Over half a million people killed. The world looked away. Four families break the silence.
86 min / 2009
In one of the largest unknown mass-killings of the 20th century, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Indonesians were killed in 1965 when General Suharto began a purge of suspected “communists” through a complex and highly contested series of events–ultimately leading him to the presidency.
40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy follows the compelling testimonies of four individuals and their families, as they break the silence with an intimate look at what it was like for survivors during Suharto’s New Order regime. Through their stories, the audience comes to understand the potential for retribution, rehabilitation, and reconciliation in modern-day Indonesia within this troubled historical context.
Although Budi was born decades after the killings of 1965, he is harassed, stigmatized, and traumatized by local villagers in Java due to his father’s status as an ex-political prisoner. His all-consuming desire for revenge leads him to face the men who tormented him and his family members.
At thirteen years old in Central Java, Lanny was abandoned by her father and later witnessed his execution. As an adult, she undergoes a profound spiritual crisis and must decide how to confront the past which has followed her into the present and, inevitably, into the future.
Robert Lemelson, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, co-authored book Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2008.
Geoffrey Robinson, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, co-authored book Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2008.
A high-caste Balinese, Degung was abandoned following his father’s death, and was raised by prostitutes in Surabaya, Java. He returns home as a teenager and eventually becomes a scholar and an activist, raising awareness of the trauma caused by 1965 and its aftermath.
Kereta is a Balinese farmer who witnessed the violence of 1965 firsthand. His father was betrayed by his own family and was subsequently executed in front of his children. After this, Kereta begins to withdraw under the pressure of continued surveillance and fear under the New Order, and finally retreats into his own world filled with Balinese spirits and gods.
John Roosa, Ph.D.
Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, his book Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Coup d’Etat in Indonesia was published in 2006 by University of Wisconsin Press.
Baskara T. Wardaya, Ph.D.
Professor of History at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta, Java, his book Supersemar Revealed! From the CIA to the creeping Coup D’etat against Bung Karno was published in 2006 by Galang Press in Jakarta.
‘I think it is important that people do not forget what happened at that time. Moreover, as we see from the movie version of the government, or if any other version – does not complete the film, which picked up the story of four families with the background completely different: Chinese, Christian-Islamic, Hindu-Bali and young people who do not know nothing but remains a victim because of her father’s ex-political prisoners. I appreciate Robert Lemelson are doing research and documenting all the testimonies that,’ said Dr. Arivia – activist and founder of Women’s Journal Foundation.
Depicted in the film, how people who got banned party followers stigma traumatized by witnessing the removal of hundreds of events up to one million lives. Also the existence of gaps in the community due to the events in 1965.
The film is set in Java and Bali and peels away the lives of four families from Java and Bali, revealing the suffering and bitterness of life as a result of military atrocities and the New Order.
The film’s score, which was edited by Richard Henderson (“Borat,” “The Life Aquatic”), is entirely original and complements the intense testimonies of the participants. The use of archival footage and historical commentary is also effective, as is Lemelson’s attention to character development. As one spectator commented, the film does not attempt to “glamorize or create saints” out of the victims. Rather, they are portrayed honestly as complicated people coming to terms with the trauma of their past.
Lemelson’s film is adding to the pool of information slowly being disclosed from a time shrouded in secrecy.
The documentary, enriched with colorful stories, leaves its audience with interwoven and conflicting feelings of sympathy, anger, relief and a certain degree of shame for being unaware of such a horrific yet veiled past. “40 Years of Silence” is not only a documentation that unravels one of the darkest chapters in Indonesian history, it is a medium of liberation that clearly gives voice to victims of an until-now silenced past.
What the film lacks in broad political critique, it makes up for with the emotional depth of interviews with Kereta, Lanny, Degung, Budi and their families as they grapple with the past and struggle for redemption.
Malcolm Cross studied music performance and composition in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He also completed additional postgraduate studies in Jazz and Studio Music. Malcolm’s past work includes original film scores for “Insomniac Obsessions,” “Oh Saigon,” “I Dream of Dog,” and “The Grey”.
Richard Henderson attended S.U.N.Y. Buffalo in the late 70’s and studied film history. Richard’s vibrant career path led him to work as a music editor and music supervisor on such acclaimed films like “Borat,” “The Life Aquatic,” and “Into the Wild,” which won him the Golden Reel Award.
Dengue Fever is a Los Angeles based brand that combines Cambodian pop music with psychedelic rock. Their rendition of the song “Genjer Genjer” is featured in the film. The song “Genjer Genjer” was initially written about women who gather the genjer plant, tie it in bunches, and sell it in the market. The song later became associated with the Indonesian communist party, and the government banned its performance.
