Movies are now one of the leading forms of entertainment in Indonesia, especially in big cities. In the past year, cinemas are opening fast as people develop a taste for movies, and the government supports the growth of the film industry through deregulation on foreign investment in movie theatres. Several Indonesian filmmakers are turning their attention overseas, as foreign investors put their money into local productions, according to an industry insider.
One of the critically-acclaimed Indonesian director and producer, Livi Zheng, who made her film production debut in 2014 with Brush with Danger, succeeded in releasing her film in the US and distributed internationally. The film garnered international acclaim and Zheng was prestigiously recognized by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Zheng’s passion for martial arts served as the motivation for her decision to pursue a career in film. This month, Zheng released her latest feature film, Bali: Beats of Paradise, as she continues to promote Indonesian culture on the international screen.
In between the film promo tour in Jakarta, The Peak sat down with Livi Zheng to talk about Bali: Beats of Paradise, inspiration to write, working as a filmmaker in Hollywood, and her opinion on Indonesia film industry.
You’ve been a producer, director, screenwriter, actress, and stunt woman so you pretty much know all the roles in the film industry. So tell me which role you love the most and why
I enjoy directing because I get to choose what story to tell.
Your breakthrough was in 2014 with the film Brush with Danger, and since then you’ve been consistently making films. How difficult was it to get your first script to the right people?
When I first started, my first script got rejected 32 times, so it was tough. And when I get the funding for the film I want to work with an experienced crew but they don’t want to work with me because it was my first film and I have no experience. There is a saying that you’re only as good as your last job. Finally, I just kept revising the script, then I have the opportunity to work with Oscar-nominated crew and Emmy Award winners crew as well. But it took a while.
How did your latest film, Bali: Beats of Paradise came together? And what do you want moviegoers to learn from this film?
I work with the government quite a lot to help to promote Indonesia, I work closely with the Indonesian consulate in Los Angeles and they asked me to make a trailer for Balinese gamelan concert, but instead, we came up with the idea to make it into a short film. When I met the Indonesian composer Nyoman Wenten and I learned a lot about his life story, journey, and struggle and how he spread the gamelan music. Today, gamelan is being taught at Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and all top universities in the US. But there are still many people that don’t know that gamelan is from Indonesia. So my goal with this feature film is to spread the word.
I grew up in Indonesia, there are a lot of wonderful things about the culture that I don’t know about. I want the moviegoers to recognized gamelan and enjoy the film.
What is it like working in Hollywood, from what I read it’s a very competitive work environment
It’s really hard because in Hollywood you are competing with people from around the world. But I think it is a fair system so if your film is good enough, you can get screening at the theatre.
How do you see the future of Indonesia film industry, what do you think needs to improve?
In Indonesia, there are a lot of talents in the industry. I worked with many of them. But I think we still don’t have enough theatre to screen the films. In the US there are cinemas everywhere, from the large to small ones in the neighborhood. I feel like it would be awesome if every district and regency have one.
Where do you get the inspiration to write a script?
My inspirations come from the people around me. The film Brush with Danger I was inspired by my friend from Ethiopia who was a run away from home. Bali: Beats of Paradise, I was inspired by the life story of Nyoman Wenten. He had a tough life but now he is dedicated to spreading gamelan in the U.S. With this film, I also stayed with local Balinese for almost one month to understand their everyday life, talk to the people, hear gamelan music, and join the ritual ceremonies.
What are some of your favorite films?
I like films by Bruce Lee, and one of my favorite films is Léon: The Professional
Do you have any new project that you are working on?
Coming soon next year I’m producing and directing an action film, and also The Santri just finished shooting in East Java.
What is the signature of a Livi Zhang film?
I always try to integrate Indonesia in my films. If we shoot in the US, for example, Brush with Danger, we brought more than 50 paintings from Indonesia. And for my action films, we combine the martial arts with pencak silat. For Bali: Beats of Paradise we shoot in Indonesia.
Do you have any message to aspiring Indonesian talents in the film industry?
If you want to be a filmmaker you shouldn’t give up easily. Just believe in yourself and try again when you fail.
Bali: Beats of Paradise
Featuring Grammy Award Winning Artist Judith Hill and Indonesian composer Nyoman Wenten, the drama film Bali: Beats of Paradise pulls back the curtain on gamelan music and the inspiring true story of Nyoman Wenten, a Balinese native who spread gamelan across the United States. Wenten is one of Bali’s most accomplished and versatile dancers and musicians. For the past 40 years, he has devoted his life to teaching others. Although gamelan music is widely recognized on the international stage, sadly it’s losing popularity at home. Before retiring to Bali, Wenten wants to leave a mark by honoring the sacred yet fading tradition of Balinese music and dance.