Cover Indonesian director Kamila Andini (Photo: Armαn Febryαn via @kamilandini/Instagram)

In an exclusive interview with Tatler, Indonesian director Kamila Andini talks about the creative vision behind her new film, Nana (Before, Now & Then)—the first Indonesian film in 10 years to be selected for the main competition of the Berlin International Film Festival

With back to back releases and international film festival appearances, it’s hard to miss Kamila Andini. Since her critically acclaimed feature debut in 2009, the Indonesian filmmaker has made a name for herself. Last year, her film Yuni premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to praises, with the coming-of-age flick topping year-end lists of best films.

Now, Andini welcomes a new milestone in her career—her fourth feature became the first Indonesian film in 10 years to be selected for the main competition of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. With her delicate touch and women-centric films that reflect her and her roots, it’s no surprise Andini is making waves internationally.

At the Berlinale, Nana (Before, Now & Then) took home the Silver Bear for Best Supporting Actress for Laura Basuki. The film is gaining attention for its Wong Kar-wai-like visual mixed with the suspense seen in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden and the quiet subtleness reminiscent of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work—all male directors but Andini created something uniquely her own.

Following the conclusion of the 72nd Berlinale, Tatler caught up with the director to talk about the creative direction of her new film and what filmmaking means to her.

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Can you tell us about your experience attending this year’s edition of the Berlin Film Festival?

This is actually my fifth [time at] Berlinale. My first Berlinale was when my father’s film, Blue Generation screened in the Forum in 2009. My second experience was when my first feature competed at the Berlinale Generation KPlus. Then, my third time was with my second competing feature which won the Grand Prix in Berlinale Generation Kplus.

My fourth stint is being the jury for the Generation competition where they also screened my short film in the Indigenous program. This year is my first main competition experience. After all this time, I’ve [only] been watching competition movies. It’s a milestone for me as a creator and it’s also a milestone for Indonesia’s film industry as the last film in the main competition was 10 years ago.

When you found out that Nana (Before, Now & Then) was selected for the competition, what was your reaction?

Speechless, of course! It’s a big milestone for me as a creator. It has also been a long journey for my dream to be here [in Berlinale].

Nana (Before, Now & Then) was inspired by the life of Raden Nana Sunani, a woman who lived in the 1960s West Java and based on the novel by Ahda Imran who also serves as your co-screenwriter. Why did you choose to adapt the novel and Nana’s life to the big screen?

Raden Nana Sunani is not a big name [in Indonesia], [she’s] not the national hero, she’s just a woman. But that’s what interests me the most. I believe every peron’s life and story matter. Each of us influences others in many different ways. What happened to Nana happened to many women in Indonesia. This is why it’s important [to adapt her story], not because she’s different but because we share the same things.

Moreover, Nana is a Sundanese woman and Sunda is my cultural heritage. I [can] hear my grandma’s story through hers. I want Nana to influence us just like my grandmother, my mother, my sister and any other woman around us have. I want the audience to also love her like they love the women in their family, [those] who do [both] good and wrong as a human but we love them [just] the way they are.

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There is so much that the film wants to convey—family, marriage, the historical and political background, freedom, fulfilment. What was your approach in directing Nana (Before, Now & Then)?

This film explores the complexity and layers of being a woman in the past years. Our secrets and paradoxes that are influenced by the government—the biggest institution in the country—but also through the layers of the smallest ones, like marriage. It questions position and freedom in every aspect of life.

The music is such a huge part of the movie. It brings the story forward and highlights all the nuances that you wanted to portray. Was that something that you and composer Ricky Lionnardi particularly paid attention to?

This film talks about the layers of being a woman in a very delicate way. From the beginning, I knew that music will be an important part of the film. It has to speak to Nana’s internal side. Other than that, this film also talks about a very interesting era in our country where tradition meets modernity. Bandung, the city where the story is set was known as a western melting pot. There were a lot of independent musicians and artists influenced by the western culture there and yet we were still very traditional back then.

This contrast is interesting and I’d like to bring that into the film. Ricky and I had to find the right balance of delicacy but also the contrast and complexity of the era. This is new for both of us so we had to try a lot of things but I know that Ricky and I found it.

The cinematography is also something that I found mesmerising with a lot of long shots and fewer close-ups. What did you and cinematographer Batara Goempar want to highlight?

Like with Ricky, this is not my first time working with Batara. We knew each other for a long time. I know his cinematographic abilities. From the beginning, being delicate was something that we both know should be there.

