In SHELTER we witness how an ordinary mood and feeling evolves into an overwhelming spiritual vertigo, as we discover the secret of two lovers. Born in Wonosobo, Indonesia in 1985, ISMAIL BASBETH studied Indonesian traditional music for a year and then moved to Yogyakarta in 2004 to learn communication science. In this city he fell in love with filmmaking. He produced and directed several films, documentaries and fictions, such as HIDE AND SLEEP (2008), HARRY VAN YOGYA (2010), and SHELTER (2011). With two of his partners he founded an alternative production company called HIDE PROJECT INDONESIA.
Ioana Mischie: I firstly perceived “Shelter” as a subtle observational essay about love, but as we advance in the story it captures numerous deeper subtexts, becoming a portraiture of our inner selves, weaknesses and passions. What inspired you in approaching this difficult subject?
Ismail Basbeth: Actually I started from a very simple premise, which is after experiencing it many times, I believe loneliness is a condition that you can’t tell to anyone in words. It’s simply too personal to express it. So the idea that came afterwards was: how to tell and share the emotional experience by showing an ‘actual’ event that you borrow from the ‘actual’ life. Because of this, I somehow believe that Shelter is not a film, it’s the life itself. But then, we are exploring more than that, by pushing the limitations between real life and fiction.
Ioana Mischie: Created from one single long shot amazingly hides under this surface grand feelings, complex stories, spiritual extremes: loneliness, lost love, fear of death. The camera almost seems to breath with the two and we can feel their impatience, their hidden emotions, their strange routine. How challenging was to gather all this tension in one single long shot and how many rehearsals did you made before the shooting?
Ismail Basbeth: The challenge was really big, but I started to make this by not thinking about it. There were more or less 21 persons who got involved in this project. Before starting the shooting, after I asked them to help me out with the production, I met them one by one personally and talked about life and loneliness. When I met one person who liked the idea of the film, then I asked him/her to join the project. I did it one by one to all of them. By gathering all the information, I gained perspective, feelings and also trust. Then after the crew was complete I organized a workshop with the actor and the actress. We were just the three of us first, but then, as time got closer to the production day, all the 21 crews involved in the workshop and created a strong bond of the same feeling towards the film. I made two rehearsals in the bus and we took 4 takes for the film. And I used the one shot technique, because life is one shot. We cannot go back and cut it.
Ioana Mischie: If at first, you could easily configure it as a minimalist film, the concept might seem overall oscillating between a moody thriller, magic realism and poetic drama as the film becomes more and more hypnotic. You are creating a certain type suspense in a very personal manner, while the ending of the film seeks to give wholeness to the represented reality. How did you develop the scripted storyof this film? And what motivated you, as a director, to choose this certain way of observational storytelling?
Ismail Basbeth: I didn’t really write a script for this work, the film had already a final shape in my mind, few months before the production started. But yes, later, I wrote the script just because my producer kept pushing me to…Hahaha…but it’s true that the story development depends on the ones with whom I work to shoot this work. Simply said, if we called it a film then it was a film made by all the persons who got involved in this project. That’s why I didn’t write ‘a film by Ismail Basbeth’ in the film credit because I believe it’s a film made by 21 persons. For example if I would have changed the DP maybe the film would have never been the same as the way it is now. In real life, the circumstances involved make us who we are, so I let this happen in film also. I only make sure that all of us are approaching the same goal, which is the premise of the film itself.
Ioana Mischie: From what we know, you have studied Indonesian traditional music for a year. Do you feel this background shaped your views, your inner rhythm or your perception of cinema in a certain way?
Ismail Basbeth: I don’t know, I’m not sure about it. But it is my work which also contains parts of my life. So it’s possible.
Ioana Mischie: You seem to be charmed not necessarily by the narrative story of a film, but rather by a certain mood or emotion that becomes almost contagious. What themes and mechanisms do you find most challenging in your type of cinema and what can you tell us about the following projects you have in development?
Ismail Basbeth: I believe film is the art of storytelling. But the kind of storytelling that makes us free to make our own interpretation on it. Personally, I never make limitations on my works; I keep pushing myself to be completely honest to myself and my works. If my films are playing with moods and emotions, maybe it’s just a proof that I’m a very emotional person..hahaha.. After SHELTER I made a new short film called RITUAL and I’m preparing my first feature film now. It’s called 17/71 and we will start shooting in mid-2013. It’s a story of a 71-year old retired college professor and semi-closeted homosexual, who loses his only son in a plane crash and becomes the sole guardian of his openly gay 17 year old grandson. As their relationship grows, the grandson teaches the old man what it means to be true to himself.The writer and the producer is my friend Paul Agusta, and we work with other producer also, Dewi Umaya Rachman. Wish us luck :)
More about SHELTER.