Skip to main content

PIONEERS OF FREEDOM

Indonesia, 1981 (MIFF 1987, Women In Recent Indonesian Cinema)

Director: Asrul Sani

Filmed on location among the Minangkabau people in West Sumatra, and set in the 1920s. Pioneers Of Freedom is scripted and directed by Asrul Sani, an Islamic intellectual and poet born in West Sumatra, and adapted from a novel by an influential Islamic thinker of Minangkabau origin named Hamka. Crucially, however, Sani's adaptation makes a woman the mouthpiece of radicalism and resistance.

The central character, Halimah, oppressed by her husband's jealousy and prohibitions on her freedom, seeks support from an outside Islamic reformer and seeks to define her own role in Islam. In doing so, she enters a complex political world where issues of religious reform and women's rights are connected with anti-colonialism and social revolution. The film traces Halimah s gradual but thorough radicalisation, both as a women's emancipist and a nationalist agitator (including a communist rebellion ruthlessly put down by the Dutch) emerging at the time.

The film's positive and progressive attitudes towards women undoubtedly reflect its West Sumatran origins. The Minangkabau society of West Sumatra is noted for an unusual tension between a strong adherence to Islam and an equally strong matrilineal set of customs and inheritance laws.

The film is densely scripted and vigorously directed, and is exceptionally detailed in its evocation of local customs, history and colour.

See also...

RADEN AJENG KARTINI

Based on her letters (published in English as Letters of a Javanese Princess), memoirs of other people and a biography, this fascinating film tells the story of Javanese women's emancipationist ... More »

RORO MENDUT

This exquisitely designed and photographed film is set in the 17th century kingdom of Mataram in Central Java. It is based on a legend that has been reworked many times in traditional performances ... More »

IBUNDA

'Mother, ... The book that you have already read, ... I now begin to read ... Newly, on the first page ' ... (epigraph to Ibunda from a poem by Rik A. Sakri) ... Ibunda [Mother] is the most recent ... More »

ELIANA, ELIANA

Eliana has just been sacked from her dreary department store job for kicking a customer in the crotch. Needing the support and comfort of her flatmate, Heni, Eliana returns home only to find her ... More »

POSTCARDS FROM THE ZOO

“An unclassifiable work of striking originality.” - Screen Daily ... The theme of longing is apparent early on in the ethereal Postcards from the Zoo, when we see the young Lana wandering around ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director