Indonesians in Queens Are Beginning to Learn About Film on Genocide


A prayer meeting at Grace Indonesia Baptist Church in Woodside, Queens. Credit Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times
A prayer meeting at Grace Indonesia Baptist Church in Woodside, Queens. Credit Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Every Friday afternoon, Mas Pratomo, 83, sips tea at Fay Da Bakery on Justice Avenue, in Elmhurst, Queens, and catches up with fellow Indonesians. He never forgets to list the day’s attendees in his journal.


Having left his home country four decades ago, the teatime ritual is his way of connecting with his roots, as he and friends converse in their native Indonesian.


On a recent Friday, the conversation turned to “The Act of Killing,” the recent documentary film about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide.


The film, released last year, features two notorious figures in the mass killings discussing and even re-enacting some of their actions in the anti-Communist purge. The killers’ boastfulness has shocked some viewers, and the film has brought new attention to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of suspected Communists across the archipelago nation in Southeast Asia.


But in Indonesia, where the anti-Communist campaign remains a sensitive subject, defended by some powerful figures, the film was not widely seen or embraced. And in New York’s small but growing Indonesian enclave in Elmhurst, word of the film has spread slowly.



Joshua Oppenheimer,  the director of “The Act of Killing,” participated in a discussion after a recent screening of the film in Brooklyn. CreditKatie Orlinsky for The New York Times


Many of the estimated 7,000 Indonesians living in the city came to the United States hoping to make a new life here after the bloodshed of 1965 or the upheavals of the late 1990s.


For Mr. Pratomo, the film awakened him to the brutality of the killers and the scale of the massacre. “I was appalled when I found out about the truth,” he said.


At the time of the anti-Communist campaign, he was living in the capital, Jakarta, while much of the bloodshed was carried out in small towns of East Java, on the Hindu island of Bali, and in North Sumatra, where the film is set.


A year later, in 1966, he encountered a hint of the violence. An architect, he went to Bali to manage a hotel project. But he could not find workers, he recalled. In hushed conversations, he was told that all of them had been killed.


It was a fearful time in Indonesia. Government propaganda had demonized the Communists, who were alleged to have staged a coup. Many Indonesians accepted the government line or were too scared to challenge it.


Mr. Pratomo left for New York a year later and he had put that era behind him, he said, until friends told him about “The Act of Killing.” He watched it on Netflix with his wife.


“How could it come to this — murdering people as if it were a feast?” he said.


For some among his generation, the film evoked difficult memories about the years leading up to Suharto’s rule. For some younger Indonesians who have come to New York, the film has been an eye-opening window on a period still shrouded by fear and trauma.


Among those living here, word of the film has spread slowly. Many Indonesian immigrants working busy blue-collar jobs have little time for films.


At Grace Indonesia Baptist Church in Woodside, Queens, none of the congregation members at a recent prayer meeting had heard of the film, except for the church’s leader, the Rev. Sutoyo Sigar, 65, who was a witness to the bloodshed.


The two-year-old church is one of the 32 Indonesian churches that have sprung up in New York in the past decade, partly to accommodate the influx of Chinese Indonesian immigrants that followed the upheaval in the late 1990s.


Anastasia Dewi Tjahjadi, 45, owner of Java Village, an Indonesian restaurant on Justice Avenue, was not aware of the genocide. “I heard from my parents that a lot of our relatives returned to China at that time, but we didn’t talk much about it,” she said.


Curious after hearing about the film, she played it a couple of days later on her restaurant’s big-screen TV. But she found herself struggling to watch it while attending her restaurant, she said.


Mr. Pratomo said the film had helped him realize how much his homeland was scarred by the events of 1965, and he hopes it spurs a search for the truth and justice.


“There should be a tribunal, there should be reconciliation, there should be an apology,” he said. “And the apology should be accepted and everyone can continue to live together side by side.”


MARCH 27, 2014

‘Prison and Paradise’: How terrorism affects children

Searching for clues: Police inspect one of the restaurants that suffered the worst impact of the 2002 Bali bombings in Kuta. JP
Searching for clues: Police inspect one of the restaurants that suffered the worst impact of the 2002 Bali bombings in Kuta. JP

Documentary filmmaker Daniel Rudi Haryanto cited verses of Koran sura Al-Ma’un: “Do you see one who denies the judgment to come?

