Film Schooled

Film Schooled - On location with Riri Riza

Makasssar, Indonesia
30 July 2015

A film set is like a machine with its innumerably significant parts. Each person quietly hums along: the sound man deftly handles an awkward boom pole, the second assistant director shoos inquisitive onlookers away, the make up artist rushes to dab the first beads of sweat away from the lead actress as the sun pours relentless down on the street after a short bout of rain. But that is also the signal for filming to resume; and with some invisible flick of a lever the camera re-frames, the board clacks and ‘Action!’



I‘m getting a unique glimpse behind the scenes on Riri Riza‘s new film, Athira. It‘s a period piece, set in Makassar in the tumultuous days of 1965. It’s a close look at the traditional family structure of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the place of women in that era.

Athira is a woman who had to deal with her husband’s re-marrying after having had many children with him.

The film questions how she dealt with the shame, how she managed her children and how she kept her family together despite being devastated.

As is the case with many women the world over who are wife, mother, lover and caregiver all at once, Athira also worked to help pay the bills. She sold Bugis sarong (wrap-around skirts) in the Bone regency. The process of making sarongs, from extracting the silk to weaving it together, not only becomes an artistic theme throughout the film, but also a metaphor to illustrate the strongest quality one can find within a South Sulawesi woman: patience.

Interestingly, Athira is the real-life mother of Yussuf Kalla (vice president of Indonesia since 2014). 

Much of the film is shot in a rented house, which belongs to a student association and is used as a dormitory. Riri‘s amazing set designer completely transformed the house, building all the furniture from scratch and sourcing all the implements and decorations that would typify a Makassar house in the 1960s. 

Rolling with RIRI

For Riri Riza, local Makassar boy, it‘s a homecoming of sorts. Since achieving national and international acclaim and box office success with films such as Askar Pelangit (The Rainbow Troops) (2008) and Sokola Rimba (The Jungle School) (2013), the intense, tousle-haired maestro is a wonder of calm amidst the bustle of props, the occasional blare of traffic and constantly changing light and shadow.

As the action moves over to a school to shoot a scene of a young Yusuf Kalla, Riri is a picture of indefatigable purpose. He gently guides his DOP, ambles over to readjust a prop and animatedly directs his cast. 

Athira will be in Indonesian theatres some time in early 2016. And we hope international theatres, too.

Photos & text by Marc