West Meets East: Challenges of Scoring American-Indonesian Films
by Malcolm Cross
Scoring these films – first ’40 Years’ and then the ‘Afflictions’ series – presented some real conundrums musically, namely: how to marry two sound worlds – traditional Indonesian music and western film music – that are so intrinsically different?
Director Rob Lemelson wanted the viewer to feel ‘like they never leave’ Indonesia; he had already collected plenty of ethnographic field recordings to ensure he had access to authentic traditional music. But to a western ear, Javanese and Balinese music does not have the same emotional resonance as to its native audience. This is particularly true of classical gamelan music, whose shimmering cyclical melodies and rhythms are designed to create a sense of cool, emotional detachment in order to inspire a selfless, contemplative state. For western audiences to connect with these emotionally charged stories the scores would have to also use some traditional western film vocabulary and instrumentation.
The biggest practical hurdle to overcome is that of intonation or tuning. Traditional Indonesian instruments do not generally follow a western standard tuning – indeed, each region prides itself on its tuning idiosyncrasies. So, a full gamelan orchestra may be ‘in tune’ with itself and little else! The likelihood of, say, a western ‘concert pitch’/A440 Hz grand piano being able to integrate harmoniously with a Balinese gamelan is next to zero. To compound matters, in the case of the Balinese gamelan micro-tonal differences between pairs of instruments is a desirable quality. This produces ‘beating’ between close frequencies, considered undesirable dissonance in Western music – put simply, it sounds ‘out of tune’.
Like any good international summit, the point was not to dwell on these differences but rather to find common ground and compromise. ’40 Years’ proved to be a testing ground for some of these ideas. The central theme ‘Genjer Genjer’ loaned itself well to arrangement; in the pivotal scene ‘Budi’s Homecoming’ (dic 1 #7) you’ll hear the melody in the piano/cellos with the rest of the strings adding some emotional punch. The large gongs and ‘core’ metallophones (Jegog, Calung and Penyacah) provide a rhythmic accompaniment. At the mixing stage, the higher-pitched ‘Gansa’ metallophones were clashing too much pitch-wise with the other instruments so as a compromise the same part was played on an equivalent western metallophone; the glockenspiel, played with wooden mallets to bring it closer in sound to the gamelan instruments.
One of the more unusual choices of instrumentation in ’40 Years’ was the Dobro (a kind of slide guitar more commonly used in American folk/roots music.) Guitars are actually widely used all over Indonesia, but more importantly the pentatonic minor ‘blues’ scale is analogous with a commonly used local scale. Hence, the mournful, ‘sighing’ sounds of ‘Degung & Pak Kereta’ (disc 1 #2) or ‘Unclean Environment’ (disc 1 #5) sound equally at home depicting sorrow in Bali as they would in Mississippi!
For the later ‘Afflictions’ films we used technology a bit more to our advantage; creating sound libraries of ‘tuned’ and ‘un-tuned’ sampled
Indonesian instruments (the ‘tuned’ instruments still contain much of their unique character but are designed to marry more successfully with concert pitch instruments.) A good example of this would be ‘Family Victim’ (disc 2 #21) which successfully utilizes a large mixed western/Indonesian ensemble sound as a harmonious whole. In addition by using more sampled western instruments it became possible to fine tune say, a piano to work better with an authentic, non concert-pitch gamelan set.
Each film in the ‘Afflictions’ series has its own unique character and setting and so each score attempts to reflect that musically. Generally there is a solo ‘lead’ instrument associated with each protagonist; violin for Pak Kereta (from ‘Shadows & Illuminations’); suling (bamboo flute) for Gusti (‘The Bird Dancer’) and so on. Kereta and Ni Ketut Kasih (‘Ritual Burdens’) represent older, more traditional values and so their scores and instrumentation echo that (e.g . ‘End Credits – Shadows and Illuminations’ disc 2 #7 imitates the traditional sounds of the gamelan orchestra.) Estu (‘Family Victim’) and especially Bambang (‘Memory of my Face’) depict a younger, more westernized Indonesia, so those scores features more modern sounds – we had particular fun recreating the trashy pop sounds of ‘Dangdut’ music (‘Memory of My Face’ disc 2 #8, ‘Family Victim End Credits’ disc 2 #25.)
