Fellow Since 2009
This profile was prepared when Lexy Rambadetta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
Lexy Rambadeta, a documentary filmmaker in Indonesia, is developing the capacity for documentary film journalism as a means to civic and political education.
The New Idea
Lexy is taking advantage of Indonesia’s increasing press freedom and the rise of digital media to train young documentary filmmakers and develop public interest in documentary film journalism. In order to create the foundation for effective documentary film journalism, especially in a nation where this medium has been almost silent, he is training and supporting dozens of young documentary makers to build the nation’s capacity both to create and receive interesting and informative documentaries. Lexy is stimulating public demand for documentary journalism through a program devoted to film literacy, concentrating on films that expose human and civil right’s violations. He is also engaging youth to document issues and events so that future citizens will better understand their history, and bring awareness to rights violations and injustice throughout Indonesia. This information is invaluable for present and future generations to motivate people to understand their rights and create positive social and political change.Lexy takes on young documentary journalists as interns, giving them the opportunity to have on-the-job experience with his production company. The training includes the fundamentals of video production and journalistic standards, focusing on how to tell rich, substantive stories rooted in fact. To date, approximately 30 filmmakers have apprenticed with him, producing dozens of full-length documentaries and thousands of video shorts. Lexy is engaging the Indonesian public by increasing the reach and impact of film in Indonesia by distributing his and his student’s films and creating in-school and online venues for extended discussions of the issues they raise.Lexy has also established a visual archive of Indonesia to capture the lives of ordinary Indonesian citizens during this century. This includes the documentation of large-scale public events in an effort to record history while allowing citizens to participate in recording their own history. To provide easier access to all of the films, Lexy has set up an Internet-based micro-TV platform, www.offstream.tv, where the public can view the films, interviews, and recorded civic discussions. The site, which currently offers close to 7,000 hours of documentary footage, serves as a community forum: Young documentary filmmakers can post their work, community members can upload personal videos and photographs, and viewers can participate in dialogue and discussion.
Until the 1990s, Indonesia had censored press and media coverage. During President Suharto’s regime (until 1998), news and events were selectively documented and were primarily used as propaganda. Human and civil right’s violations routinely went uncovered. The government controlled what stories were told and how they were reported. Schoolchildren were taught this diluted history and encouraged to practice unwavering nationalism, participating in formal ceremonies on national days to commemorate this “propaganda history.” Independent political documentaries were banned, and 90 percent of documentaries (all shown on state television) were government-produced. The remaining 10 percent of documentaries typically focused on uncontroversial topics, i.e. animals, plants, or indigenous peoples, with the exception of a handful of acclaimed art films.By 1999, state control of media eased dramatically. The fall of Suharto’s New Order brought a flood of new media outlets for the public, but many did not tap the opportunity to use images and video to build citizen interest in and awareness of social issues. There had been no tradition of high-quality documentary journalism and no training available for aspiring documentary makers. There is just one film school in Indonesia, and few students there are interested in making documentaries.While the media is still getting used to its new uncensored role, and educational capacity is being built to train filmmakers, digital technology is readily available. Many organizations are training people to make videos and participating in the few documentary film festivals and awards that do exist. But much of this filmmaking is rooted in advocacy for special interests, with little attention paid to journalistic discipline and purpose. There has been little coverage of human rights, gender, pluralism, and corruption issues. From the public side, there is little engagement or critical thinking about these issues.
In 2001 Lexy founded “offstream,” a community of documentary makers, to create lasting public impact by training students in the methods of documentary film creation. He is expanding the previously limited audience of documentary film in Indonesia by bringing more people to tell critical stories. Lexy is developing film literacy across Indonesia in both the professional sector and with the public by teaching students how to tell the most important, relevant stories at the right time, and making their work available to the public online. His documentaries bring public awareness and sensitivity to human rights and justice issues previously overlooked by the government-controlled media. By reporting sensitive social issues and their political significance, Lexy is stimulating public discussion and critical thinking. Lexy established an informal association of audio-visual filmmakers in Indonesia to create documentaries that are used to strengthen public resolve and awareness of civil rights, democracy, and justice issues. His and his student’s documentaries have been circulated on international TV broadcasts and the universities network.Lexy’s many documentaries demonstrate how he is stimulating public awareness by documenting history and opening dialogue about issues that were previously censored and ignored. One of the most powerful examples, the movie “Mass Grave” (2001), unveiled evidence of the mass killing of anywhere between 500,000 and 3,000,000 people who had been accused by the military of following the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI): The disparity in recorded deaths demonstrates how little media attention this atrocity received. Because of this film, this massacre is now broadly acknowledged as a serious human right’s violation. The massacre had previously been whitewashed by authoritarian rule, and Lexy’s documentary challenged peoples’ way of thinking about the nation’s history. Another example of Lexy’s work at offstream to shift public perspectives is his documentary, “The Indonesian Comfort Women,” a video testimony of World War II survivors who were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. The story of this minority group had never been documented as a part of Indonesian history, as it was considered a disgrace to the nation. Although many people are familiar with Romusa (i.e. a brutally exploited labor program during Japanese occupation), people hardly know the story of the comfort women. Lexy brought public awareness to this issue after he learned of it from the Indonesia Women’s Coalition, an organization that was helping the victims during a struggle for their rights. In addition, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission