SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

Workshop: Film screenings: Indonesia and the 1965 tragedy

Putu Oka Sukanata
Putu Oka Sukanata (Film-maker)

Date: 15 September 2010Time: 10:00 AM

Finishes: 15 September 2010Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B102

Type of Event: Workshop

Profile of Putu Oka Sukanta
About the Films


Putu Oka Sukanta is one of Indonesia’s leading literary figures and producer of documentaries on the brutal events that accompanied former President Suharto’s rise to power in 1965/66.  Hundreds of thousands of Communist suspects and alleged sympathisers were killed or imprisoned without trial.  A political detainee himself between 1966 and 1976, Putu Oka Sukanta has produced a series of powerful and moving accounts of the tragedy.

The documentaries provide an invaluable record of the way in which groups of people were hounded and murdered for nothing more than their alleged involvement in leftwing organisations.  They are an important reminder of the trauma and social impact of the tragedy and the indelible legacy left by the harrowing events.

Putu Oka Sukanta will present and lead a discussion on two of his films.  Seni Ditating Jaman (The Art that will not Die) portrays the determination of members of the cultural organisation, LEKRA, to carry on their activities in and out of prison.  Menyemai Terang Dalam kelam (Sowing Light in the Dark) depicts the struggle of ordinary men and women to retain their dignity and humanity at a time of great oppression.   

Three other films, Perempuan yang Tertuduh (The Accused Woman), Tumbuh Dalam Badai (Growing in the Storm), and Tjidurian 19 will also be available for screening.

This event is sponsored by TAPOL and the Centre of South East Asian Studies, SOAS.


Morning Session (film screenings)
10:00 to 12:30
Tumbuh Dalam Badai40 minutes
Perempuan yang Tertuduh35 minutes
Tjidurian 1936 minutes
Afternoon Session (film screenings and discussion with Putu Oka Sukanta)
14:00 - 17:00
Seni Ditating Jaman40 minutes
Menyemai Terang Dalam Kelam65 minutes

Profile of Putu Oka Sukanta

Putu Oka Sukanto is a man of great versatility. He was born in Bali in 1939 and gained a bachelor's degree in education in 1963. He is best known as one of Indonesia's foremost contemporary literary figures. His many books and short stories provide realistic portrayals of the lives of the oppressed, not powerless victims of circumstances but complex human beings facing the challenge to survive.

From 1960 till 1965 he taught Indonesian literature, but from 1966 till 1976, he was a political detainee along with scores of members of the cultural organisation, LEKRA who spent years behind bars without trial.

He is also the producer of many documentary films, one of which portrays the social impact of the  tragic events of 1965 when hundreds of thousands of Indonesians fell victim to nationwide massacres.

As one editor has written: 'Putu Oka Sukanta's works hold a special place in Indonesia's literary history for their strikingly realistic depiction of the lives of the oppressed. His characters are not powerless victims of circumstances but complex human beings, honest in their efforts to survive but caught up in current  history that they themselves do not always understand.'

Alongside his literary achievements, he has gained a deep insight into traditional healing methods and was the founder of YAPTRI, an organisation dedicated to spreading an understanding of traditional medicine.

He became a self-taught practitioner in acupuncture which he continues to the present day. He has for many years been active in Indonesia's HIV/AIDS programme, supported by the Ford Foundation, which led to the production of a semi-documentary novel published in 2000 about people living with HIV.

He has frequently been invited to lecture on alternative health care as well as on literature in the countries of Southeast Asia, in Australia and in Europe.

About the Films

Film Synopsis: Seni Ditating Jaman (The Art That Will Not Die)

This film portrays the  experiences of artists, members of LEKRA, the Institute for People's Culture, who were determined to carry on with their activities, inside and outside prison,during a time of great oppression under Suharto's New Order. Through the examples they set, they prove that art cannot be destroyed by those who hold the reins of power.

A signatory of the Cultural Manifesto which was produced during the New Order, speaks about the situation in those difficult days. Others who speak out include a historian, an artist, a lawyer and the curator of an art gallery, all of whom add colour to the story told.

Film Synopsis: Menyemai Terang Dalam Kelam (Sowing Light in the Dark)

This film depicts the experiences of several members of LEKRA, the Institute for People's Culture, after the tragedy of 1965/1966. which not only caused deep inner wounds but also fostered the struggle to preserve their humanity during the dark days of military oppression under Suharto's New Order.

Several sketches are about men and women being arrested, the loss of their loved ones - parents, husbands and wives - who were incarcerated or killed. A poet is shown challenging generals about a series in incidents distorted by lies about licentious dancing and gouging out the eyes of generals in Lubang Buaya.

