On the closing night of the Indonesian Film Festival (IFF) in Melbourne, the ACMI Cinema was brimming with anticipation. For the first time in the short history of the Festival, the main cinema had sold out. AIYA Victoria President Daniel Brooks welcomed the crowd to the screening of Jalanan (Streetside), a documentary about the lives of three street buskers in Jakarta. Despite their similar work, the lives of the three protagonists, Titi, Boni and Ho, could hardly be more different.
Titi is from a village in Java, and moved to Jakarta to work. Her music is canny and her smile is broad. She has three children around different parts of the country and in one brilliant scene, she mentions that she has one child in Kalimantan who speaks Malay, one child in Jakarta who speaks Jakarta slang and one child in Java that speaks Javanese, a neat microcosm of the diversity of the archipelago. Ho is dread-locked, exuberant and absolutely charming. His music is political and witty. Boni, a streetkid that taught himself to play music, lives under a bridge with his wife and a few others. He has a wicked sense of humor. The three climb onto buses all over the city each day, singing original songs about the city, about fashion trends, about corruption and about religion. Each seems to have a project (or barrier to overcome) by the end of the film, Ho wants to woo a woman, Boni has trouble from floodwaters and the authorities in his home, and Titi is determined to finish her high school education. Yet their lives are so much richer and more complex than these familiar tropes might have you believe.
The film is the first from Daniel Ziv, who now lives in Bali, Indonesia and is the culmination of five years of filming. There is little signposting or indication of the passing of time in the film. The days, months and years of the buskers, blend into one another as they navigate the realities of living on the street and their own responsibilities at home. With his “guerilla” style filmmaking, as film critic and moderator of the panel Peter Krause called it, Ziv brings the audience along with him, onto the packed buses, into the prison cells and to the most private quarters of each of the protagonists.
The film opens with shots of Jakarta, and figures about the size of Indonesia, Jakarta and the population of buskers in Jakarta, situating this charismatic trio in the larger politics of the city and the country. The film broaches the destructiveness of the “Jakarta Indah” campaign and how it displaces large populations of urban poor, it brings into focus the gross inequalities between the city’s rich and poor and it examines endemic corruption at the hands of government and yet the power of the film is that these issues are all examined through the lens of the characters’ lives who navigate these realities everyday.
Jalanan is heart warming and funny and was received resoundingly by the capacity crowd. Jalanan has also created ripples in other ponds. It was the first documentary film to be released commercially in Indonesia – initially the film was given a three day trial at a cinema in Jakarta and the response was so incredible that the release was extended to 6 cities around Indonesia and lasted over a month. Ziv was especially enthusiastic about the film’s release and popularity in Indonesia as an important breakthrough for the genre as well as an opportunity to shed light on the plight of Indonesia’s working poor – who despite poverty are remarkable in their talent, their enthusiasm and their vibrancy for life. In fact, when watching the film President Elect Joko Widodo was so overwhelmed that after watching the film he called the three “Jakarta Heroes”.
The trio were as endearing off screen as on screen as they performed a number of songs and then spoke with Ziv about the film, and about seeing themselves on the big screen. Ziv then spoke about how he had found and then fallen in love with these three particular characters tracking them on buses in Jakarta, and by the end of the night, it was clear that he wasn’t the only one.