Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eat Pray Love’ To Steal Show

Katrin Figge | September 24, 2010
United States actress Julia Roberts arrives for the screening of United States actress Julia Roberts arrives for the screening of 'Eat Pray Love' in Rome last week. Though the film flopped with critics, it remains in the spotlight in the run-up to the 2010 Balinale International Film Festival in Bali where the film was partially flimed. (AFP Photo)

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6:38am Sep 26, 2010

“Indonesia, with its 17,000 islands and more than 300 ethnic groups has great potential".

Why is it that just one island out of all of those thousands, can do anything?

I write this looking out over the rice fields of Ubud. The air is clear, its fresh, its peaceful and clean. I can see people from all over the World walking the country lanes every day.

Its just so different to anywhere else I have been in Indonesia. Why is that?

It is all about “Eat Pray Love.” Never mind that the movie, starring Julia Roberts, has failed to impress critics after premiering in the United States last month. This hasn’t stopped it from stealing the spotlight in the run-up to the 2010 Balinale International Film Festival.

The annual showcase will take place in Bali from Oct. 12-17. “Eat Pray Love,” which was partly shot on the resort island, will be featured on the opening day of the festival, but the nationwide premiere will come a week earlier in Jakarta on Oct. 4.

Based on US author Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir about her travels to Italy, India and Indonesia on a journey of self-discovery, the film has been deemed by some as “too preachy,” “superficial” and showing “a shallow view of Eastern spirituality.” But none of the festival’s organizers attending the Balinale press conference on Thursday afternoon in Jakarta seemed any less enthusiastic despite the mixed reviews.

And why should they? Even though some critics didn’t particularly like the film, the undeniable fact is that “Eat Pray Love” brought a lot of worldwide attention to Bali.

The movie, produced by Dede Gardner and Brad Pitt of Plan B Entertainment, was the first major studio film ever shot in this country, and it allegedly contributed an estimated $12.5 million to the local economy.

This is expected not only to have a positive effect in terms of tourist numbers, but the festival’s organizers were also optimistic and hopeful that Bali and Indonesia in general could become an interesting and lucrative location for international movie productions in the future.

Festival founders Christine Hakim, a renowned Indonesian actress, and Deborah Gabinetti, were both on hand at the press conference. They agree that “Eat Pray Love” is a major step in the right direction in putting Bali on the filmmaking map by showing that successful productions can be shot here.

“There have been concerns about bureaucracy and security, especially after the Bali bombings, but in the end, all obstacles were overcome,” said Christine, who also had a small role in the movie.

“Of course we hope that through this film and also the Balinale festival, we can promote Indonesia, and it is our wish that Bali can one day become the film center of Asia,” she said.

“Indonesia, with its 17,000 islands and more than 300 ethnic groups has great potential. Geographically speaking alone, there is nothing Indonesia can’t offer — we have tropical rainforests, we have mountains, we have the ocean.”

Christine said about 300 locals worked on the production. “The art director of the film actually told me that his favorite crew was the Indonesian one.”

Speaking about her own experience in the film, Christine said she initially wasn’t interested in auditioning for a role.

“At that time, I was focusing on my father who was in the hospital and eventually passed away,” she said. “So I didn’t really care about the fact that ‘Eat Pray Love’ was going to be filmed in Bali. Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, even those names couldn’t get my attention.”

In the end, it was Gabinetti who persuaded her to try out for a part in the film, and this is how she eventually ended up playing Wayan Nuriasih, a traditional Balinese healer. Once she got the part, she said she completely immersed herself in the project.

“I just wanted to be professional about it, so during the time we were filming, I didn’t answer any phone calls or text messages,” she said. “And I didn’t even think about the fact that I was going to meet and work with Julia Roberts.”

She had bigger things to worry about. “This was a role I had to speak English for, and ideally, I had to have the same pronunciation as a Balinese speaking English,” she said.

However, Christine remembers her time on location as a pleasant experience. “On set, there was a lot of joking and laughter,” she said. “At times, it was even hard for the actors to concentrate on their work.”

When the 53-year-old actress attended the US premiere of the film in August and walked down the red carpet alongside international celebrities — an experience that could be overwhelming to some — Christine said her main goal was to be a worthy representative of her country.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to promote Indonesia abroad,” she said. “But at the same time I knew ... that the international audience is probably more familiar with Bali [than Indonesia in general]. So I wore a traditional costume from Bali — after all this is where the film was shot.”

She added that the Ministry of Culture and Tourism also did its part to highlight Indonesian culture during the premiere by organizing a demonstration on how to make batik and providing Indonesian cuisine.

Despite all eyes being on “Eat Pray Love,” there are many other highlights at the Balinale not to be overlooked.

“This year, I think, we have the best program to date,” Gabinetti said.

“The short films that we reviewed were fantastic. We had a record number of submissions, and they were such creative and inspiring stories, interesting and unique, and so we are showing a series of short films — and I’m pleased to say that most of them are Indonesian.”

Some other notable films on the ticket for the Balinale are “A Good Day to Die,” the award-winning documentary about the Native American resistance movement, the Chinese drama “Ocean Heaven” starring Jet Li, and the musical comedy “Bran Nue Dae” from Australia.

Also three Indonesian feature films are on the schedule: “The Dreamer,” “7 Hearts, 7 Loves, 7 Women” and “I Know What You Did on Facebook.”

“We try not only to entertain but also show films that inspire young Indonesians to tell their own stories,” Gabinetti said.

For this reason, there will also be workshops for aspiring filmmakers as well as discussions with visiting directors and other experts from the industry. All these events are of equal importance to the festival’s organizers — even though nobody would blame them for keeping the spotlight on the big draw.

“ ‘Eat Pray Love’ is a commercial success, and a film festival should not be based on commercial films,” Gabinetti said.

“But this was an extremely important film for us, as they not only used the location but they used local talent and a local crew, so of course, we are going to feature that film.”

Tuesday, Oct. 12
7:30 p.m. “Eat Pray Love” (US)
8 p.m. “Eat Pray Love” (US)

Wednesday, Oct. 13
1 p.m. “I Know What You Did on Facebook” (Indonesia)
2:30 p.m. “A Good Day to Die” (US)
4:30 p.m. “As the Rain Was Falling” (France) and “Home by Christmas” (NZ)
7 p.m. “Jesusito De Mi Vida” (Spain) and “Babies” (France)
9 p.m. “Animal Kingdom” (Australia)

Thursday, Oct. 14
1 p.m. “Debt” (Indonesia), “Little Black Dress” (US), “Debris” (S. Korea) and “3 Onions” (Indonesia)
2:30 p.m. “Me, Them & Lara” (Italy)
4:30 p.m. “Initiation at Wangi-Wangi Island” (Indonesia) and “Made in India” (India/US)
7 p.m. “Ocean Heaven” (China)
9 p.m. “Stone” (US)

Friday, Oct. 15
1 p.m. “Transparente” (Belgium), Purnama di Pesisir (Indonesia), El Cortejo (Spain) and Anak Anak Lumpur (Indonesia)
2:30 p.m. “7 Hearts, 7 Loves, 7 Women” (Indonesia)
4:30 p.m. “The Big Happiness” (NZ) and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (US/UK)
7 p.m. “Poetry” (S. Korea)
9 p.m. “The Social Network” (US)

Saturday, Oct. 16
10 a.m. “Manual Practico Del Amigo Imaginario” (Spain) and “Bran Nue Dae” (Australia)

Sunday, Oct. 17
10 a.m. “Birth” (S. Korea) and “The Dreamer” (Indonesia)

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