Of course, none of this work would have been possible without the help of my dear friend and collaborator, Pak Nyoman Wenten. As head of the Indonesian Music and Dance program at Cal Arts, he has been an indispensible source of knowledge and experience for these projects; plus importantly, he’s a master musician (you’ll hear his performances throughout this collection.) Recording together wasn’t without its challenges though; all our musical ideas were exchanged orally since we can’t read each other’s notation! Interestingly, the idea of recording to a ‘click’ track (normally so abhorrent to western classical players) is second nature to gamelan trained musicians, who frequently practice to a fixed-pulse muted kettle gong (or Reyong.) Freed from a traditional score, we worked directly to picture, more in the tradition of the Wayang (‘shadow plays’) where the musicians follow every nuance of the action on screen. It was quite a humbling realization that this performance tradition predates the idea of ‘live’ silent movie musicians by several centuries!
Malcolm Cross BSc Mus, November 2011
Music Culture and Cultural Music
by Robert Lemelson
Coming up with a musical score for “40 Years of Silence” and the “Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia” was both challenging and fun. One of my goals, as a director with a psychological anthropology orientation, was to forge a type of ethnographic film that was closer in structure to documentary films. From a film perspective this meant having a score. Many ethnographic films, even today, do not use musical scores of any sort. For some it is considered improper to include a soundtrack as it detracts from the cultural veracity of the piece. I believe that ethnographic films should not only inform the viewer and function as an information transfer about different cultural issues but should also move the viewer emotionally, thus having a more “embodied” experience of watching and understanding.
To accomplish this meant creating story lines that were based on developing strong characters and the struggles they face. To accentuate this character development we needed both an appropriate musical accompaniment that supported the narrative line and the emotions therein. Appropriate means the music was both fitting culturally and right for supporting the story line and the conflicts that are being represented on screen.
The films themselves deal with a complex series of issues centered around the relationships between personal experience and violence, trauma, mental illness, family, social support (or the lack thereof), memory and its place in the social order, survival and resilience- all taking place in the context of Indonesian history and society. Given this wide range of subjects and subsequent stories, the range of musical accompaniment was both wide and deep.
We would start the process of music placement by creating a “scratch” track of music drawn from an extremely wide variety of sources: ambient, electronic, minimalist, folk, world, even new age and spa music were considered. The purpose was to find music that both fit the emotion and movement of the theme, and connected with other pieces in the film.
Once the scratch soundtrack was finalized, Malcolm began the complex process of molding the piece to fit within the complex musical universe that exists in Indonesia. Further modifications, at times frustrating and at others illuminating, resulted in the final score. The end result is a musical bricolage that ranges widely over Western and Indonesian musical modalities, tempos, tonalities, melodies and emotions. Enjoy!
- Winner, Award of Merit, Accolades Competition, 2009
- Winner, Award of Excellence, Indie Fest, 2009
- Winner, Best Foreign Feature, Oregon Film Awards, 2012
- Winner, Award of Excellence, Canada International Film Awards, 2013
- Nominee, Best Editing in a Documentary Film, St. Tropez International Film Festival, 2013
- Winner, Best Asian Documentary, Endeavours Documentary Film Festival, Singapore, Singapore
- International Association of Genocide Scholars Bi-Annual Meeting, Sarajevo, Bosnia, 2007
- McGill University “Peace, Conflict and Reconciliation: Contributions from Cultural Psychiatry” Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2008.
- Emory University “What’s at Stake in the Ethnography of Human Experience? Phenomenological and Psychoanalytic Perspectives” Conference, Atlanta, GA, 2009
- Seton Hill University, National Catholic Center for the Study of Genocide, Greensburg, PA, 2009
- International Society for Study of Trauma and Dissociation, Washington, D.C., 2009
- Seton Hill University, Ethel LeFrak Holocaust Education Conference, Greensburg, PA, 2009
- Rutgers University Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights “Legacies of Genocide and Mass Violence: Memory, Symptom and Response” Conference, Newark, NJ, 2009
- University of Sydney “Indonesia Council Open Conference,” Sydney, Australia, 2009
- Northern Illinois University Summer Institute, “Genocide and Human Rights in Southeast Asia Conference”, DeKalb, IL, 2009
- National University of Singapore Asia Research Institute, “1965–66 Indonesian Killings Revisited Conference”, Singapore, Singapore, 2009
- Indonesian Council Open Conference on the Events of 1965, Sydney, Australia, 2009
- International Association for Genocide Scholars Annual Conference, Arlington, VA, 2009
