Joko Anwar tells Prestige in a virtual interview how awards and recognition won’t compromise his filmmaking vision after 15 years as a director and a writer.
It’s impossible not to mention Joko Anwar when talking about contemporary Indonesian cinema. The award-winning director and writer is one of the country’s brightest filmmakers. He has won not only moviegoers’ hearts, but also much critical praise. His films, ranging from the light-hearted romantic comedy Joni’s Promise (Janji Joni) to the comedy Quickie Express, the psychological thriller The Forbidden Door, and A Copy of Mind, which won rave reviews from critics when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, are not only entertaining. They also challenge your senses and mind, having been made with the utmost dedication and care. Of his art, Anwar declares: “That’s the beauty of film. It’s a commercial commodity, but it’s also supposed to make people feel.”
In the past two years, Anwar has directed his first superhero movie, Gundala, the opening instalment of Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU). His horror film Satan’s Slaves (Pengabdi Setan) received positive reviews, while Impetigore (Perempuan Tanah Jahanam) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, gained a record-breaking 17 Festival Film Indonesia nominations, and was selected as Indonesia’s representative in the Academy Awards’ Best International Feature Film category. Asked for his first reaction when heard about this, Anwar laughs: “When they said it broke the record, I said thank you. Of course, I’m happy because Festival Film Indonesia is judged by filmmakers. To get that kind of acknowledgment from my fellow professionals, that feels really good.”
Looking ahead, Anwar says he doesn’t want to get carried away by the glowing reviews and awards that have come his way. “The greatest acknowledgement for me, which sounds a bit cliché, but is true, is when someone comes up to me and says they enjoyed my movie. Or when they say that it has changed their perspective about something. Every movie that I make, I make with the highest dedication I can, learning from my past mistakes. I put everything I have into it. Some people end up making movies just to make a living, but I don’t think I would ever make a film simply for the money. I love films, and I’ve been watching films since I was a kid – a movie buff from an early age. I intend to go on making films with real dedication.”
Anwar has now been active in the film industry for more than 15 years. After so many awards and so much recognition, all of which he very much deserves, was there ever a moment when he felt he was under pressure to create something fresh and new? “To be creative, to me, is not a pressure,” he replies. “However, it is a challenge. Because I believe as a filmmaker, if you stop creating it can dull your senses. You really have to hone your craft, because making a film is also about the feel. It’s sometimes difficult to keep going after all these years, simply because you face a lot of distractions compared to when you first started.”
Anwar believes that we are currently in the golden age of Indonesian cinema. This means, he says, that the Indonesian audience has a high confidence and trust in the country’s cinema industry. But the pandemic has taken a heavy toll. In 2020, Indonesia has released 50 to 60 titles, in comparison to 140 films in a regular year. For Anwar personally, all production stopped in March, even though he was supposed to shoot a film in April. On the bright side, coping during the lockdown has proven to be productive for his writing career. He tells us he is now writing two scripts and his first novel.
Anwar is also busy producing two BCU movies, Sri Asih and Virgo and The Sparklings. “And probably in 2021 I will be directing a new movie, and writing another two films. After that, maybe I’ll be having a break – or doing some secret project.”