There were rumors that the Makassar Institute of Arts (IKM) was on the verge of being shut down, a mere four years after its establishment in 2008. Aditya Ahmad, one of the students that were supposed to graduate that year, was no way near ready to shoot his graduation project. He had decided to do it the following year instead. Yet the rumors wouldn’t die down, and if he didn’t do his graduation project that year, there was little chance that he would graduate at all. Having no other options, he shot that graduation project, and the result was Sepatu Baru (On Stopping the Rain).
Makassar-born Adit first fell in love with the movies back in 2006, when he joined Creativity Week, a filmmaking workshop held for High School students from all around Indonesia. “That’s where I first really knew films, learned how to make them and met filmmakers for the first time.” he said. He made it through the selections and got to shoot a short film at the end of the workshop, a five-minute-long one about a boy that lived in an Islamic boarding school—a thing he knew well, having spent six years of his High School life in one himself—who was obsessed with PSM, a football club in Makassar. “Since then, I just kept on shooting films. I wanted to keep trying.”
Dressed casually in a white shirt and jeans, Adit looked a little tired. “I’ve been editing this music video for days and it has to be done by tomorrow morning.” He pushed his laptop screen towards me so I could see what he’s been working on. There was no doubt that Adit is the current ‘it’ boy. As a matter of fact, in an hour Sepatu Baru was about to be screened at a special event held by one of the local medias and he had to be there for the Q&A session, and I was afraid that he couldn’t stay too long for this interview. “No worries,” he said reassuringly, “I could go in two hours, they said it should be fine.”
A few weeks before our meeting, Sepatu Baru had just won two awards at the XXI Short Film Festival, selected as the Best Narrative Fiction work by both the Jury and Media. That shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone—except perhaps for Adit himself—considering that back in January, Sepatu Baru received a Special Mention at the Berlinale Film Festival’s Generation KPlus category. “Having the chance to go to Berlin, meet new people, make new friends, feel the atmosphere of a such a huge festival, watch films and meet the filmmakers in real life, that was more than enough,” he reminisced. “So on the Awarding night I was totally unprepared. I wasn’t nervous at all, I was just happy to be there. I cheered along every time someone was awarded,” he laughed at the memory. “When I had to go on stage and receive the award, I couldn’t say anything for a few seconds.”
Sepatu Baru (literally means ‘New Shoes’) is about a young girl who is disappointed with the continuous rain that makes it impossible for her to wear her new shoes. Determined to stop the rain, she tries practicing an ancient local myth—throwing underwear to the top of the roof.
“I had a cousin who thought of performing that ritual when he was getting married. I couldn’t believe there are still people who believe in that!” he laughed. Initially, Adit planned Sepatu Baru to be darker, yet somehow comical. “It’s like this little kid versus the sky. I imagine the sky like a big monster, and this kid on earth is equipped with a weapon—underwear.”
Having a very brief time to plan and execute the short film, Adit only had around two weeks to write and prepare the production, most of it he spent wandering around the shooting location by himself with earphones tight in his ears, listening to music on repeat and jotting down scenes. Right after, in mid-February of 2013, shooting began. It lasted for a week, mainly because they had to wait for it to rain every time they wanted to shoot. “We tried making artificial rain, using one of those compressors you use to wash cars, but the result was too soft. The drops were too thin.” Just a week after shooting wrapped, he had to present it to his lecturers. He was the last one in his year to submit his final project.
After finishing Sepatu Baru, the closest film festival for him to submit it to was the Solo Film Festival, a small yet popular short film festival in Central Java, particularly for young indie filmmakers. Yet Adit was not confident and chose to leave the film untouched for more than half a year. In the end, he submitted it to Jogja Asia-NETPAC Film Festival (JAFF), also one of the most well known film festivals in Indonesia. There, he bagged the Special Mention Award in Light of Asia competition, beating 11 other short films from all over Asia.
