Husband. Wife. Daughter. Stranger. Who do you trust? : an Interview with Riri Riza

 


DINA (36) is a woman who lives in fear. She ran away from her abusive husband, GION (45) and now lives in Bali with their teenaged daughter, LAURA (17). Dina’s fear of Gion leads her to become increasingly paranoid and overprotective of Laura. While for Laura, she feels her mother is just being delusional, especially now that her father is held in prison for a crime he committed. When Covid-19 pandemic breaks, Indonesian government is releasing a number of prisoners to slow down the spread of Covid-19 in penitentiaries. Gion is one of them. Dina panics. She knows for sure that Gion will hunt her down, not only because she took their only daughter away from him, but she also took Gion's valuable antique statue away with her. 

Riri Riza's latest film by Miles Films entitled Paranoia had its world premiere at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival 2021, South Korea. This film is Riri Riza's first film in the thriller genre. Riri Riza and Mira Lesmana are the directors of Kuldesak (1999), one of Indonesia's most important films that accompanied Manifesto I Sinema during the Soeharto era in Indonesia. Paranoia marks yet another one of their many collaborations as director and producer. 

Paranoia was produced during a pandemic in November 2020. Much of the preparation was done online, and filming took place in a specifically closed location for Paranoia production. We had the opportunity to talk with Riri Riza. Riri spoke about the challenges of producing Paranoia during this pandemic and how he learned many things during the production of this film, including how he prepared stuff in great detail.

What inspired Paranoia? 

In fact, from April to May 2020, we were all dealing with tremendous anxiety. About our life situation at that time. I was with my best friend and partner, Mira Lesmana. She is the producer of Miles Films and all the films I have made over the past 20 years. Also, have several film production plans. But we saw that this situation will not recover so quickly. The health protocol and the condition of the people affected by this pandemic will last longer and be full of uncertainty. That's when we, as filmmakers, had discussions, made observations of what was happening, and indeed, we were inspired by the feelings of fear itself. Mira and I want to make films that talk about, or experiment with, different genres or forms of cinema. It's different because it's a little away from the theme or storytelling of the drama that has been the character of my films. We are trying to explore other areas. That feeling of fear seems to have appeared in the community, and the story of Paranoia, the story of Dina, a woman who is dealing with her past, is the story that inspires us from the news we read in the media. 

The government has to take drastic decisions. There are many quick decisions in dealing with a pandemic situation. So this is a film inspired by real events that happened that we read about in isolation at home, in a state of having to quarantine at home during this pandemic. And how quickly the process took place, and everything took place in a not too long time, we managed to write it down in film story ideas. 

Photo source: Locarno Film Festival

Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza 

How different is Paranoia from your previous works regarding subject matter or filmmaking? 

In essence, in this film, I am dealing with a straightforward narrative. It just happened in a not-so-large space, in a confined environment. This condition forced me to make sure and take advantage of all the story elements in that environment. We have very few subjects or characters. We have isolated closed story worlds and very little time. So it's like time-limit, like time chasing this job. Maybe I've done this work on a story or two that I made before, but this is a film that later became special to me. I will remember for a long time because it was the first time I experimented or instead tried to enter and explore the thriller genre, drama thriller and a little touch of action, namely a little touch of action, yes, stunt and action. 

As far as your filmmaking experience, is anything that made you feel different when writing/directing Paranoia? 

I think that's very different is maybe I'm a little more calculative, yaa. We have to be very calculative because we are producing this film also in a pandemic. We create a bubble, a closed environment. Everyone involved in this production must follow proper health protocol procedures. Everyone did the PCR test, then they were not allowed to go out, they weren't allowed to interact with the outside environment, and at the same time, I tried to be very disciplined in film-directing patterns such as setting, cinematography, editing, and sound. I took into account whose eyes the camera was representing. There's hardly any camera movement that isn't motivated by the characters. It's a very tight storytelling film, and I think with only practically three main characters, this film tries to tell a story and draw the audience into a prolonged world of storytelling. I remember a little of how I felt when I imagined Alfred Hitchcock making horror films or making his classic thriller films in the 1940-1950s. I worked with a DoP who is used to working in reasonably excellent and well-known Southeast Asian movies whose name is Teoh Gay Hian. Hian gave me a lot of new knowledge about how we can make sure all the elements of the image in the film have meaning and describe or encourage drama or encourage the development of characters in the movie. Those are examples of discussions that occurred while making this film. I think this is a very new experience for me. 

What was the production process like for Paranoia, particularly in terms of working with your cast and crew? 

I think it's enjoyable. Because, for example, we went to the shooting location, it was practically only walking distance from the hotel to the location. We use very few location elements in the story. But the location of this story is also a beautiful landscape, which is very special with tropical solid colours and the colour of the sun is also good. Then I could also create very purposeful spaces because the environment is also very tight. At the same time, everyone who worked on it was probably very isolated because everything is taken into account. After all, we don't have to go anywhere else. There are one or two locations that are outside the central location but all within vehicle reach. We have rigorous discipline. Each crew has their vehicle, and each crew has their own very simple cutlery. They don't exchange with other people. We use our drinking bottles. Yes, it was fun, but when the bubble was created, we were pretty free at the same time. So maybe if I work 80 per cent a day in Jakarta, then I have to wear a mask. But when I worked inside the bubble at this shooting location on the seafront, we only wore masks for a day. Only when we are in a vehicle or in a place that happens to be in a narrow room. The rest, when outside, is very relaxed and open. This is a pleasant experience. 

