Shape of the Moon, Leonard Retel Helmrich – 18 August 2005

Title: Shape of the Moon, Leonard Retel Helmrich
Location: AFC Theatre – 150 William St, Woolloomooloo
Description: WHAT:

Special rare screening plus filmmaker Q&A
Interviewed by Graeme Isaac


AFC Theatre – 150 William St, Woolloomooloo


Thursday 18 August 2005 – 6.45pm


Suggested Donation $5

by Aug 9:
Seats reserved till 6.45pm only.

A cinematic journey into the every-day life of a Christian woman, her son, and her granddaughter in the growing social chaos and escalating Muslim fundamentalism in Indonesia, the largest Islamic community on the globe.

Leonard Retel Helmrich painstakingly presents Indonesia with such detail and understated emotion it radiates fervent beauty. Among a population of 240 million people, the film finds quiet moments with three generations of a Christian family amidst the bustle and texture on the outskirts of Jakarta.

The widow Rumidja is a Christian who prays regularly with her grand-daughter, but practices some Muslim traditions and even graciously contributes to the local mosque for its new speakers. Rumidja’s son Bakti roams their tight-knit community, living his own life, refusing to participate in Muslim traditions until he decides to marry a Muslim woman and must convert.

About The Filmmaker

Leonard Retel Helmrich is a Dutch filmmaker of Indonesian extraction who worked as a drama director and cameraman in Holland before returning to Indonesia to make a series of documentaries that have won awards world wide. His most recent film SHAPE OF THE MOON won Best Documentary in the World Docs Competition at Sundance 2005 as well as at Amsterdam in 2004.

During his time in Indonesia Leonard developed a theoretical perspective for his work as well as a practical technique for an approach that he calls “single shot cinema”, involving long takes with a constantly moving camera. He has also designed a special camera mount for a PD150 or similar small digital camera that allows extraordinary stability and maneuverability in shooting.

Having spent years designing this technique he now also runs workshops for broadcasters and with film-makers to share his skills, most recently in the USA, South Africa, Germany, and Indonesia.

Finding its pace in the daily lives of the Sjamsuddin family, SHAPE OF THE MOON resonates deeply of faith and gratitude, despite the tightly woven links between Muslim religion and Indonesian politics. The vérité style creates an experiential rhythm as the camera silently weaves in and out of tunnels and water wells, and lingers delicately as characters sleep, eat, and live.

Winner of IDFA’s top feature prize and Sundance bound, Leonard Retel Helmrich’s docu, “Shape of the Moon” reps an ambitious melange of ethnography, family drama and expressionist style. Focus is the same Jakarta-based matriarch, Rumidja Sjamsuddin, and her family featured in Dutch-Indonesian helmer’s previous “Eye of the Day,” here seen moving back to her home village after life in the city gets to be too much. Sometimes slow, but punctuated by breathtaking views, digi-shot “Moon” waxes brightly on a big screen and should draw more fests and upmarket broadcasters into its orbit.

Audacious shooting style is the pic’s strongest suit. Retel Helmrich and co-lenser Ismail Fahmi Lubish use lightweight mini-DVs, to dance round their subjects in long takes, and send the camera spinning 360 degrees down tunnels. In the film’s most spectacular sequence, a makeshift dolly is used to follow one character walking across a railway bridge with a guard rail spanning a chasm several hundred feet deep, a sequence which could give even the most iron-stomached viewers vertigo.

Director: Leonard Retel Helmrich
92 Minutes
The Netherlands
Screenplay: Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich, Leonard Retel Helmrich
Photography: Leonard Retel Helmrich, Ismail Fahmi Lubish
Editors: Andrez de Jong, Denise Janzée, Robert Broekhof
In Javanese and Bahasa Indonesian, with English subtitles
M adult themes
Festivals: Amsterdam Documentary (Best Film) 2004; Sundance (Grand Jury Prize) 2005
shape of the moon


Jeremy Mathews:

“Shape of the Moon” is a documentary of such stunning visual grace that while watching it at Sundance, I occasionally wondered if I was mistaken about its category and the film was actually an entry in the dramatic world cinema competition that had very naturalistic actors.

Director Leonard Retel Helmrich finds the telling details in a person’s hand movement and looks for unique visual ways to tell his story. He uses 35mm film when necessary, although often uses various digital cameras, compromising quality for intimacy. There are poetic transitions, one going from a train tunnel to a point-of-view shot of a bucket coming out of a well. He even creates a dream sequence with images from a devastating fire to communicate what might be going through a subject’s mind.

Susan Goldberg, San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Key forces at work in contemporary Indonesian society become palpable through the experiences of one small family group in this fine and unusual documentary, winner of top prizes at Sundance and the Amsterdam Documentary Festival. Rumidja, in her 60s, is an Indonesian Catholic, at odds with the chaos and growing fundamentalism in urban Jakarta. To her distress her layabout grown-up son is converting to Islam. Rumidja plans to retreat to her native Central Java, but she fears that village life will offer little future for the young granddaughter in her care.

Strikingly well shot, Shape of the Moon makes such elegant use of the subjective camera that it frequently has the impact of movie drama. We’re drawn into the physical world of the film’s subjects, as they cross a vertiginous swing bridge, for example, or confront a slum fire. We leave Shape of the Moon uncannily familiar with these people and the issues confronting them. “Helmrich uncovers a family and country in flux, with Shakespearean scope.”
Start Time: 18:45
Date: 2005-08-18