The sufferings of a woman who goes from prison to prison in search of her father and is then forced to witness a prisoner being showered with urine.

The story of a woman who knows that her husband has been arrested and that she herself is included on a death list. She goes from town to town to safeguard her own survival and that of her child, and how the experience transforms her into a new person.

A film worker becomes a street beggar as he tries to avoid arrest. An intellectual  who struggles to survive while her husband is incarcerated and finally succeeds in her struggle.

One sketch shows an official at Lubang Buaya indoctrinating some young children while another shows the son of D.N. Aidit, chairman of the Indonesian Communist Party, meeting the notorious general, Sarwo Edhi Wibowo.

Perempuan yang Tertuduh (Accused Women)

(Producer, Putu Oka Sukanta; Director and Research, Lilik Munafidah)

This documentary focuses on four Indonesian women who were arrested and held without trial for many years, simply for have been activists or alleged activists in organisations which were banned when the military came to power in Indonesia in 1965.

Christina Sumarmiyati, aka Mamik was an activist in the student-youth organisation, IPPI, one of the many mass organisations banned in 1965. She underwent terrifying interrogation by military interrogators, including having to strip naked, which occurred to many women arrested at the time.

Kartinah Kurdi, was a member of the Indonesian parliament, the DPR, and for years the secretary-general of the women’s organisation, GERWANI.

Sutarni, who was arrested and held without trial for many years, simply because she was the wife, and by then certainly the widow, of the third deputy secretary-general of the Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI. (With one exception, all the top leaders of the PKI were killed. The exception was Sudisman, who was later tried, found guilty before a military court, and later executed.)

Utati, who had been a member of the hugely popular youth organisation, Pemuda Rakyat.

Many of the women who were arrested were subsequently exiled to a prison camp in Central Java called Plantungan, (a former leprosy colony that had been set up to isolate the inhabitants) where they had to fend for themselves with virtually no medical facilities, for many years. One of the women is wearing a tee-shirt with Plantungan stamped on the back.

Tjidurian 19, Jakarta

The title of the film is the address in Jakarta of the cultural organisation, LEKRA. This organisation was one of a large group of organisations which thrived in the 1950s and early 1960s, prior to the nationwide clampdown on the entire left wing movement when General Suharto and the Indonesian military took control of the country in late 1965 and established the New Order which held the country in its grip until May 1998.

The membership of LEKRA -Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat - was composed of people from all branches of the arts: painters, musicians, dancers, writers and poets and covered the whole country. The diversity of its membership reflected the diversity of cultural and ethnic groups in Indonesia. They regularly performed at political events, providing colour and attraction.

After the military took power in 1965, the members of the organisation fell victim to the white terror and were killed or thrown into prisons across the country.  Many were exiled to the remote and uninhabitable island of Buru where they were held, without charge or trial, right through to the late 1970s.

Tjidurian 19 was the modest office of LEKRA and home to many of its activists and staff over the years. The house was owned by Oey Hay Djoen, the head of LEKRA's department of internal affairs. Among the artists who share their experiences in the film are the poet S Anantaguna, the writer Hersri Setiawan and poet and film maker Putu Oka Sukanta.

After the military took power, the house was confiscated and occupied, then sold off to a third party.  It has been turned into a luxurious multi-storey building.

Tumbuh dalam Badai (Growing under the Storm)

(Producer, Putu Oka Sukanta; Director IGP Wirinegara)

This documentary tells the story of people who, as children, suffered structural discrimination because their parents were victims of the humanitarian tragedy that befell Indonesia in 1965 and lasted for more than three decades, until 1998.

Right across the country, children who were known to be the offspring of parents who were alleged to be members of left wing organisations that were banned by the military regime were forced to leave school. In many communities they suffered discrimination and were forced to find homes elsewhere in order to survive the harsh political conditions of Suharto’s New Order.

The film tell the stories of Wangi Indrya, a wayang kulit puppeteer, singer and dancer from Indramayu, West Java whose father was also a puppeteer and became a political prisoner;  and Bondan Nusantara, the son of Ibu Karidah, a prima donna of Javanese theatre in the 1960s.

Both faced a difficult struggle to survive in such a hostile political atmosphere and until today, still face discrimination.

Also appearing in the film is Nani Nurahman, the daughter of General Soetoyo who emerged as a national hero for being one of the generals who were killed in Jakarta on 1 October 1965.


Tapol Logo

TAPOL – which means political prisoner in Indonesian – is a UK-based NGO founded in 1973 by Carmel Budiardjo, a former political prisoner in Indonesia and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office