Q&A with MasterChef Finalist Jess Liemantara!

Dessert queen and lover of all things sweet, Jess Liemantara was the youngest contestant on this years MasterChef Australia. This week, Jess shares about her MasterChef Journey and the power of connecting people through food!


Photo: Jess Liemantara

Tell us a little about your background. How did you come to apply for MasterChef?

I was born in Perth Subiaco along with my older brother Jeremy, then we moved down to Melbourne. Both my parents are from Surabaya hence why I speak mostly Bahasa Jawa. My parents opened a restaurant in Perth called, “Taste of Java”, and later reopened another restaurant in Melbourne called, “Foodtopia Fusion Café Restaurant”, in Bayswater which was a fusion of Thai, Malay and Indonesian cuisine. My brother and I both helped my parents in the restaurant, I managed floor operations, till management and barista ring and my brother worked as the chef along with my dad. My mum took on the role as the Boss and inspired my bother and I to purse being entrepreneurs ourselves.

We opened the restaurant for 4 years and decided we all needed to move on to venture new opportunities and skills. I started working at Nobu as a food and beverage attendant in July 2017 and was amazed by the authentic Japanese cuisine and the way the chefs work in the kitchen. Being on the other side as a waitress is much different the level of intensity, and is not as stressful as being the kitchen. The chefs work extremely hard to make sure food is consistent and of high quality.

The opportunity to audition for MasterChef 2018 came along and friends and family pushed me to audition for the show. I didn’t feel fit enough for the opportunity just after not going further in my recent audition for the Great Australian Bake Off. After many nagging and support from family and friends I decided to give it ago. I handed in my application and after a month received an email requesting to schedule in an audition. From then on I was short listed to the top 50 contestants to cook for the three judges. To this day I still cannot believe the amazing journey that got me to that very special day.

What’s life like post-MasterChef?

Gosh I would have to say I had a couple of tough months where I felt out of place and didn’t know where to begin just after being away for so long. Having quit my previous job as a waitress, I wanted to pursue my passion as a chef. I searched for work experience and was lucky enough to do be able to undertake professional experience at the Press club and Omnom. The amount of technique, skill and precision in these two businesses are phenomenal, it was such an amazing experience.

I’m currently working at Omnom sometimes it still surprises me that I am now on the other side of the business having people say “yes Chef”, makes me feel like I’ve achieved that one step closer to a new beginning. I’ve always dreamed of being in the kitchen baking and doing what I love most. But it’s not always funs and daisies, there will be tough days in the kitchen but I am willing to learn and get back up when things don’t go to plan.

Working casually along with taking custom cake orders I’ve realised how much time and energy cooking takes out of you. There are days when I just want to sit and relax but all you can think about is what I have to do next, what needs to be prepared and what if it doesn’t work or I don’t have enough time. There are no regrets, I still love what I do and will continue to pursue my dream of one day supplying my cakes to businesses. Taking it slow and as George said, “don’t climb the mountain to high to come down crumbling”. I am hoping to finish off my cookbook by December 2018.

Photo: Caramel Porcini Mousse Balls with Fried Enoki by Jess Liemantara

Can you tell us a bit about your time on MasterChef? What was your favourite thing about the experience?

My MasterChef journey was one of the hardest things I’ve done. The audition process to get to top 50 was so much fun, scary, but so fun. Cooking for the judges for the first time was even more stressful. After not receiving an apron on the first day I was devastated and didn’t have a lot of faith that I would get in on my second chance cook. The opportunity to cook for the second time was such a blessing I got to show the judges I really do want to fight to the very end. Finally, receiving the apron on the second day was such a life changing experience, until I was in an elimination that week.

It tore me to pieces to think being the youngest in this year’s MasterChef that I was in the very first elimination. I have to fight a little harder to catch up to such amazing cooks. Day after day I’ve learnt so much about cooking and about life. The other MasterChef contestants are amazing and made the journey so fun and memorable.

My favourite thing about my MasterChef experience would be having the opportunity to be in 12 eliminations, 5 pressure tests and 7 normal eliminations. I was able to cook over 50 times, really helping me create my menu and find my style of cooking.

The friendships made with the caring and like-minded souls that love food as much as I do is so surreal. We non-stop talk about food. I can never forget the amazing mentoring from the 3 judges, Matt, Gary and George who continuously work hard to make me a better chef and a cleaner one too. I am so glad to have been in MasterChef 2018, the challenges and the professional chefs we met is just mind blowing I cannot thank the Lord enough for guiding me through this amazing journey.

