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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.

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