Khmer, Indonesian or even Korean. This was the second time Riri Riza was invited for the Festival, the first one was in 2013 for the projection of his movie, Atambua 39° Celsius.

So for the second time, Riri Riza came to France introducing his movie Atirah, but internationally introduced as Emma (Mother), featuring Cut Mini as the main female actress. A beautiful movie inspired from the Mother of Jusuf Kalla, Vice President of Indonesia. Telling a story about a woman, trying to fulfil her role as a wife of a man who’s marrying a new lady and as a mother of her children.

I was in Vesoul almost for a week, we had a chance to see a lot of movie projections from various countries and various subjects. At the same time, between one movie and another, we had interviewed several people to ask what do they think about the movie they just watched. It really was a good opportunity to learn about journalism and culture.

After a lot of preparations, briefings and rehearsals, the time came for the interview. I prepared my Batik skirt, showing the pride of being Indonesian in an International Film Festival. Riri Riza had already known that the interviewer would most likely to be an Indonesian. So at the time he came in the room set up with camera and lighting, he was really calm and at ease. From one question to another, he answered it clearly and developed it quite profoundly.

Riri Riza
Photo extracted from the interview – INALCO Communication et Formation Interculturelle

“I’m really happy to be invited once again to Vesoul, France. A festival from a country that we can say, where the cinematography was born, where people achieve their goals and made something we called ‘art’ and wrote it down in history… To be invited to this country as a filmmaker, is already a really outstanding opportunity for me,” said Riri Riza in the beginning of the interview.

Once the interview is done, we thanked each other and chatted for a while. Just not so long after, Indonesian Ambassador for France and Monaco, Hotmangaradja Padjaitan came to visit and congratulate Riri Riza for his achievement. We sat down altogether and enjoying a really nice afternoon.

On the last day of the Festival, the closing ceremony was held where all the filmmakers from all over the world gathered and enjoy their last day. Emma (Mother) won the Prix du Jury ‘Jury’s choice’ for the characters’ strength, the sincerity and brightness of the mother, the precision of the details, the music and the beauty of the image. I was so happy and so proud at the same time to witness the ceremony.

Closing Ceremony – Festival covered by the media. 

Two days after, I got back to Paris to finish the video editing, translation to French and subtitling. Until today, I never thought that I would meet Riri Riza in person, a filmmaker of a legendary movie that I watch when I was a child and still remember until now. Being far from the country doesn’t mean that we will lose our culture and the art that comes with it. It’s to see it from different perspective, and to appreciate it differently.


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