You and I, The Power of Humanity: An Interview with Fanny Chotimah

Recently awarded the Best Feature-length Documentary prize at the Festival Film Indonesia 2020, Fanny Chotimah's You and I also screened at the Singapore International Film Festival, was the closing film at the JAFF-Netpac Asian Film Festival 15, and even won best film at the 12th DMZ International Documentary Film Festival Asia Competition. Telling the story of two female former political prisoners who live together until the end of their lives, the documentary is a moving portrait of Kusdalini and Kaminah, who never married because of the intense stigma of being former political prisoners. No longer able to continue their studies and work, they ran a small eatery for survival, and spent their old age together selling crackers. 

Here, SINdie's own Indonesian correspondent has a quick chat with Fanny about life and film. 

Where did the idea for this film come from? What made you decide to make this film? 

The idea of making this film begin when I started getting to know my protagonists, Kaminah and Kusdalini. I fell in love with their friendship and how warm they are. Their life stories and experiences would be unfortunately if only me who knew. So, I decided to document their lives. 

When did you start this film project? And how were your plans at that time for this film? 

The research began in 2016 and then continued shooting until 2018. I was editing the film from 2017 to 2019, though by the third year it was no longer as intense for shooting. My preparation for the film started with the story; I wrote a script and further developed a treatment based on the results of research and observation. As documentaries are so dynamic, certain elements did change with the process. There were also some things that happened which were beyond my control, so I needed to be open to accepting these changes. 

Who did you first share your idea with, and how did they respond? 

With my producer! They were the one to introduce me to mbah Kaminah and Kusdalini, whose profile had previously been published in the form of a photography book. My producer really welcomed every respond from the previous photography book work, and thus for this project it shifted tousing the film medium. 

Was it your intention to saying something about 1965's Indonesia through this film? Or did you want to tell a more intimate story? 

The events of 1965 are the background for my protagonists, where the two of them met because they were fellow activists - and were later arrested together. What I wanted to know is how they survived after prison and then fight for justice for them with other survivors. I prefer to ask questions on the side of humanity; being punished without trial like what happened to them might happen to all of us. Their relationship is the strength that allowed them to endure to the end. I admire their determination to continue the 'risk of struggle'. 

Did you feel an emotional connection with the subject when making this film? How do you keep your distance, so you can still finish your film? 

Of course, I am emotionally close to both of them, especially mbah Kaminah. We are friends - and as we are friends, we also automatically know how to maintain the necessary distance and boundaries, whether my protagonist feels comfortable or not. 

What do you want the audience to take away from the film? What are your plans for the film? 

I hope to cultivate a sense of empathy in the audience for these survivors, so that they won't be stigmatise. My plan, of course, is for the film to be screened more widely, so that all people can access it.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. For the original piece in Bahasa Indonesia, please refer to this link.

Interview conducted by Akbar Rafsanjani in Bahasa Indonesia
Translated into English by Akbar Rafsanjani
Edited in English by Alfonse Chiu
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