Every artistic element in the film should feel like they’re dancing together to portray all the layers and complexity of a Sundanese woman. We know that in order to portray Nana, we want to be far and yet get close to her—to feel close enough but also feel the nuance around her. Glimpses of light, colour and tones should be there [to highlight] her feeling inside.

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Another aspect of the movie is the different kinds of relationships that we see. One that I found particularly interesting is Nana and Ino’s. Can you describe that relationship?

Nana (Happy Salma) and Ino’s (Laura Basuki) relationship is based on the mother of Jais Darga [the movie’s producer and Tatler Asia's Most Influential honouree] and her father’s mistress. This is a patriarchal world that Nana lives in, even the women around her are captured in this certain world where everyone believes the same. Nana is lost in this world. Ino comes to give a new perspective, a new sense of freedom and strength. This kind of strength, I always felt needed to come from another woman. No man can give this certain strength. 

This is what I want from Nana and Ino. They both are the victims of the situation and era. But to have each other’s company is what they need to earn a sense of strength and liberation.

A lot of the main characters in your movies are women. In some ways, I see them as women in various stages of their life: as children, as an adolescent, as a mother. Is that intentional or just coincidental?

For sure, it’s not intentional. My films are always very personal. In each of my films, I always tried to search for who I am. And [I see that] I am growing as a creator. This is what I didn’t expect. From time to time, my perspective changes and I change. There’s always something new for me to say as I grow up. This is why my films sort of portray that sense of growing up.

The use of a female protagonist as the main character is also simply because I needed to talk about my voice and thoughts and feelings in each of every story. I want to talk about us—women—not only on the macro side but also on the micro side. 

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A lot of your fellow Oceanic filmmakers who frequent international film festivals or break through the arthouse market tend to be men. You’re one of the women making waves right now, especially with these back to back releases. How important is that to you?

It’s very important for me, especially since I think Southeast Asian women are different characters too. We are very confrontative characters, we live for others and serve society. Strength plays differently in this kind of society and this is important to be acknowledged. 

Sometimes I feel like a heroine in cinema. Women should be strong in a masculine way. But I’m not that kind of woman—I’m very melancholic, sometimes even a cry baby too. It’s hard for me to change a light bulb in a second. I like the process and taking small steps further along the way. I know a lot of women are like me in my country. And I want cinema to be able to represent us, like a room filled with a diversity of female characters.

“Filmmaking reminds me of giving birth. There’s so much love along the way yet there’s also pain and struggle. I think passion is what it takes to do all of this.”
Kamila Andini

All your films so far have premiered to critical acclaim, The Mirror Never Lies, The Seen and the Unseen, Yuni and now with Nana (Before, Now & Then), what would you say is different about it compared to your previous works?

I never have a certain goal every time I make a film. I simply want to tell a story. My approach to filmmaking is very organic. I see each of my films like a child [where] every story has its own character and its own needs. 

And in each process, I tried to understand the story and listen to what it needs. Together with my team, we tried to develop the story and let it grow so it could speak to the audience. 

You were born in the film industry with your father being a filmmaker himself and while you initially didn’t want to be a filmmaker, you eventually found your craft. From your debut to today, how much would you say you’ve changed or grown as a filmmaker?

The process is very organic for me. But every time, I prefer to search internally rather than externally. And every time, I always find a new me. I can’t go back to where I was and I don’t think I could make The Mirror Never Lies again. It was made with my energy, thoughts and voice back then. And I like to mostly work using my intuition.

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What are some of the highs and lows of being a filmmaker?

The high is how I can be myself when it comes to filmmaking. Film allows me to speaks not only by words but with every element that it has. It’s so much fun for me how cinema always needs different perspectives. It could be very personal and it’s a very collaborative process but the most important is how it creates possibility. It’s like a cave of creation for me.

The low is actually when [a movie] is finished, it’s not your own. You can not keep it just to yourself. It belongs to the audience and also the industry. Every single time, this part always makes me nervous. You’re never sure if it really works and you open yourself to be read by people. It’s not easy. 

Filmmaking reminds me of giving birth. There’s so much love along the way yet there’s also pain and struggle. The pain can be really tough but when it’s over, you want to do it all over again because what comes out is all worth it. I think passion is what it takes to do all of this.

What’s next for Kamila Andini?

My third and fourth films sort of came back to back so it was actually a tough situation for me during the pandemic. That’s why I want to give myself some quiet time now. I have several stories in mind but I don’t know which one is going to be my next child. And I want to create another theatre project in between as well.

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