Reviews on Religious Film in South East Asia

Jum'at, 3 Agustus 2012 | viewed (1222)

Religion and Film


Do we get a religious education when we go to the movies? Can we think about films as ‘texts’ that can tell us something about religious beliefs, practices and politics of religion in the Southeast Asian context? Last year, in a collaborative effort with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hawai’i Manoa, USA, the Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University offered a new class called “Religion and Film in Southeast Asia” as another way of studying religion.


Co-taught by lecturers Kelli Swazey and Samsul Maarif, the course used films on loan from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Southeast Asian film archive to look at how religion is characterized and displayed through the medium of film in contemporary Southeast Asia. The seven films shown in class were used to illuminate some of the dominant narratives about religion (and responses to them), as well as to compare cultural and political contexts in the region. Students were introduced to the theory of “national cinema” and explored the role government plays in national film industries, focusing on the influence of political context on the portrayal of religion through various forms of media.


“One of our goals in this class was to promote the critical analysis of media as a force that helps to create the context through which religious life unfolds” Swazey explains. “In recent years, there has been a surge of religiously-themed films produced for Indonesian audiences, reflecting contemporary concerns with role of religion and religious identity in public life. We hope that this course introduced students to methods of analysis they can incorporate into their work as scholars, journalists and religious practitioners who are engaged in reflection on the role of religion in Indonesia today.”


The three accompanying film reviews were written by students of the class.


BagongBagong Buwan, or the Banality of Peaceful Demands
by Windu Wahyudi Yusuf
Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies
Universitas Gadjah Mada

Seeing Bagong Buwan on screen, I was reminded of the Indonesian film, Laskar Pelangi (2008). A beautifully-shot film, but also an inspiring story of children in a provincial town in Sumatra demanding better schooling (better facilitation, more teachers, better building and so on). It implies one should have gone to the city, or the capital, in order to be able to access more proper schools. Well, it is all about the importance of education and being an educated person—only education will prevent crimes, violence, and so on. I found it to be quite optimistic, but not quite neutral. More ...


When religion meets modersityWhen Religion Meets Modernity: A Review of Jira Maligool’s Mekhong Full Moon Party
by Ngatini
Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies
Universitas Gadjah Mada

There are many disputes in Thai society about the existence of the Naga fireballs. The disputes revolve around whether the fireballs are man-made, a natural phenomena, or simply a miracle. Set in the Nong Khai province of Thailand, Jira Maligool presents these disputes in his movie Mekhong Full Moon Party (2002). The dense atmosphere of Buddhism that permeates the film apparently misled some people to consider this a religious film. There are no specific criteria to categorize a movie as “religious,” so some people may perceive this movie as religious, and others may not. As Plate notes, the identity of the viewer, such as their gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, life style, and educational background plays an important role in how they perceive the meaning of a film. More ...


MuallafA Country Reacts to ‘Muallaf’
Maria Ulfa Fauzy
Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies
Universitas Gadjah Mada

Yasmin Ahmad, in her film Muallaf (2008), succesfully demonstrated a new way of seeing religious plurality in contemporary Malaysia. In doing so, she did not directly depict the differences between ethnicity and religious practice, but attempted to portray the many different ways of understanding religion through personal reflection. With this film, Yasmin deliberately raises the issue of religious pluralism rather than ethnicity, an important distinction in Malaysia. Yasmin also attempts to link religious identity with the issue of parenting. More...