Having lived in Indonesia for more than 16 years, filmmaker, author, and social media activist Daniel Ziv have documented this country through every kind of media: books, magazines, and movies. His love for Indonesia began since his first visit in the 90s as a backpacker. “I just fell in love with the people, landscape, food, politics, everything!” he says. After his first visit to Indonesia, Daniel then studied at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, focusing on Indonesia’s society and politics. He eventually went back to Indonesia to write his doctoral thesis and since then, has never moved away.
Daniel continued his life and career in Jakarta, where he established Djakarta!, an urban magazine about the city and also became the author of a pop culture book, “Jakarta Inside Out”. One thing lead to another, and without realising it, 16 years have passed. “I never intended to live in this country for this long. But it’s my home now,” says Daniel. After about 10 years living in Jakarta, Daniel now resides in the humble and quiet Ubud area in Bali.
Over his time in the country Daniel has created many interesting projects. But one of his most well-known projects is “Jalanan”, a documentary film about life in Indonesia from the eyes of three street musicians. Daniel was fascinated by street buskers in Jakarta, found out that these guys compose music and lyrics of their own that often reflect the social and political condition in Indonesia. “I was interested in understanding how the dramatic political changes in Indonesia would affect small people on the streets,” he says. Thus Boni, Ho, and Titi, -the three street musician- became his muses and the main characters of that film.
“It took seven years to finish ‘Jalanan’ –five years of shooting and two years of editing,” explains Daniel. This long process is because he wanted this documentary to be something real and raw, and he realised it’d take time to fulfil his vision. “You can’t force reality. If you’re committed to capture life in an honest and raw sort of manner, then you need to be patient and wait for things to happen, wait for life to unfold in a natural pace,” he says.
In five years of shooting, Daniel succeeded to document the authentic aspects of the main characters: their love, hopes, and resentment that arises as a reaction from numerous events that happened in Indonesia. Many issues like gender, dislocation, separation, and politics appear in this film in a very dramatic and interesting way.
The film was finally released in 2013 and garnered a warm reception not only in Indonesia, but also worldwide. It’s the first documentary film that received a theatrical release in Indonesian commercial cinemas across the country, shown in five cities for 34 consecutive days. It also got international recognition, screening in 60 international film festivals in 31 countries and won 20 awards –one of them was Best Documentary at the Busan International Film Festival.
“It was tremendously satisfying. Actually, I didn’t see it coming. For me it’s all about pulling the viewers onto the story, generating empathy, help understand life’s insights and humanity. Overall, ‘Jalanan’ was an amazing journey, not only for me but also for the main characters and everyone involved in making this film,” says Daniel. After “Jalanan”, the lives of Boni, Titi, and Ho also changed significantly. Daniel created a fundraising campaign to buy them houses. “I wanted to make sure that after all we’ve been through together, they will have something they could call their own. It’s not just about the money, but their perspective of life. Now they’re not just nameless marginalized people anymore, they have recognition,” says Daniel.
Three years after “Jalanan” was released, Daniel is now working on his next project: another documentary film tentatively called “Hijab Nation”. “It’s sort of an unconventional journey through Indonesia to understand women wearing hijab. In the last 15 years, we’ve seen an enormous increase of women who wears hijab,” he explains. Like “Jalanan”, “Hijab Nation” also attempts to capture a slice of Indonesian life, but seen through the issues of hijab, religion, society, gender, and identity. “It’s also a film about how Indonesia took the hijab as the symbol of Islam and reinvented hijab in their own way, how they reinterpreted it,” he says. Even though it serves as a documentary film, “Hijab Nation” is going to have a very different style than “Jalanan”.
Just like his previous film, Daniel dared himself to jump into sensitive issues through “Hijab Nation”. “I want to make something that’s thoughtful, stimulating, honest, and give people food for thought but also engaging and entertaining,” said Daniel. It also made him fall in love with documentary filmmaking. “I’m driven by the stories that I want to tell and the stories that intrigues me most are about real stories of people on the streets, so documentary film feels like a natural medium for me to work in,” he described. As a foreigner doing a film on such an Islamic topic, he realises that he might encounter resistance and criticism in the future. “I can see that happening but I don’t care because I don’t see myself as a critic. I’m a film maker that seeks a certain truth and that has nothing to do with the colour of my skin or anything,” he says.