“Then such is he who repulses the orphan with harshness, and does not encourage the feeding of the indigent. Woe to the worshippers who are neglectful in their prayers, those who want to be seen with worshipping men but refuse to supply their neighborly needs.”

The activist, who has studied Islam since his teenage years, was bewildered by the terrorist bombings in Indonesia.

“Islam says that we should not repulse the orphans, but the terrorists with their bombings are actually creating orphans,” he said.

His debut feature-length documentary, Prison and Paradise, tackles that particular problem. His
film, which will premiere at the 2010 Dubai Film Festival on Dec. 12, tells the story of the wives and the children of convicted terrorists and a victim of the first Bali bombing.

The 93-minute film, shortlisted for a documentary award at the festival, also shows the director’s 2003 interviews with executed Bali bombers Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Ali Gufron.

The 33-year-old, popularly called Rudi, said that he was overjoyed his film had been shortlisted, adding that he was proud to represent Indonesia on the international stage.

The documentary spans 7 years, starting with the interviews of the bombers at Nusakambangan prison.

In 2004, Rudi met with Noor Huda Ismail, a Jamaah Islamiyah analyst and an alumna of the Ngruki islamic boarding school where many of the terrorist convicts went.

Rudi then documented Huda’s encounters with Mubarok, his former roommate at Ngruki who
went on to join the radical movement. Rudi and Huda met with the family of imprisoned terrorist convicts Ali Imron and Mubarok and the family of bomb victim Imawan Sardjono in 2007. In 2010, he conducted more interviews with the families.

He said the documentary aimed to show the consequences of terrorism on the lives of children.

The sons of Imawan Sardjono, Alif and Aldi, were infants when their father died due to the bombing. “The children became fatherless due to the first Bali bombing that was carried out in the name of Islamic jihad. In fact the family of Haji Maksum [Imawan’s father in-law] and Aldi and Alif’s father were Islamic activists in Dalung Permai village in Denpasar. They worked together to establish a Koran school in their kampung,” Rudi said.

“The family became victims and suffered,” Rudi said. “The children had to grow up without a father.”

Meanwhile, the children of terrorist convicts also suffered from the acts of their fathers. In his documentary, Rudi followed the wives and children of terrorist convicts Mubarok and Ali Imron, documenting the families’ visits to Jakarta to meet the two men. The children of Mubarok and Ali Imron were the same age as Aldi and Alif.

“Ali Imron and Mubarok were sentenced to life in prison. Ali Imron and Mubarok’s children are now living under the stigma of terrorism, moving from one place to another,” he said.

The children think that their fathers were studying in Jakarta. “This is another problem. One day they will have to find out the truth and it will definitely affect their lives,” Rudi said. Even now, one of the children has asked whether her father is in prison and not in school, he said.

In the film, Rudi’s interview with Ali Imron, who was in charge of finding bomb-making materials, showed how the indoctrination of the radical movement has made Ali Imron neglect the care of his family’s well being.

“I didn’t look after my wife when she was pregnant,” says Ali Imron in one interview. “Both my children were born without me,” he said.

In another interview, Amrozy said that he simply asked God to mind his children.

Rudy said that he was eager to show his documentary film in Islamic boarding schools and cultural centers. “Our aim is to enable reconciliation,” he said.

Huda, whose foundation, the Institute of International Peace, funded the documentary, said there were still many Muslims who were in denial about the terrorist attacks, believing that groups outside of Indonesia did it.

“With this documentary, people have to admit that we have homegrown problems.”

Rudi said his next documentary would be on the lives of ex-combatants who have repented. Under a program with Prasasti Perdamaian, ex-combatants in Semarang are now running small food stalls
selling “torpedoes” — a dish made of goat’s penis.

“It’s very interesting,” Rudi said. “A food stall is a good place for reconciliation process because
here, their mind-set about society and jihad, which they see in a violent context, can be transformed,” he said.

“In a food stall, if they have customers that are Caucasian or Chinese, they still have to serve them.

This broadens their social interactions,” he said. “It’s a place where they learn to interact with society,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Mon, November 29 2010