Famous Indonesian filmmaker based in Germany, Monica Vanesa Tedja, is preparing for her feature film project “Dear Family”, selected at the Southeast Asia Film Lab, which is part of the Singapore Media Festival.
Tedja became addicted to the medium while watching her father film a family vacation with his handycam when she was seven years old. She studied cinema for her bachelor’s degree in Indonesia and directed several short films among which “How to Make a Perfect Xmas Eve” (2012) was nominated for the Blencong Award at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival. She went on to do a Masters in Film Directing in Germany and her 2021 thesis short film “Dear to Me” won the German Young Talent Award First Steps, for graduation films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland and also got a special mention in Locarno. .
“Dear Family,” an observation of Asian family dynamics, will follow Tim, whose devout Christian parents discover his same-sex attraction and apply for film school abroad.
“Having grown up in a large Asian family like mine, a rebellious confrontation is considered foreign, because we are taught from an early age that our purpose in life is to make our parents and family happy,” says Tedja. Variety. “As a result, most dreams and desires are sadly ‘unreal’ and even suppressed. The family is the first social institution to which a human being is given, privileged, when he enters the world, but the concept is often badly constructed or even badly interpreted.
“I try to make the story a semi-autobiography – a mixture of lived and reconstructed experiences, but also of imaginative improvisational scenes, where the realm of reality, dreams and memories blend together”, adds Tedja. “Going back to the first moment I found solace in cinema, I want to reflect on my own decision to be a filmmaker, as well as to be part of a family. By creating ‘Dear Family’, I hope to create a space for us to collectively start a conversation about what an ideal family should look like.
The project is at an early stage of development and participates in film labs that focus more on the development process itself, such as SGIFF’s Southeast Asian Film Lab. Tedja’s producer Astrid Saerong also participates in the Southeast Asian Producers Network. Previously, the project’s other producer, Gugi Gumilang, participated in Open Doors Lab in Locarno. Tedja herself attended the recently concluded Cutting Edge Talent Camp, the German development lab for first and second feature film directors run by the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival.
Speaking about the challenges Indonesian cinema faces, Tedja enumerates the public apathy towards the country’s independent tariffs and the lack of government support in terms of funding, subsidies and distribution.
“It created a chicken-and-egg situation – no market, no investment. The confidence that an emerging filmmaker is supposed to have in making films, in my case; my first feature film project is huge. And since there aren’t many opportunities to get film funding without having to compromise on the creative vision, emerging Indonesian filmmakers tend to seek help outside our country, that is- that is to say international co-productions, external financing and investment. As far as possible, this also creates a larger pool of international competition, ”explains Tedja.
However, Tedja notes the recent global success of Indonesian cinema as a step forward, citing the Locarno Laurel for “Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash,” the Toronto triumph of Oscar nominee “Yuni” by Kamila Andini and the Busan boost for Tumpal Tampubolon’s short film “The Sea Calls For Me”, which won the Sonje Prize.
“We can only hope that either part of the ecosystem will open the door to Indonesian cinemas, as the effort clearly cannot come only from the filmmakers,” Tedja said. “We need a collective effort to create a space where we can grow together, for Indonesian cinema to flourish as an important part of our culture.”