CinemAsia Film Festival Interview ENG: Joko Anwar, Satan’s Slave (2017).

Joko Anwar

CinemAsia Film Festival is from the 6th till the 11th of March 2018.

Interview by: Feargal Agard | Director & CinemAsia Jurymember: Joko Anwar.

Film: Satan’s Slaves (2017) | Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery | Languages: Indonesian.

Introduction: Joko Anwar is a former film critic at the Jakarta Times, but after getting the opportunity to show his talents as a writer for Nia Dinata’s film ARISAN! (2003), a pioneering LGBT social-comedy film, he shifted toward being a director of films. His directorial debut Joni’s Promise (2005) caused him commercial success. With his fantasy-horrors Kala (2007) and The Forbidden Door (2009) he raised the bar in Indonesian genre filmmaking. A few years back his film A Copy of My Mind (2015) Competed at the Venice Film Festival and his recent prequel of a classic Indonesian horror film Satan’s Slaves (2017) became the fourth highest grossing Indonesian film in history. It was sold to over 42 countries.

Satan’s Slaves (2017); not a remake but a prequel.

Satan’s Slaves is actually not a remake, but a prequel. All I did was expand the movie’s universe. I saw the original film Pengabdi Setan (1980) when I was a kid. I was so freaked out. I came out of the cinema and it was still daylight. I was hoping the night would never come because I was just so freaked out by it, but later it became my most favorite film ever.”

“Being a filmmaker myself now I tried to pay my respects to the movie that inspired me to become a filmmaker. I approached the producer who holds the rights of the original film, but it took me several years until they gave me the project. They said that the original movie was very dear to them which is why they actually did not want a reboot, remake or prequel at all. But then I said that I won’t disappoint them. We talked about my vision of the story and eventually they liked it and they gave me the project.”

Deep meaning or pure entertainment?

“There is no deep meaning necessarily behind it. I mean the original was a popular cult film and I didn’t want to make a film that would be super different from the original. Just like the original I wanted this film to provide a rollercoaster ride for the people who go to the cinema’s. Similar to how the original gave me such an experience when I saw it for the first time back when I was a kid.”

“Even though there is no deep meaning I did put a few plot points that are very different than what we are used to seeing in Indonesian horror films. I always believe that a film has to reflect something from your society something from the here and now that needs to be voiced. It is very important so that people many years from now can see what was going on in society at that moment of time. But it cannot be too much nor will I spoil these plot points. It’s free for your own interpretation”

“When it comes to the approach of this film I had to keep the spirit, the pacing and the tone from the original film alive. It was an atmospheric horror that didn’t contain gore, but it overtly relied on the atmosphere so that’s one thing that I had to maintain. Then again the original did not have a full story. There are a lot of things that aren’t explained like the background of the characters and the story itself. Those are points that I did add to the film to make the story more coherent.”

My career started at CinemAsia.

“The first film, Arisan (2003) by Nia Dinata that I wrote was screened and premiered at CinemAsia Film Festival in 2004. Arisan was the first Indonesian film that portrayed LGBT people in a good light. Meaning that it wasn’t a film where the gay character was heading at an impending doom. Arisan shows a very normal and optimistic situation of queer cinema. Since the film was screened here, I could say that my career started at CinemAsia. The festival is very dear to me. It is curated with a love and passion for Asian cinema and it’s very warm. I like it a lot! It’s like home. If I remember correctly Joni’s Promise (2005) was also shown here and in 2007 Kala (2007) my second film as well.”

The future of cinema.

“These days films from all over the world can be accessed anytime from everywhere. So just because someone is from Asia doesn’t mean that the story-telling will be particularly or uniquely Asian. Everybody is influencing each other and filmmakers all over the world befriend each other as well. No matter if you are from Europe, Asia, the Americas or Africa it is very hard to distinguish styles based on someone’s background. People aren’t stuck to geographical boundaries anymore. What makes a filmmaker different from another is their own personal style of story-telling.”

“That’s why when I’m asked what the future of Asian Cinema holds I’d say that’s irrelevant. The world is very globalized and films aren’t produced only for a country or a region, but for a global audience. It’s actually more challenging for filmmakers nowadays, because they have to make efforts to make themselves stand out among filmmakers from all over the world.”

LGBT representation in film.

“I don’t follow to many LGBT films from other parts of Asia, but in Indonesia it is now more difficult to make an LGBT film. The first film I wrote was a gay film, but lately it’s difficult to get another one released. We had one movie with a gay character in a supporting role as the friend of the protagonist, a woman. It was supposed to come out in March, but it was almost banned, because the censorship board thought it was supporting gay lifestyle. So we had to plead to the board to get it released and we had to explain to them that if you follow the character’s story line you will see that he has a supporting role and he is in a sad situation. All of this to prove that the film doesn’t support gay lifestyle. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get the film released.”

A love for filmmaking.

“During a film production every moment is a favorite moment for me. I am really alive when I am shooting a film. Even during the pre- or post-production. Now that I’m not filming I’m dead”, Joko Anwar laughs sarcastically.

“I am just kidding, when I’m not filming I’m writing my scripts. So I’m still alive. I still have so many stories I want to film. I am always writing scripts. It’s been my dream ever since I was a kid. Currently I am living my dream so all that matters is turning stories from imagination into scripts and then films. Every project is a different and unique challenge. I keep developing all my scripts, even older ones and I challenge myself.”

“Besides that, I have done pretty much every genre and will continue to do so because I don’t want to be boxed or labeled. I’m too afraid that a label will keep me in my comfort zone, which is trapping for a filmmaker or an artist. I’d be artistically dead”

Photo and interview by Feargal Agard.

Check for all information about CinemAsia Film Festival 2018.