Photo: Masterchef contestants Jess, Brendan and Reece

How does your/your parents Indonesian background influence or inspire your cooking?

My parents Indonesian background helped so much in times of desperate cooking situations. From marinating with simple ingredients, peanut base sauces and our love for chilli. My dad and Grandma love making Roti isih and I am so glad I was able to make Deep fried sandwich to represent my Indonesian background. As Indonesians, we cook a lot of Thai food due to our past experiences of opening up a restaurant. Watching my dad cook inside the kitchen using just simple ingredients such as mint, lime, chilli, garlic, ginger and other aromats to make beautiful salads and dressing is what got me through my MasterChef journey. My Mum always said to marinate any protein in ginger, lemon and garlic and that’s what helped to get me through.

What are your future culinary hopes/aspirations?

I hope to have my own café one day with a production kitchen and degustation lounge. I’m also hoping to publish my cookbook by December and to hopefully get my brand out there in supplying cafes with the desserts I create. There is not one day where I don’t think about cooking or owning my own café, or even getting my desserts tasted by the public. As they say, the way to success is to dream big and continuously talk your dreams to make them happen.

Photo: Cake created by Jess

What do you love most about Indonesia?

I love how fast businesses grow in Indonesia and the creativity and art put into making a restaurant or attraction so beautiful. I always wonder how fast things pop up, from big new luxurious shopping centres to the never ending beautiful restaurants and cafes that are now booming in Indonesia. Oh and it’s also the best place to shop, I love Mangga 2, Galaxy Mall, Grand Indonesia and Ciputra World.

Any hopes for the Australia-Indonesia relationship/how people can become connected through food?

With such growth in the presence of Indonesian culture here in Melbourne, I’m sure we all meet in the same places whether it is for Ayam penyet, Soto ayam or Bakso, you are bound to see another Indonesian. I think there is such a diversity here in Australia and it’s so great to see so many cuisines and different cultures uniting people food that really brings us all together and grows friendships through sitting down and eating together in your favourite restaurant.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us Jess!

See what Jess has been up to on InstagramFacebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out for more interviews in the coming weeks!

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: AIYA Victoria Treasurer and language enthusiast, Johanes Warsono

Welcome back to AIYA Member Spotlights! In this regular series, we talk to a different AIYA Member from either Indonesia or Australia to hear their story. This week, AIYA Victoria Treasurer and language enthusiast, Johanes Warsono answers some questions!

What do you study?

I am studying Accounting and Finance at the University of Melbourne. 

What is your favourite place to visit in Indonesia?

I really enjoy Bandung in terms of weather and environment. From my perspective, it is also the city which does the best job in protecting all types of cultural heritages. Other than that, Yogyakarta must be on the top of the ranking if you want to have a full taste of traditional Javanese culture. However, personally, the city that leaves me the best memory is Surakarta (Solo) even though it doesn’t have a big name as prestigious as these two mentioned before.

Favourite meal in Indonesia?

Batagor (Bakso tahu goreng) for sure. It tastes better when peanut sauce is added.

How about your favourite Indonesian word?

“Pedekate” – a word describing a situation in which a boy (girl) is trying getting closer to a girl (boy). It is a lesson that everyone has to learn but schools don’t teach

Do you have a favourite Indonesian film?

My favourite Indonesian movie is “Laskar Pelangi”. Unlike some commercial Indonesian movies focusing on entertainment, Laskar Pelangi has a very realistic plot about how some poor kids from the same primary school in Belitung live and study and how they win respects from others. This is the first Indonesian movie that makes me feel touched.

How did you first become interested in Indonesia?

It is actually uneasy for a person who has a strong enthusiasm in foreign languages and cultures like me not to interact with any Indonesian elements in a multicultural city like Melbourne. Diversity in languages and culture, richness in resource of tourism, friendliness of Indonesian people are the main reasons that bring this country into my insight and raise my interest.

What was getting involved with AIYA like?

My experience with AIYA is like an amazing journey. When I first joined AIYA, I could hardly make a sentence by using Indonesian. However, only within one year’s time, my proficiency of Indonesian has progressed in a very quick manner. More importantly, here, at AIYA, I also make some awesome friends who supported me and helped me over a gloomy period of time in my life.

Any hopes for the bilateral relationship?

I hope that more flight routines connecting Australia and Indonesia can be opened.

What do you like most about AIYA?

No attendant will feel excluded if they come to any AIYA activity.

Sum up your experience as an AIYA member in three words!

Brotherhood Brotherhood Brotherhood

Read more AIYA Member Spotlight interviews here.