Behind the Scenes on 'Paranoia'

What were some of the challenges you faced during the production of this film? 

I think the main challenge is the uncertainty of the distribution. Of course, the written stories must be sensitive and imagine the possibilities of health protocols. We have to consider that there should not be too many shooting locations and, if possible, a secure place, not open. It is a style of story writing that uses limitations as part of the imagination. But the most challenging thing is that there is uncertainty in the film's distribution, in my opinion. Because after all, a movie must be screened in a cinema room. But now we practically can't imagine the conditions under which cinemas can fully reopen, especially in Indonesia. 

Were there any new insights or knowledge that you got while directing Paranoia? 

I firmly believe that if we want, we can tell stories under minimal conditions. I think that I can do that. I can find stories that occur in narrow spaces which are not new either. It has been done a lot in the history of cinema. I've also experienced it while working on the film Atambua, 39° Celsius (2012). When I make a travel film about two people, Ambar and Yusuf, in the movie Tiga Hari Untuk Selamanya (2007), for example, or create a story about a mother and daughter who meet again in a big city like in the film Eliana, Eliana (2002). I have the power to tell stories within the limitations of space and time constraints. I enjoyed it, and I really enjoyed it. That's one of the things I learned and enjoyed while I was producing Paranoia. 

What lead to the casting of Caitlin North Lewis as Laura? 

 Caitlin is a girl who, actually in this story, describes the anxiety when she is confined. A teenager living near adulthood has many questions, has a lot of strength in his physique, and is confident in who she is. But the environment in which she lives supports her. Moreover, she has to be busy with a constantly angry mother, always related to her situation and reality as a woman. And that's why the character played by Caitlin became very depressed. In a state of stress, a person always wants to run and be free and open herself freely, and I think Caitlin is one of the few teenage or young actors who have that courage. She has preconditions that allow him to take on this role. There are not many young actors that we know today in Indonesia who still have attitudes that tend to be prejudiced against expressing themselves openly. That is a reality in this country (Indonesia). Caitlin is ready to face the challenges I put forward when we work together on this character (Caitlin's character). 

Why did you choose to premiere at BIFan? 

Buncheon is one of the festivals we have been friends with for a long time. This festival, of course, is widely known for its genre films. It is a fantastic film festival. Many horror films and thriller films have premiered, and we have a special place at this festival. It is also one of the festivals that focuses on the film genre and has been around for quite a while. So actually, Mira Lesmana has a considerable role in this. But we see that Paranoia is probably best tested against its market, given the possibility of more open space for screening at this festival. That's what we want to make sure of. Too bad I couldn't come to Bucheon because of the pandemic. So I couldn't accompany this film and listen to the comments of the first audience of this film. But of course, this will become a memory in the future. Hopefully, I can watch this film with audiences everywhere and feel their response. 

How do you think the audience in Asia will react to this film? 

I can't imagine the audience's reaction yet. But at least in Indonesia or maybe in Asian countries, yes, this pandemic condition is a condition that has consequences for the mental health of humans who have to live it and deal with it. We hear a lot, for example, a statement that reports of abuse or physical violence against women occurred during a pandemic. We also hear of many depressed youths and adolescents who have had to stay home for long periods under the stress of fear. So hopefully, this film will present an antidote or a channel to articulate our feelings as viewers when watching this film and make us feel better. That's what I expected. Hopefully, the audience can feel that this Paranoia is a part of their lives, and they can get something from watching this film. 

Are you planning to write another thriller in the future? 

Of course, I feel that the film genre is a film that is an appropriate story for the cinema medium. Because of the medium of cinema, its strength is one element that is the virtue of the film medium, namely montage or editing. So I was thrilled when making this film or writing this film, imagining how editing is a language or tool or the most powerful capital in storytelling for Paranoia. I'm waiting for the opportunity to make it again, make stories with this thriller genre again in the future. Watching movies like this can be a way to open ourselves from that fear to feel a little more comfortable with life. 

How will the Southeast Asian audiences get to watch Paranoia? What are your distribution plans like?

Okay. Of course, now we have a goal to screen this film in several important film festivals worldwide. We want to introduce this film further, and hopefully, we can get a partner or distributor partner there. We can take this film further to other countries. In Indonesia, of course, there is great hope and desire for it to be screened in theatres later. Because hopefully, things get better and cinemas will open. Because after all the cinema is the ideal place to watch this film. Because there is the cinematography, there is editing, and there is a robust sound design. I work with the best technicians or the best artists, both in front of and behind the scenes. Of course, I want their work to be enjoyed on the cinema screen. Let's see, and hopefully, when this pandemic is under control, we will be able to watch Paranoia in Indonesian cinemas. 

Check out the trailer of Paranoia here

Check out the original version of the interview in Bahasa Indonesia here.

Photo sources: Instagram @mirles and @milesfilms

Interview by Akbar Rafsanjani. Akbar is the program director for the Aceh Film Festival and an alternative film screening, Aceh Menonton. Akbar also works as a researcher in the Research and Development Department of the Yayasan Aceh Documentary. Writing as a foreign correspondent on SINdie (Sindie.sg), an editorial platform that looks at Southeast Asian film culture. This year he joined the Indonesia Raja 2021 programmer board.

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