Festival Sinema Australia Indonesia (FSAI) 2017, an initiative of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, celebrates the best of Indonesian and Australian film. This year FSAI launched its inaugural Short Film Competition to support independent Indonesian cinema, and to provide an outlet for young Indonesian filmmakers to have their latest work screened.

From nearly 300 entrants, six finalists were chosen to compete for the opportunity to travel to Australia to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) 2017. The six films were screened throughout the Festival, and the winner of Best Short Film and People’s Choice were announced at the Awarding Ceremony on 29 January. AIYA spoke to the winner of Best Short Film, Mahesa Desaga, about his short film Nunggu Teka.

 Please tell us about your short film, Nunngu Teka.

Nunggu Teka is a story about a mother who is awaiting the homecoming of her children who have moved away. It’s Lebaran, and she has prepared the best of everything to welcome the arrival of her children.

This story departs from my thoughts about the feelings of a mother when she is longing for the return of her children. From my experiences, a mother sometimes doesn’t desire expressions of love every day from her children. It is enough for a mother to hear news from her children – this is enough to bring peace to her throughout her day.

From this, I invite the viewers of this film to unearth moments with their mother. I am certain everyone has their own story with their mother. With this film, I am inviting viewers to re-examine their relationship with their mother. In Nunggu Teka, I deliberately avoided tendentiously creating significant drama. I only wanted to show small moments of friction be filled with the memories of the viewers.

Poster: Mahesa Desanga

How long have you been making short films? For you, what is most satisfying about this artform?

I started producing films in 2008, when I was part of the film community at my campus at the University of Brawijaya. Previously I simply enjoyed watching films – I didn’t think I could produce them – but a work program from the film community ousted me to become the director of a film. From then I started to become interested in directing films.

Why directing? Because I feel like I wouldn’t be skilled in any other filmmaking department. I only understand the philosophy of frames, or film editing, but not the technical matters. I can only tell stories, and telling stories is the responsibility and function of a director.  If Mahesa Desaga wants to live in the world of film, then he can only be a director (and occasionally a screenwriter).

For me film is the medium which is most complete for telling the story of a human life, and even through film we create life. The most important thing for me in the production of a film is that we create an impression for the viewers. The viewers talk about our film, they are reminded of experiences from long ago, and they are moved to do something after watching it. This elements are for me the most satisfying as a filmmaker. And film is indeed the medium which is most complete for this. We can engage viewers through both sound and images.

Gambar: Mahesa Desanga

As the winner of FSIA’s Short Film Competition, in August you’ll travel to Australia to attend MIFF. What are your hopes for this experience?

The opportunity to attend MIFF, for me will become an arena for learning about and researching Australian cinema, in a direct manner. To what extent film is associated with the Australian community. What kind of film trends or developments are being produced by Australian filmmakers. And of course what will be interesting is seeing how those who make films in Australia explore different filmic forms to deliver their stories.  All of these things I will be able to see and feel more closely.

Gambar: Mahesa Desanga

What is your sense of the Indonesian film industry at the moment? What are your hopes for it, and for your role within it?

The Indonesian film industry is currently building, I feel. There are still many things which need to be developed. Until now, the Indonesian film industry has been skewed towards production only, even though this is not ideal from the viewpoint of a dynamic industry. Other areas which also need to be developed are distribution, exhibition, appreciation and criticism. There are already a few figures starting to work in these fields. They need to be supported.

In my opinion, Indonesian filmmakers need to assiduously read their culture. The source of strong stories is borne from culture which is close to everyday life. It can also be argued that Indonesian filmmakers need not be afraid to exhaust stock ideas, as long as they become closer to their culture.

Gambar: Mahesa Desanga

Do you think events such as FSIA are effective and beneficial for strengthening the relationship between Indonesia and Australia?

Of course events such are FSAI are important. Firstly, it’s important for broadening audience’s perspective about Australian film, and showing them that films aren’t solely produced in America by Hollywood. It also shows that there are Australian films which are extremely humanitarian. It is clear that this event is a socio-cultural introduction of Australia to the Indonesian community.

Secondly, the opening of the short film competition at FSAI is also something that is extremely crucial. Because the development of short films in Indonesia is really strong, this session could be even more powerful for illustrating Indonesian socio-cultural elements to the public. When we speak about the face of Indonesia, then we must watch its short films. So with the opening of this opportunity for short films to be screened, it shows FSAI is focused on becoming one of the diplomatic directions which is indeed effective.

Like with my film, Nunggu Teka for example, the issue of the mother-child relationship is a universal issue, but through this film can be shown something specific regarding the situation in Indonesian in the celebration of a national day, a holy day. It could be a point of introduction to Indonesia for those outside.

Where can we learn more about your short films?

For information about my work you can visit my social media accounts. I’m really open to discussion and answering questions.

Facebook: Mahesa Desaga; Instagram: @mahesadesaga; Twitter: @mahesadesaga.

For more information about FSAI check the website.