52 minutes |Netherlands, Indonesia | 2007 | Digital Projection
How can one believe that terrorism leads to heaven? Banned by the Indonesian government, this provocative documentary examines the psychology of extremism in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world.
Promised Paradise, a new film from renowned documentary filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, made international news earlier this year when Indonesian authorities suddenly banned it from screening at the Jakarta International Film Festival. The film follows a traditional Indonesian puppeteer and troubadour, the dynamic Agus Nur Amal, as he attempts to track down the terrorists who masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings (both living and dead).
During the course of his journey, he exposes the atmosphere of intolerance and confusion that pervades his country. At a puppet show for children, staged inside a cardboard television set, he re-enacts the September 11 attacks using a gyrating Osama Bin Laden doll. The children roar in laughter, until the play begins to show images of new bomb attacks in Indonesia – first on the Australian Embassy in September 2004, and later in Bali in October 2005. “Everything you see on your television is a lie: in this cardboard television the people are made of flesh and blood,” he tells his young audience.
In a chilling sequence, using ingenius editing, Agus confronts the notorious extremist leader behind the 2002 bombings in his prison cell. Freely quoting from the Koran, and referencing American foreign policy, he closedly discusses his motives for the attack. To reach the remaining bombers, Agus attends the show of a local clairvoyant who claims to communicate with the dead. He asks him where the perpetrators of the suicide attack are now. The psychic’s refusal to answer before an audience is telling – so Agus requests a private session.
Using performance to inspire critical reflection, Promised Paradise delivers fascinating and revealing insight into the social and religious undercurrents dominating Indonesian society today and the Muslim world at large.
Leonard Retel Helmrich
Following a Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Harvard University Leonard is Associate Professor Film Practice and New Media at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) he is now a visiting faculty at NYU, Tisch School of the Arts in New York. His trilogy of documentaries following a working-class family in Jakarta has won many awards and nominations, including Sundance, IDFA and nominations for the WGA and European Film Academy Awards. The final installment in this trilogy, POSITION AMONG THE STARS (2010), was acquired by HBO and released theatrically following a gala closeding at the Museum of Modern Art. Leonard advised director Lucien Castaing-Taylor on cinematography methods for LEVIATHAN, his award-winning documentary shot on a fishing vessel.
John Anderson called Leonard Retel Helmrich ‘A master of impossible camera angles’ in this profile in the New York Times (2011): “If it were all just camera tricks, of course, Mr.Helmrich probably would not have received the highest honor given to international documentaries this year at Sundance for “Position Among the Stars,” or become the first two-time winner of the top prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.”
Cobina Gillitt, Ph.D. is currently a member of the theatre studies faculty in the Department of Drama in the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. Her areas of expertise include dramaturgy & translation, Asian theatre and performance theory, and American and European 20th century avant-garde theatre theory, history, and practice. Cobina is a freelance dramaturg in New York City and a translator of Indonesian plays into English, several of which are published in a volume she edited entitled The Lontar Anthology of Indonesia Drama Vol 3: 1965-1998. She has been a member of Jakarta-based Teater Mandiri since 1988, performing in Indonesia and internationally.