Position Among the Stars is the final installment of an award-winning trilogy that follows three generations of a family in Indonesia.
Over a decade ago, Dutch filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich decided to visit Indonesia, the birthplace of his Dutch father and Indonesian mother, in search of inspiration. The trip ignited his fascination with the country, and with the Shamshudin family, whom he started to film. Helmrich ended up following members of the family as the country shook off the rule of President Suharto (captured in 2001’s Eye of the Day) and experienced a rise of Islamic power (2004’s Shape of the Moon).
Through the eyes of grandmother Rumidjah, we see the influence of a changing society on her family, particularly on her granddaughter Tari. The world’s fourth most populous country and its largest Muslim nation, Indonesia is a nascent democracy currently experiencing the growing pains of a Western-style generation gap.
At the start of the film, Rumidjah moves to Jakarta from the countryside to help raise 17- year-old Tari. The entire family sees in Tari a chance to elevate their working-class status and escape the Jakarta slums.
Rumidjah and her son Bakti (Tari’s uncle) encourage Tari to finish school with honors and be the first in the family to go to university (though Bakti worries they won’t be able to afford it). However, Tari is more focused on teenage pursuits – getting a mobile phone and having fun with friends.
Meanwhile, Bakti and his wife are not getting along, and as tensions between them come to a boil, the family must also deal with their religious differences. Rumidjah is a Christian while the rest of the family is Muslim, causing further disagreements. A highly intimate vérité film, Position Among the Stars is an engrossing look at the human drama of one family navigating the forces of globalization, religion, and a widening education and income gap in Indonesia.
Set against the backdrop of the bustling Jakarta slums, director Helmrich records the everyday life of the Shamshudin family with impressive detail, deftly interweaving moments of charm and compassion to their often-volatile family tale. The narrative of the drama unfolds through the course of the film, with conflicts between the family members exploding in unexpected ways. Yet, the film also captures moments of levity and tenderness that highlight the universality of their family dynamics.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER: Leonard Retel Helmrich is a Dutch filmmaker who worked as a drama director and cameraman in the Netherlands before going to Indonesia to make a series of documentaries that have won awards worldwide. His most famous film, Shape of the Moon, won Best Documentary in the 2005 World Docs Competition at Sundance, as well as at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2004. Position Among the Stars is also very much a family affair behind the camera. The director’s sister, Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich, produced the film, and her son, Jasper Naaijkens, is the film’s editor.
Position Among the Stars was an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it won the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Documentary Film, and had its world premiere at IDFA 2010 where it won awards for Best Feature-Length Documentary and Best Dutch Film.
CREDITS: Directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich; Produced by Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich; Camera: Ismail Fahmi Lubish and Leonard Retel Helmrich; Music: Danang Faturahman and Fahmy Al-Attas; Sound Design: Ranko Paukovic; Editing: Jasper Naaijkens.