Modern day storytellers such as 32-year-old film director Angga Dwimas Sasongko are no longer bound to just one format. Instead, they range across countless platforms from film, to television, advertising, online videos and games, forever crafting and re-crafting their stories. In his home country of Indonesia, many spend hours per day on the internet, particularly via smartphones, making the battle to capture “eyeballs” an epic and endless struggle. As Pak Angga explains: “Nowadays, it’s all about how to get closer to the audience. How to get onto everybody’s smartphones? Creating content and breaking it down.”
With his two Filosofi Kopi films, Pak Angga has proven himself to be a front-runner in this multidimensional terrain, where a film is no longer just a film but can extend far beyond a mere cinema hall. Indeed, it’s arguable that’s he’s conjured up an entire universe, straddling Jakarta’s hipster millennials sipping espresso in their concrete and bleached-wood cafés as well as the coffee-growing communities of Lampung, Toraja and East Java.
The Filosofi Kopi series is anchored by an unusual pairing of childhood friends: a long-term bromance between a Chinese and a pribumi Indonesian, something that in the heat of the recent Jakarta gubernatorial elections might not have seemed possible. They’re a quirky duo: Jody (played by Rio Dewanto) is a stiff, numbers-driven Chinese-Indonesian nerd, while Ben (Chicco Jerikho), is the intense, philosophy-spouting barista with a passion for coffee.
Inevitably, the balance between the two men begins to shift as business and then women start complicating their lives. In the first film, a haughty coffee writer called El (played by Julie Estelle) drives the narrative whereas in the second film, a businesswoman called Tarra, (played by a surprisingly matron-like Luna Maya) and an offbeat but dedicated barista called Brie (played by Nadine Alexandra) challenge the men.
Moreover, in both films, the reality of Indonesia – the violence, injustice and impunity that underlies everyday life – further upsets the equilibrium. Ben, in particular, is forced to come to terms with the family tragedy that has shaped his life – providing in turn a measure of redemption and peace as he later retreats to his father’s carefully tended coffee nursery in Lampung.
While neither of the films have been box office hits, perhaps attributable to their resolutely urban milieu, Pak Angga assures me that they’ve both been profitable. Moreover, because of his deft management of multiple platforms, the Filosofi Kopi series has had an outsized impact on Indonesian pop culture. Certainly, the two male stars have become hot properties. At the same time, he’s captured the zeitgeist and mood of contemporary Jakarta as the post-Reformasi Republic approaches its 20th anniversary.
That’s not to say he’s invented Indonesia’s coffee culture – far from it: coffee-drinking has always been an integral part of life in the archipelago. Indeed, there’s a specific verb in the Indonesian language (ngopi-ngopi) for the act of hanging around and drinking coffee. What Filosofi Kopi has achieved is elevating the coolness of ngopi-ngopi and celebrating the integrity of the growers.
Intriguingly – and this is a constant theme with millennials globally – the films evoke a yearning for a return to authenticity and a bucolic, pastoral past. There are gorgeous sequences where the Indonesian landscape dominates the narrative – tantalising those of us who must endure Jakarta’s grimy realities.
As Filosofi Kopi winds down, Pak Angga remains an incredibly busy man. He’ll be turning his attentions to the action movie Wiro Sableng 212, a big-budget Fox International project that he’s been contracted to direct. It’ll be a big shift as he launches into a three-month-long shoot in an isolated and heavily forested part of West Java.
Also ongoing are his own plans for his company Visinema Pictures, which has a slate of projects (including a reinterpretation of a much-loved local TV series Keluarga Cemara) stretching well past 2021. He’s also very fortunate to have an extremely capable film producer, his wife Anggia Kharisma, at his side.
After watching many of his films, from the Ambon religious strife and football epic Cahaya Dari Timur: Beta Maluku to Surat Dari Praha, it’s clear that Pak Angga is particularly adept at handling male-oriented stories. While he would argue his female characters are equally well fleshed out, some would have to disagree. Nonetheless, his films have earned considerable critical acclaim and become part of the contemporary cultural landscape. In short, he’s a man who eschews trends – no horror movies for Pak Angga – and will inevitably hit the box-office jackpot in years to come.
Meeting the University of Indonesia graduate and father-of-one in person is also slightly disconcerting because despite the historical and emotional scale of his films, he’s a remarkably diminutive figure.
However, his small size is more than compensated by his sheer determination and raw intensity. This is a man who makes things happen – a latter-day impresario like a Run Run Shaw or George Lucas.
Pak Angga understands the way entertainment is shifting. Celluloid no longer operates in a vacuum. It is a part of an overall storytelling package made all the more challenging as the Hollywood behemoths roll out their marque productions – almost obliterating local films in their wake. But instead of bellyaching, he’s focused on understanding and working with the new challenges.
Many remember the way Pak Angga has managed to shift between the worlds of fact and fiction. For example, his main film set – the Filosofi Kopi cafe in the South Jakarta enclave of Blok M, is a fully-functional cafe and a place where people can hang out. So, every now and then, the movies’ two handsome stars pop in and play barista to the delight of the screaming fans.
Art imitating life? That’s the way things are going to be moving forward if Pak Angga has his way.