30th September, 1965, was a day that symbolized the political transition between the first Indonesian president, Soekarno, and the new order regime of Soeharto. Soekarno himself was a nationalist who promoted ideas of the people standing against colonialism and imperialism, so his biggest supporters naturally came from Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), or Communist Party of Indonesia.
On the 1st of October, at a time when all other media was banned, the Indonesian army’s official newspaper published stories accusing leaders and members of the PKI of being responsible for the killing of the several generals in Jakarta.
In about three weeks following the events in Jakarta, mass killings began to take place all across Java. Scores of people were summoned and executed by mobs with the support of military personnel. The victims included members of the PKI, progressive and liberal organizations, civilians, artists and academics who were critical of the government, and even people who did not have any relations with the communists at all. It turned into a witch hunt where fingers could be pointed at anyone the mobs desired.
It was estimated that between one to two million were killed, and others who were accused and survived were being isolated and imprisoned on islands. Some who were studying or sent abroad by Soekarno were not able to return to Indonesia. These are just a few examples on a long list of violations that have had a deep impact in education and the younger generation.
Before the 1998 reformation, most of society viewed the discourse on the ‘1965 Tragedy’, as it came to be called, based on history as narrated by the New Order regime. History teachers in Indonesia had to use the prescribed perspective in books that were controlled by the regime, and students were made to watch Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Betrayal of the 30th of September Movement/Indonesian Communist Party). The film, which was shown in schools every year following the massacre, was a dramatized account of the 1965 Tragedy, constructed to propagate the idea that communism is fundamentally evil.
However, the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 motivated many to dig deeper for the truth. This motivation was further fueled by several new findings on the brutalities that occurred, and a tribunal which found the Indonesian government guilty of massacre. Multiple groups continue to use film, music, literature, and other initiatives to provide an alternative discourse to history.
The narratives featured in these documentary films were multi-dimensional, including testimonies of the victims or their family members who were either directly involved or who witnessed the trauma and its social impact. Some of the productions, such as The Act of Killing, were even able to highlight the perspectives of the perpetrators, and are being used for advocacy.
Another such film is Jembatan Bacem (Bacem Bridge). The film is based on a bridge in Solo, Central Java, which was the location of a massacre of people who were assumed to be or were communists. After 40 years, a ritual ceremony was held to mark it as a memorial site.
In 2013, EngageMedia organized a video project called Video Slam 2013, which brought together 14 filmmakers from across Indonesia to remix and subvert the official government propaganda film, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI. Some of the resulting videos took a more serious approach, while others chose to be comical or satirical.
We hoped that the activity would serve as an entry point, especially for those involved in the project, to break the taboo and end the silence around discussing that period in Indonesia's history.
In music, a new choir group called Dialita (an abbrevation of “Di Atas Lima Puluh Tahun” or “Above 50 Years Old”), whose members are woman survivors and families of the 1965 victims, just released an album which is available for free download.
Songs by Dialita were mostly composed by individuals during their imprisonment from the late 1960's to 1970's. For the album, the group collaborated with young musicians, wanting to share their life journeys with inter-generational perspectives. They perform not only to help reconstruct history, but also for personal fulfillment, and to cope with trauma after being silent for almost 50 years.
A popular electronic act named Filastine also teamed up with young Indonesian musicians to produce an adaptation of the controversial song ‘Genjer Genjer’.Though the original song was about a poor woman picking genjer (a river plant that was mostly consumed by the poor at that time) to sell at the market, it was used as a rallying theme by the PKI. When Suharto took power in 1965, the songwriter was killed and the song banned.
Papermoon Puppet Theatre, a prolific theatre group from Yogyakarta, has also been organizing performances and workshops to raise awareness and encourage dialogue. Their work, Mwathirika, which uses puppetry and multimedia to portray first-hand accounts of those detained, has traveled to various locations around the world.
In 2015, another initiative that was launched was Museum Bergerak, which was an interactive public space for younger Indonesians to examine and appreciate archives, stories and memoirs that came directly from victims and survivors. Clothes, shoes, photos, sketches, bicycles and much more were installed into the museum/exhibition in a corner of Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. To their owners, the exhibited objects were treasures, helping them recall their experiences from 50 years ago.
By looking back in time through art and other media that help to clarify and renew historiography, there is hope that generations of young Indonesians will be able to join the dialogue to bring the nation towards reconciliation and justice.
The Freedom Film Festival is considered to be the most established human rights and environmental film event in the region, bringing together critical films and filmmakers for the past 14 years. Its organizers, Pusat KOMAS, who are a member of the global Video4Change network, spearheaded the idea of holding a localized forum after attending the 2nd convening of the network in Mexico last year.
The three-day event began with a public screening of films from Sabah, to West Papua and to Myanmar, addressing issues such as environmental crises, women’s rights, religious freedom, and the social realities of the LGBT community. The screenings closed with the film ‘Kenya: A Guidebook to Impunity’, produced by fellow Video4Change network members InformAction.
The film served as a starting point for the discussion conducted the following day on the role of video in elections monitoring in Southeast Asia. All the participants agreed that video-based monitoring in their home countries was done more sporadically, and found inspiration from the Kenyan film to plan ahead for a more concerted documentation effort.
Sessions continued with a presentation on ‘Video as Evidence’ and related tools by Prakkash from WITNESS. Seelan from EngageMedia then shared a presentation titled ‘Beyond the Festivals: Video for Social Change and Impact’, which included key aspects of guides such as BRITDOC’s Impact Field Guide, Horticulture Tools by the Active Voice Lab, and the Video4Change Impact Cookbook. It was encouraging to note that our presentation was used by one of the attendees in an Asia Indigenous People's Pact workshop in Thailand the very next weekend.
The final day featured an open-to-public dialogue titled, ‘Dealing with the Cut’, where a panel of filmmakers shared their experiences with film censorship.
Knowledge exchanged over the course of the forum informed the closing meeting to follow up on some common areas where various participating filmmakers and organizations could work together, and understand how this currently organic network can be developed further.
The first event, which I was also invited to help organize, was the Barcamp in Pyay City, located in the Bago Region. Like many other areas in Myanmar, Pyay faces issues of land grabbing, and so I chose some related content for the camp. On the opening day, July 16, I promoted a dialogue on 'Human Rights Through Documentary'.
As the target audience during my talk were teenagers and high school students, I focused on child and land rights issues by screening the films, ‘Pangarap sa Buhay' from the Philippines and ‘Masters of our Land’ from West Papua.
The discussion that followed was very active because the students were knowledgeable on human rights, and spoke up bravely on the subject. We concluded the session by asking positive questions such as, “How can we cure our society by sharing knowledge?”.
Next, I headed to the Tech for Transparency event at Latpanhla village, Sintguu Township, Mandalay Division. The two-day workshop which started on July 18 was organized by Phanteeyar, USAID and Colors Rainbow.
Colors Rainbow invited both youth and seniors from across Mandalay and Latpanhla to participate in the camp, where I spoke to both groups about the impact of the civil rights movement in their lives and taking action to help their communities with digital storytelling tools.
Using the mobile editing tools I shared, each participant was supported in creating a story, written and recorded on his or her mobile phone. Each story was made accessible online by posting them on their community Facebook page.
With the skills gained during the workshop, the participants from various organizations are now able to share their stories as part of their efforts to seek justice, whether it be in LGBT or civil liberty issues. The camp also provided other valuable tools to civil society and the private sector to enhance the technical assistance they are receiving through ongoing USAID programs.
EngageMedia looks forward to the next event where it can contribute to positive social change in Myanmar through video and technology.