Crocoppuccino Party: Q&A with winning ModCon artist Sandy Solihin

A few months ago, Sandy Solihin, a freelance illustrator and artist, was announced as the winner of the ModCon 2017 competition with his entry Crocoppuccino Party, which won by more than 6,500 votes via the Australian Embassy’s Instagram.

Crocoppuccino Party is a playful piece which combines Australia’s unique wildlife with its coffee culture. Sandy shares his insights into the creative process and motivation for creating the piece below.

Tell us about your background as an artist. Why do you create?

Ever since I was a little kid, I was always mesmerized by children books, especially picture books. I couldn’t sit still until my parents bought me one. I spent days reading those books and got carried away in the world of imagination. Those books ignited my creative side which poured out through pencil and paper. It was amazing. Since then, I’ve decided to become an illustrator and enrolled in art school. Unfortunately, in my hometown Bandung, there was no illustration major. I decided to major in graphic design instead. Luckily, my training as a graphic designer has honed my skills as an illustrator as well, so I can continue making beautiful artworks that resonate with audiences on an emotional level. This is my main purpose in creating artwork: to put smiles on people’s faces.

Where are you from, and how does this place influence your art?

I was born, raised and live in Bandung. Growing up in tropical country with a rich biodiversity enriched my knowledge and artistic references from nature. This sprouted my interest in the animal world and I decided to learn more about their behaviour and their respective physiology. Fortunately, this brought me to work for National Geographic Indonesia as a scientific illustrator and opened up possibilities to explore this country even further.

What were the main influences for Crocoppuccino Party?

As an illustrator who has an interest in the animal world, Australia’s biodiversity has never failed to amaze me. More than 80% of Australian plants and animal are unique to Australia and are found nowhere else.

Australia’s passion for coffee has reached Indonesia as well. Both well-crafted coffee which offers a new level of coffee experience and Aussie-influenced coffee houses have spread across my hometown and into Indonesia’s big cities. As a coffee lover this promises me excellent cappucinno every time I need a caffeine fix.

Last but not least, the most memorable experience I had when visiting Australia was its lively and upbeat but laid-back environment. Aussie sure know how to have fun. Each of these three Aussie things remains close to my heart, and inspired me with this artwork.

What do you hope to convey to viewers?

I think the most pleasing thing would be if my artwork inspires other people, from children to adults, to make them love their own biodiversity and culture, and help make them create more art with a positive impact on the world.

How do you think creative exchanges such as ModCon can enhance the bilateral relationship?

I think the relationship between our countries is magnificent. Creative and artistic exchange and collaboration are a perfect approach to further strengthen this relationship and bridge whatever tensions that might exist.

Any future goals?

I want to immerse myself in the many cultures of the world, exploring their value, unique artistic approach and most importantly the people, in a hope to further expand my knowledge and references as an artist. This would train me to make a meaningful art that reach a broader audience. In the future I want to expand into animation as well. I wish I can contribute in the animation industry as a concept artist.

Be sure to follow Sandy on Instagram and find out more about ModCon on the Pop Con Asia website.

Max Stretton’s exchange experience at UGM in “buzzing” and exciting Yogyakarta

AIYA NT President and Bachelor of Law student Max Stretton has just completed a stint at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, studying Indonesian and volunteering for AIYA Yogyakarta. Read on to learn more! This article was prepared for CDU and was originally published here.


I am studying a Bachelor of Law at CDU and I’m about to start my fourth year of studies. I have also studied some Indonesian language classes at CDU as electives to maintain my Indonesian language skills and learn more about the country. I am also about to start a three-month internship with the law firm Akset Law in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Describe your overseas study experience.

I just got back from studying law at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta for a semester. At UGM, I studied Indonesian law through their International Undergraduate Program which teaches all the classes in English and I was able to study amazing subjects unique to Indonesia. Every lecturer was fascinating and the other people I studied with were incredibly kind and caring.

One of my goals when heading over there was to improve my language skills. Although I wasn’t studying language specifically, I was able to practice with taxi drivers, my Indonesian friends and basically anyone who was up for a chat. It was great!

Whilst in Yogyakarta, I also became the Communications Officer for the Australia Indonesia Youth Association – Yogyakarta Chapter. Through this, I was able to practice my Indonesian language skills, help the community and meet a bunch of great people who also had a passion for the Indonesia-Australia relationship.

Another thing I did whilst in Indonesia was travel. Although I wasn’t able to do as much as I would’ve liked, I was able to visit other cities such as Bandung, Jakarta and Surabaya.

Why did you want to study overseas?

