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Indonesia, 1993 (MIFF 1994, Indonesian Regional Cinema)

Director: Garin Nugroho

Garin Nugroho's evocative feature, Letters For An Angel, was shot on Sumba, one of the chain of islands in the Nusa Tenggara group, stretching from Bali to Timor. The film mixes documentary and fictional elements, and was made with extensive cooperation from the local population.

The first feature ever made on Sumba, the film juxtaposes a powerful psychology of personal alienation (one of the three sources for the film was Camus' L'Etranger, the others are short stories from Korea and Mexico) with scenes of ritual and ceremonies. Sumba is one of the last strongholds of pre-Hindu and pre-Muslim animist religions in Indonesia - an island where the traditional culture expresses itself in elaborate sacrificial funeral rituals honouring ancestors.

Letters For An Angel tells of Lewa, a young boy very attached to his horse - the 'sandalwood' horses on Sumba are the most famous in Indonesia - and struggling to understand a global social context which still does not explain the loss of his mother and his father, his mother dying when a bus goes into a ravine, and his father the victim of thugs who want his land.

Events in this multi-layered film have a symbolic role, allegorising issues such as interference by the nation state through education (children learn the national language reading books that have pictures of Javanese and not Sumbanese) and the impact of international media images and styles on indigenous groups (the villain in the film models himself on Elvis, and young Lewa, given a polaroid camera, provokes an inter-village war by taking the wrong photographs).
- David Hanan

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