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A Volunteer Speaks: My Intern Life With EngageMedia

Image Credit: Festival Film Documenter.
Image Credit: Festival Film Documenter.

On Friday, November 29th, EngageMedia celebrated the launch of the Bahasa Indonesia version of the Video for Change Impact Toolkit. Friday was also significant for me because it marked the end of my third full month in Indonesia and my second month spent volunteering at EngageMedia. In this blog post, I reflect on my experiences thus far and how they led up to me running a small segment of Friday’s launch celebration.

First, some context: My name is Owen Travis, and I am an undergraduate student from the United States. I’m currently three months into Princeton University’s nine-month-long Novogratz Bridge Year Program. While some of my time is spent taking language classes and learning about elements of Indonesian culture, a large part of every week is dedicated to my volunteer position at EngageMedia. On most days, I take the bus directly from my university class to the EngageMedia Yogyakarta office, where I work for three to four hours until closing time.

The internship started slowly, as neither I nor EngageMedia had yet determined the exact role that I would play in the office. EngageMedia is a prominent international organization; I, on the other hand, was new to working at a non-profit and barely able to hold a conversation in Indonesian.

Nevertheless, I was confident that I could find a way to contribute and I set the following goals for myself:

  1. Start by learning as much as possible about EngageMedia and its initiatives.
  2. Support staff members with their work whenever possible.
  3. Eventually, pursue my own projects, starting with something minor and working up to larger undertakings.

I began by exploring the EngageMedia website. Every day, I came into the office and read about the various initiatives that my coworkers were involved in, such as Voice Linking and Learning, Coconet, and the Video for Change Impact Toolkit. I also spent time on this blog, reading recent posts and starting to piece together an understanding of how Engage operates. Interspersed between my hours online, I read a selection of other materials aimed at educating me about current events in Indonesia.

Video For Change Impact Toolkit

After finishing each article or book, I would often be left with more questions, which were then used to direct my learning process. For instance, an article about West Papua led me to a Wikipedia page on the transmigration program, which then inspired me to read a number of different articles about President Joko Widodo’s domestic policy. A blog post about Video for Change directed me to the Impact Toolkit, which then resulted in hours spent learning about Engage’s methods of video advocacy. And so on. Over those first two weeks, I read until I could confidently say that I had made progress on my first goal of educating myself about EngageMedia.

As I acquired more knowledge of EngageMedia and Indonesia as a whole, I also began to connect more with my coworkers. I became more capable of asking educated questions about projects and participating in discussions around the central table in our office. Mas Egbert elaborated on the goals of Video for Change; Mbak Pitra expanded on the Papuan Voices project, while Mas Yerry demonstrated to me some basic filming techniques. Similar to the way in which one article online would lead me to the next, in the office our discussions flowed easily from subject to subject.

Over time, I have developed a better understanding of the day-to-day workings of EngageMedia. It was even more exciting when I began to contribute to the initiatives that I had read so much about.

Uploading survey results from Coconet II, transcribing video interviews from the Video for Change Grassroots Gathering, and proof-reading blog posts were among the first tasks that I was assigned. While these were relatively small assignments, collectively they served as an excellent introduction into the real, important work being done in the office. I could confidently say that I was on track to accomplish my second goal.

As the launch of the Bahasa Indonesia Impact Toolkit approached on the calendar, the team began discussing ways that I could participate in the event. We decided that I would facilitate one small ten-minute portion of the event, which would involve a few quiz questions and a raffle as a door prize. For me, this opportunity to facilitate my own activity was the first project for which I could take real ownership. I read through every page of the Impact Toolkit to find interesting material for the quiz and compiled my questions on a document. Later, Mas Egbert assisted with translating into Bahasa Indonesia.

The launch of the Indonesian version of the Video For Change Impact Toolkit in Yogyakarta.
The launch of the Indonesian version of the Video For Change Impact Toolkit in Yogyakarta.

For the door prize, I extracted a list of key vocabulary from the Impact Toolkit and printed each term and its definition on an individual slip of paper. Every guest received one word and definition pairing, enabling them to learn about the Toolkit and also serving as their raffle ticket.

On the day of the event, guests began arriving at around five o’clock in the afternoon, mingling in the living room and outside on the porch. Shortly thereafter, Mas Egbert opened the event with a few remarks and a tour of the newly completed Toolkit. The Bahasa Indonesia version, among other improvements, features a greater amount of video content and incorporates more information about evaluating video initiatives.

Poster of A Daughter's Memory

Following the presentation, we invited our guests inside for a catered meal and more opportunities to connect with fellow video activists and community members. I had the chance to chat with artists, creators, and videographers alike as we enjoyed our meal.

The event then continued with a screening and discussion of the short film “A Daughter’s Memory,” which tells one woman’s recollection of Indonesia in 1964. In this 10-minute animated film, “Svet, one of the survivors … recounts the memory she had of her father, whom she believes to be responsible for the 1965 tragedy,” according to the Festival Film Dokumenter 2019 Event Catalogue. A reflective discussion was held in response to the screening and then I was called up to lead the final activity of the night.

