Nia Dinata: The Power of Cinema

FOR Nia Dinata, inspiration for her work can come from anywhere and at any time. Born Nurkurniati Aisyah Dewi in Jakarta on March 4, 1970, Nia never runs out of inspiration. She is known as a young and creative film director and film producer.   

Formerly an apprentice reporter at a private television station, Nia began her career as a film director by making video clips and commercials. Nia is a mass communication graduate of Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania. Then she took a course on film production at New York University. She first fell in love with cinematography as a university student.

“When I was studying at the university, I was exposed to the diversity of the world of cinematography and I could feel the power of cinema’, which can inspire a person, shape his opinions and change the course of his life,” she said.   

Although she was not born into a family of filmmakers, “All my family love watching films and reading books. When we were small, we watched films together and were encouraged to read. In early the 1990s, when I was just entering this field, the situation was quite different from what it is today. Back then there was not much information about film, and facilities were still very limited,” she said.   

Nia said that back then, foreign cultural centers were not very active in organizing workshops or seminars, international film festivals or disseminating information about them. And so she had to find technical data and information herself. “However, as I had to recruit crew by myself and similarly had to look for data about post-production places, film laboratories and even sponsorships as well as media partners in connection with film promotion, I have learned from experience and tried to apply this experience with all its limitations by relying on my own creativity,” she said.   

After returning from the U.S, Nia took on various commercial projects for television. In 1998, her TV film Mencari Pelangi (In Search of the Rainbow) won the Best Picture and Best Drama awards in the Indonesian TV-Film Festival. Around 1999, Nia set up an independent film company called Kaylana Shira Film. She said she did not have any managerial experience and had to rely on instinct at the time. However, as time went by she acquired managerial skills.   

Later, Nia directed the motion picture Ca Bau Kan (2002), which is based on a novel of the same name by novelist Remy Sylado. Set in the 1930s, the film tells the story of two ethnic Chinese freedom fighters played by Ferry Salim and Lola Amaria.   

Then in 2004, she directed another film, Arisan!, starring Surya Saputra, Cut Mini and Tora Sudiro. This film won a lot of citations, including from the Indonesian Film Festival and from MTV Movie Awards. Other movies Nia has directed and produced include Berbagi Suami (2006), Janji Joni (2005) (producer), Ajang ajeng (2004), Joni Be Brave (2003) and Biola Tak Berdawai (2003). “It takes creativity, instinct and courage to make the impossible possible,” Nia said.

“In my opinion, it is important to have experience as a real professional before establishing an independent company. But I decided to start my own film company because I had a specific desire in establishing a creative, productive, sustainable and consistent film company, and that was to foster the young generation in film production. So this company is not just profit-oriented,” she said.   

Nia is indeed a woman with obsessions. One of her obsessions is to set up an independent film center that can be both a data center and film archives, particularly for post-reform films and films by women. These may be short films, documentaries or even narratives that raise the issues of the minorities.   

Nia believes the Indonesian film business has huge potential because the population is so big. Therefore, it is necessary to have the right strategy to embrace the market. Nia has always tried to be consistent in her work, which raises different and critical issues. She also maintains the quality of film production, which is adjusted to the genre of each film. She always tries to develop a character beyond the stereotype and market her films specifically, in accordance with the target audience.   

Uniquely, in producing a film, Nia always considers the core issue of a film before the market segmentation. Only later will the market segmentation be determined. According to Nia, a motion picture offers greater satisfaction than commercials, TV films or video clips. “Our community still needs many other viewing options. Full-screen films are also immortal works. A filmmaker may die but his work can be kept, enjoyed and studied by future generations,” she said.   

However, her profession is not without constraints. Nia says the biggest challenge in this creative business is censorship. Other challenges come from restrictive laws and government regulations related to film. “Including regulations on production, post-production and taxes, which do not help domestic filmmakers,” she said.   

Nia went to the Berlin International Film Festival in early February to present the first documentary made by Kalyana Shira, which was entered in the Berlinale Panorama section. This was the first step in Nia’s determination to introduce Indonesian documentaries to international audiences.

“Hopefully, there will be other festivals that will invite this film for screening. This film can also be distributed in Europe, the US and other Asian countries,” Nia said optimistically. (Iwan Suci Jatmiko)  

The Jakarta Post, February 18, 2009

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