Playing between ElephantsBermain di Antara Gajah-Gajah
INDONESIA / 2007 / Acehnese, Indonesian, English / Color / Video / 90 min
Director, Photography, Research: Aryo Danusiri
Editing: Darwin Nugraha
Sound Engineers: Eva Nuridasari, Andri Munadi
Music: Thoersi Argeswara
Producers: Aryo Danusiri, Bruno Dercon
Executive Producer: Binod Shrestha
Produced by: UN-HABITAT Indonesia
Source: Ragam Media Network
A year has passed since the tsunami in the village of Geunting Timur in Aceh, and the UN-HABITAT plan to rebuild homes is finally underway. However, this also signals the beginning of the village head’s days of strife as he attempts to take control of the situation. In addition to managing the building-material and construction situation as well as aid money and supplies, he scrambles to deal with various village dramas such as accidents and massive fires. While he strives to keep the project moving, the local elders, villagers, construction workers, and UN staff act and speak as they will. One day, he finally vents his frustration at a village gathering. As he looks up to the sky, holding a bolt that fell from the bridge, making it sway every time a truck full of resources passes through, we wonder what will become of the village head and his village . . .
[Director’s Statement] This is my fourth film about Aceh, made over an intensive 18-month time span. From 1999 to 2003, owing to the armed conflict between the government and the Free Aceh Movement, I had very limited room and time to make documentaries. I had always wanted to understand the Acehnese people beyond the mainstream media construction, which held that Aceh, the second poorest region in Indonesia, was a mere “insurgent” conflict area. Only when Aceh was opened up in 2005 did I have the flexibility to interact and make friends at Geunting Timur village there. Eventually, I ended up making not a “Scary Aceh” or “Sad Aceh” story, as many have done lately, but rather an intimate story that revealed the complexity of the issue.
I was intrigued to experience a day at the bank with people from the village, where they used fingerprints instead of signatures on documents. Online banking, foreign aid, and cell phones with cameras are as much a part of their lives as fingerprints for signatures, religious beliefs, and their great oral tradition. They continuously reconcile many things in life and have become “hybrids,” finding their place between the many great forces of their time.
This documentary is observational cinema, born not out of a grand idea but rather intimate relations, out of which the story develops from within—a rarity among Indonesian documentaries, which are still dominated by talking-head documentaries and docudramas. With the ongoing multicultural crisis in Indonesia, observational documentary is more than an entertainment product; it is an expression of the lessons learned from the diverse social and cultural processes in Indonesia.
The film shows how complicated it is to survive a traumatic event and then experience global intervention. The simple act of rebuilding a house in post-tsunami Aceh brings into play the whole world and forces the Acehnese people to learn to deal with the friction between the global and local realms.
Aryo Danusiri was born in Jakarta in 1973. His first Aceh documentary, The Village Goat Takes the Beating, was an official selection at the 2001 Amnesty International Film Festival, Amsterdam. Since then, his ethnographic films, documentaries, and short films about human rights and multicultural problems in Indonesia have been screened at various festivals including the RAI Ethnographic Film Festival (UK) and the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival (USA), as well as in Singapore, Brisbane, Taiwan, and Rotterdam. His three documentaries on Aceh have been released on DVD. Danusiri is the executive director of Ragam Media Network, an NGO that develops visual media as a catalyst for cross-cultural learning. This fall, he will begin his PhD studies in Visual Anthropology at Harvard University. Playing between Elephants is his first feature-length documentary.