Jakarta fest embraces Southeast Asia


SINGAPORE -- The ninth Jakarta International Film Festival, created in 1999 to revive and nurture the growth of the Indonesian film industry, is branching out this year to spotlight films from the rest of Southeast Asia.

Lalu Roisamri, JiFFest programming director, said the region is blossoming as "a haven of critically acclaimed and commercially successful films," pointing to the retrospective of Malaysian films at this year's Pusan International Film Festival, the marked increase in Singapore's production numbers and the number of Thai and Filipino films charming international audiences.

With an attendance of 63,000 last year, JiFFest is the biggest international film festival in Southeast Asia. This year, the 10-day festival, which opens Friday, is presenting 180 films from 35 countries, with 38 Indonesian films in competition for the best Indonesian feature film and best Indonesian director awards.

Last year's inaugural best film winner, "Denias, Senandung Di Atas Awan," based on the true struggle of a young boy from Papua who wants to study but faces discrimination because of his status as a peasant, is Indonesia's official entry for the foreign-language category at next year's Academy Awards. It recently won best children's feature film in the inaugural 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, held Nov. 13.

"JiFFest has always been about developing Indonesian filmmaking to a better standard with international appeal, and we have had some success, especially in the last two years, where we have finally been able to show outstanding local films which I am sure have been made with a strong influence from what our festival has offered so far," Roisamri said.

The festival will open with award-winning animated feature "Persepolis," about a girl growing up and feeling repressed under Islamic rule. The film was pulled as the opening film of the Bangkok International Film Festival in July after pressure from the Iranian Embassy.

World Cinema will showcase "big films with big names" such as Cannes' Palme d'Or winner, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," Mira Nair's "The Namesake" and Ethan and Joel Coen's "No Country for Old Men."

Other well-known films, including "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and Julie Delpy's "2 Days in Paris," will show in the Panorama category.

"A View from the SEA: a focus on South East Asian Films" will feature 22 films from the region, including a retrospective on legendary Malaysian director P. Ramlee, and two more films entered for the Academy Awards' foreign-language category, Royston Tan's "881" (Singapore) and "Donsol" (Philippines).

The festival will close with the premiere of Nia Dinata's "Chants of Lotus," an Indonesian omnibus film addressing women's issues.

Roisamri said JiFFest is now discussing with an Indonesian TV station to set up a weekly TV program showcasing films that have been released in the festival, while negotiating with cinema owners to have a limited release of top 10 international films in the fest.