Studying in Indonesia was an aspiration of mine for quite some time. I first went to Yogyakarta with my Dad when I was 15 and knew that one day I wanted to go back to study. I also aspire to work in Indonesia after I graduate so being able to study Indonesian law at UGM during my degree at CDU was very beneficial.

Furthermore, I also wanted to challenge myself. Living overseas isn’t that easy and not many people have done or can do it. I wanted to test myself to really gauge whether living in Indonesia was something I wanted to do in the future.

What were the most challenging parts of studying abroad?

If you have patience and tolerance, Indonesia is an easy country to live in. The people are great, food is amazing and there is always a new place for you to visit.

Saying that, I did have some difficulties whilst over there which I had to overcome. Like for anyone who studies overseas, the first problem you’re going to have is language. Although I considered my Indonesian language skills strong, there was still so much I didn’t know. What’s great about Indonesia is that the people are patient and will help you out.

Although I don’t really consider this a challenge, Indonesia’s rich culture and religion makes the experience very different to being in Australia and does provide some challenges. The majority of Indonesia is Muslim and so with that, comes some strict social standards which you don’t get in Australia. For example, I basically wore pants 24/7 which isn’t that great in the middle of the wet season, and every morning at 4am I would be woken up by the local call to prayer.

But like I said earlier, I don’t really consider this a challenge, rather something I looked forward to and loved to observe whilst I was over there. Patience and tolerance will help you get over anything in Indonesia.

What were the best aspects?

The highlight of my exchange was being in a country on the verge of becoming one of the biggest nations in the world. I couldn’t believe how many people my age owned clothing stores, cafes, or barber shops. The entrepreneurship in young Indonesians is astonishing and was truly inspirational. There’s a kind of buzz around Indonesia and around what the future holds and you can really feel it when you’re there.

What’s the most important thing you learnt from your experience overseas?

I learned that I can handle myself in challenging situations. I explicitly remember how intimidated I felt after the first two weeks of class, amazed at the level of sophistication and knowledge the other law students displayed. Although I was taken back a bit and questioned my own ability, I was able to prove myself. I believe that this experience has taught me to be confident in my ability and I will transfer this confidence into my future career path.

Can you sum up your experience in three words?

Time for creativity.

OR: Must go back!

Lastly, what advice do you have for anyone considering studying overseas?

Your parting wisdom – fun or functional.

If you’re thinking of studying overseas, you’re already one foot there. It’s a lengthy process to study overseas and you will need to be patient. But, once you’re there it will be all worth it. It’s life changing and you will come back as a different person. Be up for anything.

Please note that this article was prepared for CDU and was originally published here.

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: entrepreneur and martabak manis lover Fiona Bettesworth

Welcome back to AIYA Member Spotlight! In this regular series, we talk to a different AIYA Member from either Indonesia or Australia to hear their story. Entrepreneur and AIYA WA member Fiona Bettesworth is our second interviewee for 2018.

Where is your day job?

I’ve just launched my own social-entrepreneurial business: Real Indonesia. We connect conscious, curious travellers to authentic travel experiences in Indonesia beyond the tourist strips of Bali. Our mission is to support local economic development and sustainable tourism while getting Australians to experience the real Indonesia; over 1 million Australians travel to Bali each year but in general Australians and Indonesians don’t really know each other. I think tourism has great power to improve the bilateral relationship at a people-to-people level.

What is your favourite place to visit in Indonesia?

This is a tough one. I, like everyone, love Jogja and I will always have a soft spot for Surabaya as that was the first place I went to beyond Bali. I’ve been to some amazing places in Indonesia, but if I could narrow it down to the top three highlights they would probably be Tangkoko National Park in Manado, Komodo Island and Lake Toba in Sumatra.

What is your favourite meal in Indonesia?

It depends what I feel like, but I love murtabak manis/terang bulan – with chocolate and no cheese! Just don’t look at how much butter/oil it’s made with…

What is your favourite word in Indonesian?

Another tough choice, but one of my favourites would be berapi-api, which translates as “fiery”. it has great imagery and I love using it in the context of when you are fired up and passionate about something.

What is your favourite Indonesian film?

I really like the Raditya Dika films, including Kambing Jantan, Koala Kumal and Single. They’re romcoms usually set in Jakarta, which are very relatable for young people.

How did you first become interested in Indonesia?

I chose to study Indonesian in high school because I had a cool Indonesian teacher and we got to go on a trip to Indonesia during school time. My high school, Tranby College, had a sister school relationship with SMAN 5 in Surabaya through the BRIDGE Program (run by the Asia Education Foundation and the Australian Government). Thanks to this program, I had the opportunity to go on exchange to Surabaya and for my Australian family to host students here in Perth.