has used Lexy’s documentary film, “Faces of Everyday Indonesia” to increase awareness of corruption.Many high schools throughout Indonesia have used his films as texts for study and regularly organize in-school screenings, student discussions, and question and answer sessions with Lexy. St. Ursula High School in Jakarta, for example, uses Lexy’s films as reference for history lessons and holds discussions after to enable children to think critically about what they have learned.In order to sustain this sensitive coverage of the underside of Indonesian politics and society, Lexy is training young documentary-filmmakers. As a student, Lexy learned the principles and skills of photojournalism by apprenticing with professionals. He is continuing this tradition by offering young filmmakers on-the-job training and concrete learning experiences, such as real, challenging events to document. They learn how to be objective witnesses while communicating a specific message to the wider public. He teaches students to embrace independence as the foundation of quality documentary making. Graduates from offstream produce films that are easily accessible to the public online and have created striking impact in terms of encouraging public dialogue and raising awareness of injustices within Indonesia. For example, one graduate of the program recently organized high school students to investigate and report a case of corruption by their headmaster.Lexy is set to launch www.offstream.tv as part of his strategy to increase public engagement with social and political issues. On this web platform, weekly reports, documentaries, and video footage will be published by students and open for public discussion. Lexy envisions that such an accessible platform will facilitate participation in the development of documentary journalism, and that individuals will become more involved in both recording their country’s history and in shaping its future.To ensure that Indonesian history is properly archived for future generations, Lexy and Dr. Fridus Steiijlen, a historian and socio-anthropologist, have developed “Indonesia in the Twenty-first Century,” an archival project adapted from the British series 7-Up. Lexy is partnering with the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences to complete this ambitious project, which will stretch over the next 100 years. It involves documenting eight communities across five islands, and returning every four years to update and add to footage. Lexy hopes to reach more people and preserve history by documenting the lives of ordinary Indonesians. He and his team bring scanners to collect photographs and conduct interviews with their families and communities.
Lexy was born in Jogjakartaya, Central Java, and is the eldest of four siblings. He was raised in a modest family that was fond of watching movies. He recalled his first exposure to a documentary recording when he was five-years-old: Whenever he missed his mother, he would listen to a recording of her voice on his birthday. Hearing her voice and remembering the event would put him at ease. Lexy has shown a passion for documenting from a young age, inspiring his parents to buy him a pocket camera at the age of 10, which was later upgraded to a film camera when he was in junior high. He was once very disappointed when he lost all the photos he took at his junior high farewell party and questioned why he should miss all the moments he had documented. During high school, he continued photography as a hobby and joined a student photo club.In 1991 Lexy entered Gajah Mada University, majoring in communications with the intention of becoming a journalist. He bought a secondhand, hand-held video camera from a friend and paid for it in installments. Lexy became involved in political issues on campus, including a student movement fighting for democracy, and practiced documenting the campus activities with his camera. He noticed that students formed groups based on religion and ethnicity and that the majority group became dominant. Responding to this, he and his friends set up group discussions on social issues that were inclusive rather than exclusive, drawing in a wide range of students from different ethnic groups, faiths, and economic backgrounds. The group discussions came to be known as the “under the mango tree community.” Many of the members have become leaders in society, and though the mango tree is long gone, the group has become a legend.During university Lexy studied documentary filmmaking from the American freelance documentary filmmaker Daniel McGuire, with whom he then made a film on Widji Toekoel. In early 1998, prior to the fall of Soeharto, Lexy was active in student movements and joined student protests by filming all that happened, including violence against students. He and Daniel made the film “Indonesia in Revolt: Don’t Follow Leaders,” from the footage, and it was purchased by foreign broadcasting companies, i.e. the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Worldwide Television News. It was the first time his work was professionally valued. Though it was not much, he used the money to support the student movement. This experience and Bill Kovach’s Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect inspired him and helped him solidify the power of documentary film to provide in-depth information rather than street news in his mind.In March 1998, many of Lexy’s radical friends went missing, and his close friends were sent to jail. He knew that an enforced disappearance was occurring, violating human right’s standards. Even though it was important information for the public to know, there were no journalists covering the news except him. Lexy then decided to cover human right’s violations during and after the downfall of Suharto and was hired as a freelance cameraman at different foreign broadcasting companies. This experience taught him much about news journalism.Lexy is continually inspired by learning from books, people, and films he encounters along his career. He has sought mentoring from many individuals in a network of COs with whom he worked about looking for advice on how to capture social issues and ideas in sensitive and powerful ways. Lexy learned of the 1965 mass killing and unfair status of women in Indonesia from the late Sulami, a leader of Gerwani, a women’s organization affiliated with PKI. Antarini Arnal of the Indonesia Women’s Coalition opened his mind to the notion that women are more productive than men and that it is women who bring about large-scale social change in Indonesia. Ashoka Fellow Ester Yusuf gave him the opportunity to learn about the May 1998 riot and ethnic discrimination against Chinese Indonesians.In mid 1998 Lexy was very inspired by “One Struggle, One Change,” a documentary film produced by Maria Luica Mendoza. He realized that for him, information provided in documentary film was more in-depth and considerably more independent than print journalism. He struggled to support himself living in Jakarta, with a shoestring budget and even resorting to sleeping in the Cikini train station. He eventually secured an apprenticeship through film work with community organization colleagues. Lexy set up offstream in 2001 realizing the powerful potential of this communications medium for civic and political education and determined to develop a documentary filmmaker community in Indonesia.