- Case Western University: Conference “New Directions in Policy Relevant Research on Adolescence: Perspectives from Psychological Anthropology,” Cleveland, OH, 2009
- International Human Rights Workshop, Los Angeles, CA, 2011
- UC Berkeley, Medical Anthropology Colloquium, Berkeley, CA, 2011
- Central Michigan University “Human Rights, Literature, the Arts, and Social Sciences International Conference,” Mount Pleasant, MI, 2011
- 3rd World Congress of Cultural Psychiatry, London, UK, 2012
- University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 2013
- The National Consortium of Torture Treatment Program, Portland, Oregon, 2013
- The National Consortium of Torture Treatment Program’s 5th Annual Research Symposium: “Torture Treatment,
Clinical, Community and Policy Interventions and Outcomes”, Washington, D.C., 2013
- The 18th International Conference and Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma, San Diego, CA, 2013
- Boston International Film Festival, Boston, Massachusetts, 2009
- Amnesty International “Films That Matter,” Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2009
- Globians World + Culture Documentary Film Festival, Berlin, Germany, 2009
- International Film Festival of Thailand, Phuket, Thailand, 2009
- Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, 2010
- XIX International Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade, Serbia, 2010
- Psychocinema Festival, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2010
- Kingston New York Film Festival, New York, New York, 2012
- International Film Festival for Peace, Inspiration and Equality, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2012
- Canada International Film Festival, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 2013
- St Tropez International Film Festivals, Nice, France, 2013
- Endeavours Documentary Film Festival, Singapore, Singapore, 2013
- Los Angeles Indonesian Consulate Screening, Los Angeles, CA, 2012
- CSUS History Department Screening, Sacramento, CA, 2009
- Lembaga Indonesia Perancis, Yogyakarta French Cultural Center, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2011
- Kean University, Human Rights Institute, Union, NJ, 2009
- UCLA Medicine, Mind and Culture, Los Angeles, CA, 2007
- Hampshire College, Division of Social Science, Amherst, MA, 2007
- Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia, 2007
- UCLA Medicine, Mind and Culture Group, Los Angeles, CA, 2008
- McGill University Summer Institute on Cultural Psychiatry, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2008
- The British Museum, London, GB, UK, 2008
- UCLA Culture, Brain and Development Group, Los Angeles, CA, 2009
- UCLA Southeast Asian Studies Center, Los Angeles, CA, 2009
- UCLA Southeast Asian Studies Center, Los Angles, CA, 2009
- UCSD, Department of Anthropology, San Diego, CA, 2009
- Columbia University, Genocide Prevention Program, New York, NY, 2009
- Goethe Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2009
- Hampshire College, Division of Social Science, Amherst, MA, 2009
- Harvard University, Division of Social Science, Cambridge, MA, 2009
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Division of Social Science, Boston, MA, 2009
- UCLA, James Bridges Theater, Los Angeles, CA, 2011
- Kine Forum, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2011
- UC Riverside, Center for Ideas and Society, Riverside, CA, 2012
- Washington Indonesian Community Screening, Washington, DC, 2012
- Duarte Inn Indonesian Community, Duarte, CA, 2011
- Yale University, Council on Southeast Asian Studies, Indonesian Forum, New Haven, CT, 2009
Elemental Productions is a Los-Angeles based ethnographic documentary film company dedicated to the production of films focusing on the relationship between culture, psychology, and personal experience. Elemental Productions was founded in 2007 by anthropologist Robert Lemelson and evolved out of years of fieldwork and thousands of hours of footage gathered in Indonesia since 1997.
Robert Lemelson is a cultural anthropologist, ethnographic filmmaker and philanthropist. Lemelson received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. Lemelson’s area of specialty is transcultural psychiatry; Southeast Asian Studies, particularly Indonesia; and psychological and medical anthropology. He currently is a research anthropologist in the Semel Institute of Neuroscience UCLA, and an adjunct professor of Anthropology at UCLA. His scholarly work has appeared in numerous journals and books. Lemelson has directed and produced over a dozen ethnographic films related to culture, psychology and personal experience. He founded Elemental Productions in 2008, a documentary film company. He is also the founder and president of the Foundation for Psychocultural Research, which supports research and training in the social and neurosciences.
Born in Sicily, Pietro Scalia won two Academy Awards for Best Editing including JFK by Oliver Stone and Black Hawk Down by Ridley Scott. His other editing credits are Body of Lies, American Gangster, Memoirs of a Geisha, Hannibal, Good Will Hunting, The Quick and The Dead, Stealing Beauty, Little Buddha and many others.
Alessandra Pasquino has produced broadcast commercials, documentaries and special projects for over 10 years. She has collaborated with many filmmakers and artists including: Oliver Stone, Wayne Wang, Klaus Kinski, Gregory Colbert, Leonardo Di Caprio, Pietro Scalia and Matthew Rolston. She is currently a freelance documentary producer and independent filmmaker.