This exposed me to the real Indonesia, which I absolutely loved, and gave me the opportunity to make some wonderful friends. That was seven years ago and I’ve been going back to Indonesia frequently ever since.

How did you first get involved with AIYA?

In 2012, I met some great people out of the University of Western Australia (UWA), where I was studying, who were talking about starting an AIYA chapter in WA. In 2013, we launched AIYA WA and I was a member of the founding committee. I’ve since had some time away from the committee but got involved again last year.

Any hopes for the bilateral relationship?

A relationship that has more ballast and goes beyond the superficial. We could work towards this by having increased understanding of history, peoples and culture on both sides. In my opinion, the first step is for Australians and Indonesians to get to know each-other – “Tak kenal, tak maka sayang”. I hope, through Real Indonesia, that Australians will take up the opportunity to explore the real Indonesia and get to know some Indonesians.

What do you like about AIYA?

In WA we have a great team and we have so much fun organising and delivering events – and we get to do some really cool stuff. For example, last year we ran a Malam Trivia and raised over $1,000 for Bamboo Micro Credit, and a few years ago we hosted the pengamen (buskers) from the documentary Jalanan at a screening of the film in Perth, and they played a live gig as part of Fringe Festival!

Sum up your experience as an AIYA member in three words.

Fun, friendly and engaging.

Subscribe to the Real Indonesia mailing list here and visit their Facebook page here.

AIYA MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: AIYA Operations Officer Sophie Hewitt

Welcome back to AIYA Member Spotlight! In this regular series, we talk to a different AIYA Member from either Indonesia or Australia to hear their story. Sophie Hewitt, AIYA’s new Operations Officer (Indonesia), is this year’s first interviewee!

What are you currently studying?

I’m currently studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Studies (Year in Asia) at the ANU. In 2018 I’ll be undertaking ANU’s Year in Asia program, and will study in Indonesia for 12 months.

Where is your favourite place to visit in Indonesia?

Bandung: it was the first place I went on exchange in Indonesia (and the birthplace of martabak manis) so it’s very close to my heart.

What is your favourite meal in Indonesia?

Martabak manis – the more sweetened condensed milk the better.

What is your favourite word in Indonesia?

Banget – I appreciate this word because, depending on the tone of your voice, the word can carry an immense amount of sass.

What is your favourite Indonesian film/book/artist?

Author Eka Kurniawan. His book Beauty is a Wound was the first piece of Indonesian historical fiction I read. It was moving, of immense quality, and showed the world that Indonesia has fascinating and diverse stories, and a capacity to tell those stories on the world stage.

When did you first become interested in Indonesia?

I started studying Indonesian in my first year of university as I had the idea that it was easier than Mandarin or Korean. But after receiving a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant to study on exchange in Bandung during my second year, I was completely captivated!

How did you get involved with AIYA?

After returning from study in Bandung, one of the other exchange students was involved in AIYA ACT and invited me to join. After being its Secretary in 2015-2016, I was then appointed President in 2016-2017.

Any hopes for the bilateral relationship?

While Indonesia and Australia are undeniably different, I do believe that mutual likes such as enjoying the company of friends and family over food, is something that we should be more aware of. I believe that if Australians and Indonesians get to know each other in this familial sense, we will be able to work more productively and beneficially in the future.

What do you like about AIYA?

I love how AIYA is very people driven – each Chapter has its own personality, depending on the interests and passions of its committee and members. I also love how AIYA members are generous with their energy and commitment, and are genuinely passionate about furthering the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

Sum up your experience as an AIYA member in three words.

Exciting, opportunities, relationships!

Thank you to Sophie, and we look forward to sharing the next Spotlight on an AIYA Member soon! If you like what you hear and want to become an AIYA Member, you can do so here.

Q&A with actor and shortlisted ReelOzInd short film producer Ben Mortley

The ReelOzInd short film festival brings together Australian and Indonesian filmmakers in the hope of highlighting our friendship and common bilateral struggles. This week we hear from producer Ben Mortley, one of the people behind Mukhtar’s Story, a short film originally shot as part of the feature-length documentary Aceh: beyond the tsunami, which has upcoming screenings you can find out about at the end of this post.

Aceh: beyond the tsunami explores the extraordinary stories of survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in the province of Aceh, Indonesia, where approximately 170,000 lives were lost. Watch the short film HERE.

How did Mukhtar’s Story come about?

