‘Cinemata Features’ is a series highlighting film practitioners in the Asia-Pacific – filmmakers, film groups, curators, critics, and archivists – who create and disseminate social and environmental issue films in the region.
This sixth feature spotlights Anatman Pictures, a leading film production company that creates commercial work to support the production of documentaries on the environment and social justice. Founded in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2013, Anatman Pictures has extended its studio to Bali, producing several feature-length films, hundreds of short documentaries, and dozens of animation videos on issues surrounding the environment and social justice.
EngageMedia [EM]: Tell us more about Anatman Pictures. What sparked your interest in producing social justice and environmental films, aside from your commercial work?
Anatman Pictures [AP]: Derived from Buddhist philosophy, anātman (Sanskrit: अनात्मन्) refers to the notion of “no-self” or the illusion of self“. In layman’s terms, it means that everything is connected.
[Social justice and environmental films] have been [our] main concern, and through documentary films, [we believe these] can work as an educational and informative tool, and as a means to raise awareness.
EM: You have produced several feature-length documentaries, hundreds of short documentaries, and dozens of animation videos. How do you choose the topics of your films, and what is the common thread that binds your work?
AP: The topics always reveal themselves at the right moment, but the common thread is that our work is reflective. We delve deep into topics ranging from environmental, cultural, and social issues.
There are two types of documentaries: the one that criticises the system and the one criticising ourselves. We need both in the world. Without a good governmental system, the individuals working hard for social and environmental justice are useless. And without good-hearted individuals, even though we made a perfect system, everything will fall apart. It works both ways. Anatman Pictures works more on criticising ourselves.
Our example is our recent work for a documentary feature film titled Atas Nama Daun (In the Name of the Leaf). The film is based on a research study on marijuana legalisation in Indonesia.
There are five chapters in the film and each chapter was discussed from different perspectives – from the medical, humanitarian, and legal sides.
Overall, in each film that we produce, we always present the facts and let the audience decide for themselves.
EM: Tell us about a notable work that you have produced, and what inspired you to produce this.
AP: During the first few months of the pandemic, we produced the film Be Quiet & Listen, a narrative of environmental awareness for Indonesian society. The film used only recycled footage using a creative common license. The production process was unlike anything that we’d ever done before, and the experience was truly unique. The film showcases several different topics in life and is divided into six chapters.
The film was created with zero production capital. All production and post-production processes were done online. Participants, resource persons, and narrators volunteered their time. A lot of celebrities, media agencies, and influencers were helping us out for free. Everyone wanted to contribute and take part. This collective film touched the heart and changed a lot of people, including the filmmakers themselves. This is the true power of collective awareness.
EM: What are some of the biggest challenges in your work that you have overcome, or are still overcoming?
AP: Financing the films. Financing our documentary films is always from a subsidy of our assignment/commercial works.
EM: Many film and media organisations who are also working on social issue films are interested to learn about financial sustainability in filmmaking. Can you share about your production company’s model, and how you decided to pursue both commercial work and independent documentary filmmaking?
AP: Our financial model is to always subsidise our idealistic work from our commercial income. Money is always needed by everyone, and even though we are doing commercial work, we are limiting ourselves from doing assignments that don’t align with what we believe; for example, we never do industrial animal farming or fast food clients.
We consider ourselves a green production house. We create feature and short documentary films that highlight social, environmental, and cultural issues. Annually, we aim to deliver one feature documentary film (70-80 minutes) and one to two short documentaries (15 minutes minimum).
EM: In Anatman Pictures’ manifesto, you talked about the ‘enlightenment of the mind’ as a way to approach the global environmental crisis. Can you tell us more about this?
AP: Imperfect collective awareness is more important than one individual perfect awareness. We need to solve the environmental crisis together – even though our understanding and awareness about the issue is flawed – rather than trying to be the person with flawless understanding and awareness. We need to do it collectively. No one is the enemy, [there’s] no need to blame anyone, because the real enemy is our own forgetfulness, our own collective ignorance from time to time. When we realise that we are part of the broken system, we can always take a step back and take part in healing the planet. The broken system will collapse by itself if everyone realises this.
EM: Networks and partnerships between filmmakers and film programmers are vital in solidarity building, co-producing, sharing resources, and distributing works. What do you think is the role of video platforms like Cinemata in building a community of Asia-Pacific social issue filmmakers and audiences?
AP: More small networks are better than one giant network. More Cinemata is needed all over the world to build small communities of global villages that have the same vision about environmental and social justice in our world.
EM: What are the advantages of archiving your series Everyday Heroes in Indonesia on Cinemata?
AP: We receive more engagement from foreign audiences, so more people outside Indonesia know about our current social and environmental issues.
EM: What are you currently working on?
AP: Hopefully another long documentary film! Our target is one long documentary film and a couple of short documentaries per year. Some of it is still in the production stage and the topics will revolve around social injustice, environmental, and cultural issues.