Dag Yngvesson was the cinematographer on “Stoked: the Rise of Gator,” a documentary about the rise and fall of skateboard legend Mark “Gator” Ragowski and wrote, produced and edited “Rated X: A Journey through Porn,” about the Los Angeles porn industry. Yngvesson studied film and anthropology at Pitzer and Hampshire Colleges, where he made his first films: “The Kaos Company,” a documentary on squatters in Gothenburg, Sweden, and “Making Skateboards in New Russia,” about skateboarder/entrepreneurs in St. Petersburg after the fall of communism.
Heidi Zimmerman was brought on to the film by supervising editor, Pietro Scalia. She was initially moved by the state of lead character, Budi, a boy born 30 years after the tragedy of 1965 yet still affected by it. It also intrigued her that an event of such magnitude could be so easily silenced and erased from the world’s history. “If there’s one thing I’d like the audience to take away from the film,” she says, “It’s that violence unaddressed leads to more violence.” Ms. Zimmerman has a BFA in Film Production from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts. She has cut documentaries, narratives, commercials, and music television. She is currently editing another short documentary for Elemental Productions and looks forward to more provocative work in the future.
Kathy Huang’s career as a filmmaker began in the dusty fields of South Texas. Inspired by her experiences teaching in a rural high school, she produced her first documentary on a teenager coming of age along the US-Mexico border. Her work has continued to center on underrepresented communities facing unique challenges and has played at festivals such as Tribeca and SILVERDOCS.
Through the course of his career, Ko has collaborated with a who’s who of trendsetting artists, musicians and filmmakers. He worked with Spike Jonze on several music videos and edited the pilot for MTV’s “Jackass,” which Jonze co-created and executive produced. As a founding member of the innovative production company H-Gun, Ko helped create more than 80 music videos for Nine Inch Nails, Sound Garden, Smashing Pumpkins and other top bands of the time. For more than 15 years, he crewed skateboard videos and traveled the globe with world-renowned installation artist Doug Aiken, working on his films “Eraser,” “Into The Sun” and “Electric Earth.” Ko has just finished directing his long-gestating documentary, “The Brotherhood,” about the up-and-down lives of three prominent Chicago skateboarders.
Emily Ng was a writer and contributing editor for 40 Years. She completed her undergraduate studies in psychological anthropology and women’s studies at UCLA in 2006. Emily has long been interested in the ways pain, ambivalence, and hope color the human experience, which has inspired work in academic research (The Foundation for Psychocultural Research, UCLA Autism Project), alternative journalism (FEM Newsmagazine, Mother Jones), and psychiatric case management.
Luis Lopez received a BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and an MFA from the Art Center College of Design. Luis is an LA-based freelance creative working in the fields of new media, motion graphics and design since 1988. For 40 Years of Silence, Luis worked on motion graphics, digital media, and collateral artwork design.
Ninik Supartini assisted Dr. Lemelson in two research projects about community mental health in Java and Bali. Since 2006, Supartini has served as a mental health and psychosocial consultant for international humanitarian organizations working in post-disaster and conflict areas in Indonesia and Myanmar.
Supartini studied English teaching as an undergraduate at the Yogyakarta Teacher Training Institute and lectured in English for more than ten years before turning her interests to community mental health. In 2004, she returned to school at Gadjah Mada University to earn her Masters Degree in Developmental Psychology. Supartini was honored with a Donald J. Cohen Fellowship in 2006 and East West Center Fellowships in 2006 and 2007.
I am sure everyone is familiar with George Santayana’s quote, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This phrase has particular salience for this film. This film concerns the long-term effects of the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966, where approximately 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed in a matter of months.
This violence was hidden from the world’s view for 35 years under General Suharto’s regime. In the years following the communist purge, there was an enforced silence about what had happened, hence the film’s title “40 Years of Silence.” It is only now, after the fall of the New Order regime in 1998 and the death of President Suharto last year, that Indonesians are starting to open up and come to terms with this horrific and tragic history.
The film is an intimate portrait of four families from very different parts of the Indonesian archipelago, all of whom were deeply affected by this event. Although they are from different parts of the Indonesian social world, all four characters witnessed their family members being imprisoned, tortured, or killed.
The film begins by telling these families’ stories pre-1965 via their personal reflections and memories of their childhood. The characters then describe their families’ experiences from 1965 and 1966, and discuss life during the New Order.
The film closes with the characters realization that the search for justice and a measure of peace must begin with themselves, their families and their local communities. The prospect for a national reconciliation process is far off, even in an increasingly open, democratic and free Indonesia.
The film tells a very poignant and moving story. It is our hope that more people in the world become aware of this tragic history. It is also our hope that Indonesians become more aware of this history, from the perspective of the victims. Understanding and telling this history is long overdue in modern Indonesia. It is also a vital process to ensure that this history is never repeated.
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