Mukhtar’s Story was just one of about 25 interviews we recorded for our feature length documentary called Aceh: beyond the tsunami. His story did not ultimately make it into the final cut of the film, but it was such an incredibly evocative and powerful story that we cut it into its own short documentary.

We were over in Aceh filming during the 10th anniversary commemorations of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The idea came from the director, Tim Barretto, who was interested to see how the survivors had rebuilt their lives in Aceh. Aceh had been the area that was worst affected by tsunami with close to 170,000 lives lost, and yet most media coverage (especially in the West) had been about areas that hosted lots of Western tourism. Local Acehnese stories had remained largely unheard.

What is your background in film and acting?

My background began in acting. I performed in my first film when I was 13. Later I went to drama school at NIDA and began to work in the industry in theatre, film and television.

About five years ago I decided to act on the urge I had to be more involved behind the camera, so I did a post-grad diploma in Film and Television. Not long after that I met Tim, and we made a short film while travelling together through Indonesia (it is a country we both love). Then a few years ago Tim and the [ReelOzInd] film’s other producer, Melanie Filler, approached me with the idea that ended up becoming Aceh: beyond the tsunami and Mukhtar’s Story.

Why did you decide to submit to ReelOzInd, and what was the filmmaking process like?

It was really just a process of serendipity. After we cut together Mukhtar’s Story, Tim came across the ReelOzInd! Short Film Festival, which seemed to have the same ethos we did. It wanted to help foster a greater understanding and healthier relationship between the two neighbouring countries, and on top of that the theme of this year’s festival was ‘water’. It seemed a perfect match.

The filmmaking process was hard work, as it always is, and this was amplified by the language barrier. It increased the workload dramatically in post-production, especially with having to get translations and transcripts of every single interview. Even through our translator on location, when we were receiving delayed and abbreviated translations of the interviews, we knew the stories were incredibly powerful, and sometimes it was hard not to be emotionally affected.

In your eyes, how does the production of a documentary differ from a work of fiction?

The biggest difference that comes to mind immediately is the sense of responsibility one feels in a documentary. There is a responsibility to the stories that our participants shared with us. And it is very difficult thing to wrangle with at times. After filming nearly 50 hours of interviews we have had to whittle it all down to a story of 71 minutes. And it has to be crafted in such a way as to keep an audience’s attention. There is so much that is left out, and yet you still want to represent people in a fair and honest way. It makes me painfully aware of how easily people can be misrepresented in the media.

What would you say is the foremost piece of advice you could give to emerging filmmakers and actors?

Know what you want to say with your work and why you want to say it. Then get as much experience as you can on as many projects as possible. Learn how other people work, and steal from the best.

Any future plans?

I hope I continue to get to travel and work – both in front of and behind the camera. Travelling is one of my favourite aspects of this business, both in Australia and abroad. I love meeting new people, in new cultures, and celebrating what is different, and finding the commonalities that make us the same.

Read more interviews with ReelOzInd filmmakers here and here. Mukhtar’s Story also has upcoming screenings in Yogyakarta and Banda Aceh:

Q&A with award-winning emerging theatremaker and actor Rosie Clynes

The ReelOzInd short film festival brings together Australian and Indonesian filmmakers in the hope of highlighting our friendship and common bilateral struggles. This week we hear from actor, screenwriter and theatremaker Rosie Clynes, whose film Hilang won Best Fiction for 2017!

Watch Rosie’s winning film HERE.

Still from the short film Hilang. Credit: Rosie Clynes

“I feel like a stranger in my own hometown.”

Can you tell us about the film and how it came about?

The film is a short film called Hilang, or Lost – it’s got two names – and it’s a ten-minute film that I wrote and co-directed with Jonathan Soerjoko, who is a friend of mine.

We’re both Indonesian-Australians (I’m from Melbourne), and so it’s essentially about what it means to feel displaced in your own hometown. I think we came to the subject matter by saying, “Let’s do the film about what this year has been like for us” – because we both moved to Indonesia to, essentially, learn Indonesian.

The film is about two women who meet on a beach and exchange stories about their families and their lives. They talk about the family members they miss, and so on. It turns out that one of the women is the aunt of the other woman, but from another time – so it’s a little mystical and fantastical.

In terms of the message, we specifically made the film for ReelOzInd, so basically wanted to draw on the idea of water as a separator of families, and how more and more these days people are separated from their families by water, by the ocean. It’s all about longing.

What is your background in filmmaking?

I came from my usual headspace of a theatremaker, where I would make my own material and perform in it. But this turns out to be rather hard to film… nevertheless, I was acting in it and I also screenwrote.

