Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hanging around the set of Agrarian Utopia

In his latest "Programmers Chronicles", the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Gertjan Zuilhof writes about being among the "hangers-on" on a film set, contrasting his experience with being in bustling Jakarta, where Garin Nugroho was filming his Blue Generation with the rock band Slank to his visit to the rural, remote Chiang Rai set of Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia, which won a NETPEC special mention at Rotterdam this year.

I've been anxious to see Agrarian Utopia since I saw Uruphong's earlier work Stories from the North, and I'm even more interested now that Zuilhof reveals a bit about how Uruphong works. Here's more:

Under the title Agrarian Utopia, [Uruphong] wanted to portray a community of rice farmers through the cycle of seasons. A community that still works with traditional tools, without machines or electricity. The unusual thing about the plan is that it is actually fiction. He rented a paddy field ... and asked several local farmers and their wives to work it for him. Then I would say you have a set, a location and a cast. It looks no different from the rice fields around it where everyone was also hard at work. Uruphong says the difference is in the story. He follows his performers like real farmers and also interviews them. He also introduced me to a neighbour who fitted in well with his story. The man had once worked at the university (as a sociologist, I think) and had withdrawn to a cottage in the rice paddies. He defended an even less cultivated way of growing rice. Instead of planting the typical sprigs in the mud, he just threw seeds on his land. The result was thought-provoking. You didn’t need to be a rice farmer for that.

His location is more an idea and a story. Maybe even a belief that man could live closer to nature. You can’t see or feel that the film will be special from his rice paddies (he asked me to stand in it with bare feet and that did awaken the nature man in me). It can however be deduced from the commitment of the filmmaker and the patience he displays in portraying what he always knew ... but what is inevitably disappearing.

Read his whole piece.

Zuilhof, who put together IFFR's Hungry Ghosts program this year, also has nice things to say about Uruphong's producer, Pimpaka Towira.

Update: The Jakarta Post has an overview of IFFR (cache).

See also:

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