The director of the first Indonesian film to be selected for Berlin Competition talks about censorship and other animals in Indonesia.

The second feature from Indonesian director Edwin, Postcards From The Zoo, tells the story of a young girl who lives in a zoo, where she was abandoned as a baby, until a charming magician lures her away. It explores themes of loss, longing and habitat through characters both human and animal.

The film is produced by Meiske Taurisia’s Babibutafilm and co-produced by Pallas Films’ Thanassis Karathanos and Karl Baumgartner and Hong Kong-based Lorna Tee. Germany’s The Match Factory is handling international sales.

The cast is headed by Ladya Cheryl and Nicholas Saputra who previously worked together in Rudy Soedjarwo’s What’s With Love?, one of the biggest local hits in Indonesia of all time.

Edwin’s first feature, Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly (2008), about Indonesia’s Chinese minority, toured widely on the festival circuit and won several prizes, including the FIPRESCI prize at Rotterdam. He has also directed several shorts, including Kara, Daughter Of A Tree, which screened in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.

What was the genesis of this film? What gave you the idea for the story?

There is only one giraffe in the Ragunan Zoo, the only giraffe in Jakarta. How would it feel to be left alone somewhere that is not your habitat? Musings like these led me to revisit my own memories of longing and dreams, and feelings of displacement, being something that doesn’t feel at home. 

The film is financed by international funds (including Torino, Hubert Bals and Goteborg). Is it difficult for independent filmmakers to raise finance in Indonesia?

Yes, it is certainly not easy to finance a film in Indonesia that is not a genre title or based on a successful book. Especially one about the zoo.

You’ve worked with actress Ladya Cheryl several times – why do you like working with her? And will the reteaming of her and Nicholas Saputra increase the film’s commercial prospects?

It’s not just the actress because I have actually involved many of the same people in my films. I like working and growing together as a family. Putting Ladya and Nicholas together really has nothing to do with What’s With Love. Of course I am aware how stars like Nicholas and Ladya can add appeal for some audiences, but on the other hand, I don’t think I would like to imagine, much less guarantee, that this film will be a commercial success with millions of viewers, just because I’ve reunited these two stars.

Your last film wasn’t distributed commercially in Indonesia as it challenged the censors. Do you think this film has a better chance of a general release?

As long as the Indonesian Censorship Board still exists and their approval is still the main requirement for distribution in Indonesia, I don’t think my films will ever be able to be commercially screened in commercial theatres in Indonesia. I don’t care what the Censorship Board is trying to uphold. My opposition to censorship is perhaps the clearest conviction in my life, without a single doubt. I don’t need to acknowledge their existence. Any form of censorship to me is just wrong. 

Any idea what you’re doing next?

I am curious to know whether an audio visual media like cinema can trigger memories of smell. I am pretty sure I have experienced it myself, but I am not certain how to recreate the experience.