I previously graduated from the VCA in theatre practice, which is essentially about acting but also writing for theatre.

Behind the scenes photo from the making of ‘Hilang’. Credit: Rosie Clynes

Were you influenced by anyone in particular?

Joe was inspired by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. We watched a beautiful film of his called Dreams, about a young Japanese boy who meets the spirits of a destroyed peach orchard.

And for me it’s probably David Lynch – just how surreal it is. He works with surrealism really well.

Who else was part of the production team?

It was me and Joe steering the ship, but we also had a lot of really talented Indonesian friends. We had the help of a local sound engineer and cameraman from Yogyakarta; we were friends with him so he was kind enough to help us. There was also a local photographer. So, lots of different friends from Yogya.

Were there any troubles filming on location?

We shot on a beach about two hours away from Yogya. We tried to use the live recordings from the original shoot, but the audio was hazy because of the wind – so we decided we’d have to dub it. I was hoping it wouldn’t be noticeable, but because we were running so short on time… We ended up recreating all the sounds in a studio.

The total process was about a month, so we kind of whacked it together pretty quickly because we knew we had a deadline coming up – at one point we suddenly realised, we have to put this together.

Another still from the film. Credit: Rosie Clynes

Overall, how would you sum up your ReelOzInd experience?

It’s been cool! It’s just been really nice to delve further into the film community in Indonesia, and then to see the films from Australia being shown and getting noticed in Indonesia. We managed to meet quite a lot of cool filmmakers, new film friends – people who are interested in that sort of stuff.

Any future aspirations?

I’ve been writing a lot of stuff recently, which has made me realise how much I like performing. I think in the future I’d like to stick more with acting for film, and acting for theatre as well. I also would like to be based in Indonesia for now.

Ultimately, I guess the dream would be [making] indie films.

Congratulations to Rosie, and you can read an article she wrote for the Australia-Indonesia Centre here.

Q&A with school student and award-winning ReelOzInd filmmaker Michael Abimanyu Kaeng

The ReelOzInd short film festival is on for another year, bringing together Australian and Indonesian filmmakers in the hope of highlighting our common bilateral struggles and friendship. This week we hear from Indonesian school student Michael Abimanyu Kaeng, whose film Water for Grandpa Jan won Best Youth Film for 2017!

Watch Michael’s winning film HERE.

Bagaimana latar belakang Michael?

Nama lengkap saya Michael Abimanyu Kaeng. Saya bersekolah di Penabur Secondary Kelapa Gading, yang mengajarkan saya beragam pelajaran penting yang menginspirasi saya. Saya dan keluarga sangat suka membuat film untuk menghibur teman-teman dan keluarga yang mengalami kejadian di film tersebut, seperti contohnya di film saya (saya ingin menghibur teman-teman yang kebanjiran).

Saya mulai membuat film waktu saya di kelas 4 SD, waktu pertama kali saya dihadiahi handphone dari ayah saya. Saya sangat entusias saat membuat film dan akhirnya terjun ke dunia short filmmaking.

Tolong ceritakan tentang alur cerita film Water for Grandpa Jan. Ide untuk film tersebut berasal dari mana?

Saya tinggal di Jakarta Pusat, di Bendungan Hilir, pusat keramaian kota. Saya benar-benar ingin menggabungkan tema air, yang disiapkan oleh ReelOzInd Film Festival 2017, dengan tema Jakarta ini. Seperti yang kita ketahui, Jakarta dipenuhi dengan masalah-masalah yang terjadi tiap harinya: kemacatan total di seluruh Jakarta, bebanjiran warga yang terjadi hampir setiap tahun di Indonesia, kekurangan air, kemiskinan warga, dan hal-hal lainnya. Setelah beberapa hari brainstorming bersama-sama dengan keluarga saya, akhirnya saya mendapatkan ide bagus. Saya memakai dua problem khas Jakarta ini: banjir, dan kekurangan air di beberapa area kecil di Jakarta.

Akhirnya saya kepikiran dan membuat film, Water For Grandpa Jan ini, yang ternyata memenangi kategori ‘Youth’ di ReelOzInd Film Festival 2017, yang diadakan bulan-bulan lalu.

Mengapa Michael membuat film untuk kompetisi ReelOzInd? Bagaimana tahap-tahap penulisan naskah, produksi dan paska-produksi?