While I stumbled over a few Indonesian words on the script I typed out, the quiz and raffle went smoothly. Guests offered thoughtful responses to the open-ended questions and shared their raffle terms and definitions when they were drawn. In the end, the nine people who shared were awarded Video for Change t-shirts and the evening came to a close.

My first two months at EngageMedia have been more of a learning process than anything else. I am so thankful for the opportunities that I have recently been given to contribute, even in small ways, to the various initiatives around the office. Preparing and running the activity at the launch was my first minor project, a significant step towards completing my third goal. After returning from winter break, I hope to jump right back into the swing of things by taking on more responsibilities and potentially beginning larger projects.

Festival Film Dokumenter 2019

On the first week of December 2019, while most of the EngageMedia team was away in Malaysia, I had the privilege of attending the Festival Film Dokumenter 2019 (FFD) in Yogyakarta.

Held every year in December, FFD is organized by the incredible people at Forum Film Dokumenter and was founded in 2002. This year, films were screened at several different venues around Yogyakarta from December 1st through December 7th.

Festival Film Dokumenter

On the first night, I arrived early to take photos of the event and secure a good seat in the Societat Militair theater. My official EngageMedia invitation allowed me to pick up an FFD catalog, which I paged through as I waited for the start of the opening film, Turning 18. Reading the introductory remarks, I learned that FFD aims to “focus on the development of documentary film as a medium of expression and ecosystem of knowledge, through exhibition, education, and archiving.” I settled back into my seat with a smile, looking forward to my first major encounter with the genre of Indonesian documentary film. What follows in this blog post is a brief description of each film I attended and my reflections afterward.

While I wish I could have attended every day of the festival, I was satisfied that my schedule allowed me to make it on opening night, Day 3, and Day 6. I viewed the following six films:

  • Turning 18 – Kim Mirye
  • Cipto Rupo – Catur Panggih Raharjo
  • A Daughter’s Memory – Kartika Pratiwi
  • Perempuan Tanah Humba – Lasja F. Susatyo
  • Sujud – Pahlawan Bimantara
  • East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front – Ho Chao-ti

In ‘Turning 18’, which headlined on opening night, the filmmaker follows the lives of two teenage girls in Taiwan. Filmed across multiple years, the documentary tells the stories of Chen and Pei, who face challenging situations at home and end up taking their lives in very different directions. Chen is first introduced at age 15, at which point she is struggling to put up with her mother’s drunken behavior. She channels her energy into taekwondo and begins a relationship at school, while her life at home gets steadily worse. Eventually, after entering a halfway house, she is able to reconnect with her mother in an emotionally touching scene. Pei, on the other hand, struggles with feelings of unhappiness and confinement in her relationship with her boyfriend. As Pei turns 18, she is now a mother and remains committed to the relationship. The film develops themes of family, forgiveness, and indigenous life throughout its stunningly shot 87-minute runtime.

‘Cipto Rupo’, which won a special mention in the short documentary competition, follows Tjipto Setiyono, an 85-year-old rickshaw painter and craftsman. Setiyono proves that even the oldest members of a community are still capable of achieving remarkable things. While the pace of the film is slow, it sends powerful messages about the enduring qualities of art and artists alike.

I was exposed to ‘A Daughter’s Memory’ in the week before FFD, when it was screened for the EngageMedia office at our Impact Toolkit Launch. The second time watching it was even more powerful, as I noticed the intricate details in the animation and the symbolism that is incorporated throughout its 10-minute duration. This documentary tells the memory of a woman named Svet, who lived through the events of 1965 and has a unique perspective as the daughter of a man who was arrested. The transition from animated scenes to a close-up of the main character is brave and powerful.

‘Perempuan Tanah Humba’ challenged my perceptions about the concept of a dowry by documenting the marriage customs in a part of Sumba. The film highlights the idea that a dowry is not so much a gift or a price, but a show of support and a symbol of the union of two families. According to the event catalog, “This movie braids tradition, values, and hopes from the women in Sumba in the whirlpool of modernity, where tradition and culture seemed challenged to be modified.”

Unfortunately, I was only able to see portions of Sujud and East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front. Sujud focuses on the believers of Sapta Darama and their methods of worship. The film is told entirely through prayers and subtitles, with no spoken prose. I was inspired to meditate on my own beliefs and ways of acknowledging that which I worship. East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front tells the story of a series of bombings and attacks on Japanese corporations in the 1970s. The film is unique, in that it is told from the perspective of the perpetrators, who were arrested in 1975.

Festival Film Dokumenter

All in all, Festival Film Dokumenter 2019 was a thought-provoking, educational, and entertaining event. The screenings I attended challenged my ideas about relationships, art, and justice while highlighting the work of both new and veteran documentary filmmakers from and around Indonesia.

About the Author

Owen Travis is an undergraduate student from the United States interning with EngageMedia in Yogyakarta. Amidst other things, he provides support for editorial work related to several projects of EngageMedia.