Before JAFF, Adit joined Miles Films in the shooting of Sokola Rimba (The Jungle School), being in charge as the director of the behind-the-scenes featurette. Having originated from Makassar as well, resident director of Miles Films, Riri Riza, established Makassar SEAscreen Academy, an annual filmmaking workshop for filmmakers from Eastern Indonesia, where Adit first met him. “SEAscreen was great, I got to meet great filmmakers from Southeast Asia like John Torres and Aditya Assarat. Riri has got a big role in Makassar, bridging us to other filmmakers outside home.”
Presently, Adit is in Sumba, Eastern Indonesia, with Miles Productions once again in their latest project, a big budget martial arts film titled Pendekar Tongkat Emas (The Golden Cane Warrior). When I asked about his plans after Sumba, he admitted that he wasn’t too sure about it himself. Probably back to Makassar, probably stay in Jakarta a bit more. Why not stay longer? “There are too many people in Jakarta. If I also stay here, it’ll be too crowded.” he joked. “Well, the first reason why I decided to come here in the first place was to come out of my ‘safe area’. I think now, when I’m 24-25 years old, it feels like a new turning point. I want to go out of my comfort zone and learn new things, learn what it is like to live in other people’s timelines, to explore. Working in Miles Productions feels like being in a new school for me, I get to learn a lot.”
Being a filmmaker was never Adit’s first choice. When he just finished High School, he had the chance to apply for three university majors and he chose medicine, architecture, and communications. He failed all three. His father is a lecturer on public health, thus his desire of becoming a doctor. His dream of being an architect, though, came from his love of drawing. “I’ve always loved to draw. When I was in school I used to draw comics on my notebooks all the time. You know how there were always bullies at your school, I would make them the villains in my comics.”
He eventually went to study communications in another university. During that time he started hanging out at the Makassar Art Building and came to know the students of IKM and Arman Dewarti, a filmmaker and lecturer at IKM whom he considers his good friend and mentor. When he ultimately transferred to IKM to study films, he and his friends always got together, saved money and made films together—a strong, tight community he probably couldn’t find in Jakarta.
One of the oddest things about the director is that he rarely watches films. “To tell you the truth, I don’t really watch a lot of films.” When asked why, he paused, while humming ‘umm’—a thing he repeatedly did throughout the interview, finding it hard to translate his thoughts into words. “What I feel is that if we watch too many films, it might influence our works. Sometimes ideas are harder to find when you watch too many films. But if there’s a film that I love, I can watch it many, many times.” One such film is Majid Majidi’s Baran (2001). He wasn’t sure which filmmakers were his favorites or which influenced him the most, but he loved Iranian films.
Before he was exposed to Asian films, he admitted being too influenced by Hollywood. One example was his short from 2010, titled Delusi (Delusion). “I’m not exactly a chatty person,” he confessed. Yet the film, in contrast, was full of dialogue. “It felt very forced. For me, it felt even a bit preachy.” Adit often enjoys spending time by himself, either wandering around or sitting down, doing people watching, in real life and, apparently, in virtual life as well. “When I finished the game Resident Evil, I would make my character wander around the dead town. I’d look at the details, like flower pots or windows… Things I missed while I was anxiously shooting zombies down.” he laughed at himself.
If he were to describe his films’ genre as a music genre, he would say, “Pop. Something light, that people can enjoy. The books that I read are not ones on Philosophy or whatnot.” he chuckles. “I want to learn about those topics, but I make something that I know about.” Even though he didn’t think that he had found his style as a filmmaker yet, Adit knew that he wanted to always make films about things that are close to him. “We have so many things that we can show, so many things that can be immortalized in films. It’ll be sad if there are things around us that we fail to see, and are understood by other people instead. People are always looking for things in foreign places, imposing foreign identities to themselves, but there are a lot of interesting things right here.”
Amidst all the awards and attention, Adit chose to take things slowly. All he’s got for his next film are notes; nothing to be organized or translated into a script yet. In fact, he’s uncomfortable with the limelight—a quality so few people possess today, when everyone seems to have an eternally unquenched thirst for spotlight.
Sepatu Baru is Indonesian. It brims with identity. When you watch it, you know that there is no way that its creator isn’t exceptional. And that’s what Aditya Ahmad is, unmistakably exceptional.