Sebenarnya, saya tidak terlalu berharap. Saya membuat film itu karena ingin saja untuk mencoba ikut dalam ajang pembuatan film ini. Dalam produksi, saya tidak menggunakan alat-alat yang begitu canggih. Bahkan 50% footage dari film saya diambil dengan menggunakan handphone. Lainnya saya menggunakan Kamera XA-3 untuk mengambil scenes sinematiknya.

Ayah saya membantu dalam proses produksi film ini. Saya menggunakan ‘iMovie’ yang saya pinjam dari ayah saya, untuk mengedit film ini hingga menjadi film yang entertaining dan lucu.

Siapa saja tokoh sutradara atau aktor yang Michael sukai/kagumi? Mengapa?

Saya suka Mira Lesmana dan Riri Riza dari Indonesia, karena saya sangat terinspirasi oleh cerita Laskar Pelangi yang menurut saya sangat hebat.

Saya ingin bisa membuat film sekeren itu di masa-masa mendatang.

Apakah Michael mempunyai cita-cita menjadi sutradara atau produser profesional?

Ya. Itu salah satu probabilitas pekerjaan yang kira-kira saya mau.

Selamat, Michael! Nontonlah film Michael serta film-film ReelOzInd lainnya di sini.

Q&A with award-winning animator and artist Fierrany Halita

The ReelOzInd short film festival is on for another year, bringing together Australian and Indonesian filmmakers in the hope of highlighting our common bilateral struggles and friendship. This week we hear from Indonesia-based animator Fierrany Halita, whose film Acquiescence won Best Animation and Co-Best Film for 2017!

Watch Fierrany’s winning film HERE.

What is Aquiescence about, and where did the idea come from?

Aquiescence is a short animation that tells the story of Fig, a magical banyan tree who survives a wretched incident that causes her to lose her friends and surroundings. She tries to adapt to her new environment, but the changes never stop; it’s a never-ending cycle. Fig becomes the witness of all the changes that happen, every hello and goodbye.

In this animation, I choose to tell the story from the perspective of a tree because trees have been given deep and sacred meaning throughout the ages. Humans have often seen them as powerful symbols of growth, death and rebirth. Trees also have a longer lifespan than humans, some living for thousands of years, and because of that, trees are often considered a symbol of eternal, immortality and fertility.

So how does it feel to be a tree? To be something immortal, seeing every change without being able to do anything? If we think closely, as an individual human, we can’t really do anything to change the entire world. We see how modern technologies are growing fast, and although we might want to prevent them from growing even further, we might never defeat technology, ever – all we can do is adapt.

What was the animation process like?

For the 2D animation technique, I decided not to used the traditional hand-drawn animation, which takes a long time to finish perfectly. As this was an individual project with a limited timeframe, I picked an easier and more unusual way of working, using a program called After Effect because I LOVE anti-mainstream stuff. Basically, it works in the same way that motion graphics work. I was inspired by certain artists, animated films and games that use the same technique, such as the detective game Jenny Leclue, the Disney Junior television series Jake and The Neverland Pirates, and some of Daniel Gies’ works.

What is your background in animation?

I was a student of animation at Binus University in Alam Sutera, Jakarta. This short animation was my final individual project for graduation. At university, I learned about the entire animation process, from pre-production to production and post-production, but mostly in 3D – so we used 3D software such as Maya and 3Ds Max. But as I chose to make a 2D animation for my graduation project (because I LOVE 2D animation!), I needed to learn by myself by watching several tutorials, and also did some extra training independently outside my major.

I had an internship experience as a 3D animator at Infinite Studios, working on Disney Junior Octonauts, Sonic Boom, and Bob The Builder projects. But I currently work as a storyboard artist and visual development artist at BASE studio in Bali.

Have you found success at other short film festivals?

Yes, indeed. At the beginning, I never imagined that I would be able to find success at film festivals, including both local and international competitions. I have now won at seven festivals (local and international) so far, and have been officially selected for screenings and nominations at 20 other festivals.

What have been some of your major animation influences?

My biggest influence in animation is Disney, of course! I like the styles, the colorful styles, the fantasy themes and its extraordinary imagination.

What is the most important thing for emerging animators to remember?

One of my favorite quotes from the Frozen Artbook in on page 15: “A strong story will carry a weak animation, but the most polished animation can’t save a weak story.” Story is the most important thing on every film, no matter how beautiful the visuals are. By contrast, with a weak story the whole film will turn for the worse.

And one more thing is RESEARCH. Research really helps to develop ideas and the imagination.

Do you have any insights on the Indonesian film industry?

The Indonesian film industry, especially in terms of animation, still has a long way to go in chasing the Hollywood standard. But we’re getting there!

Well done to Fierrany and the other winners! Watch her film here.