“There are many different ways of being visible”
We sat down with Anouk Houtman to discuss her new documentary Across Gender.
Have you liked Viscult so far?
Yeah, I have! There is a very nice atmosphere I think, like very welcoming and its nice we had the opportunity to go here together with Koosje de Pooter (producer of the film positioning Roma), so that was a nice thing. Yesterday I saw quite a few nice films and I really liked the first section yesterday what was about female autonomy. Issues they were telling were really impressing. Yeah, it’s a nice lively place in Joensuu.
Are you going to see Joensuu or other parts in Finland?
I’ve been thinking maybe of going to sauna, but I’m not sure.
Have you been sauna before?
Yeas, in Netherlands, but not in Finland and we thought while we are in Finland we should go and try it in here. We were in Helsinki two days before coming here, but we don’t have much more time, because on Friday we’ll go straight to airport and go home.
What films are you interested to watch?
I’m very curious about films that are same section as mine. That’s very interesting. And the film Underground (produced by Julie Høj Thomsen), I saw that in another film festival in Croatia, but I think I missed it, so that would be good to see. I’m also curious about, how Nicobar, a Long way (produced by Richa Hushing) is combined in same section as mine film. And of course, yesterday it was also great to see the film by Tina Krüger (Producer of the film Living art). It was nice to see the final version. We studied together so I saw the process and now I saw final cut.
How did you find these people tell their story and was it difficult to get them open up about their lives?
In the beginning, it was difficult to find contact actually. I tried to do it from the Netherlands, but that was bit difficult because I didn’t speak any Indonesian back then. I was trying to send some e-mails, but that didn’t resolve any replays. I was really worried because when I arrived there I had one appointment with one person who in the end is not in the film, but he did help me with the research. Then he connected me to one of the people who has a big role in the film and his name is Tama. Tama actually opened up other doors for me and since then I got involved with his organisation which is called People Like Us. I hang out with them a lot and it was very great time and through him basically I got access to other people’s communities. And then it was suddenly kind of, not easy, but it went well. So, once I had something I was able to meet other people.
How was reception being back in Indonesia?
There haven’t been any screenings yet because it is little bit sensitive topic. So, I promised I would keep them up to date where there would be screenings and so, as it would not be publicly available online. They are fine with me screening it in places but they would like it to remain within thin circles. So, they all have seen it online, but behind password and stuff. They were really happy, I think, with how it turned out and were positive about how it shows they stories, and that was really great for me. It was so important, because you are making this film about their stories, and that would be worst thing ever if they would not approve. But luckily, they liked it.
Do you think there are any changes coming for the LGBT community?
I certainly hope so. There are very active groups working on it and fighting for it, but I’m not the expert on whole political situation. I can say that, at the time my field work, at the beginning of 2016, the whole topic of LGBT community really got extra tense. There were lot of tensions between a few very vigorous religious groups. Some of them turned their focus on the LGBT community and then they started organized anti LGBT demonstrations and hand banners around the city. So, then you really feel, if there will be positive change. Now the focus is shifted a little bit, so it’s not so much focused on this topic, but it still is a sensitive topic. I really can’t answer, if there will be good change but there are definitely good people working on it.
What do you hope your audience will learn watching your film?
I hope that it shows that there are many different ways of being visible or negotiating your visibility as a transgender person. I think there are often lots of stereotypes surrounding this, or people don’t fully understand it, and that’s why I try to show different people for different groups. Yes, you can be religious and transgender and yes, you can create a safe place for this and you can be an activist and you can show a different possibility. I really hope that’s something that people can see.
What was the most memorable moment while making this film?
There is a positive thing that I can think of and a negative one. The positive example was the demonstration by One Billion Rising. They were also organising in Jakarta and I was also filming there, and working with them, so I was kind of part of their media team. We shared our footage and that was really great thing because there were so many different communities working together on this demonstration. There were feminist organisations, there were LGBT activists, there were people from the Visibility organisation and they all came together and it had a very positive vibe even though it was a serious issue. That really stuck with me.
A more negative one that was not fun was the moment that we realised that there would be an anti LGBT demonstration. They decided to counter this and organised a counter demonstration against this hate group. They planned to march towards the palace where the anti-demonstration was being held, but the police stopped them. They were not allowed to leave from the parking lot where they were organizing themselves, and this kind of turned into somewhat violent because they tried to move forward anyway, and the police tried to push them back. Everybody got a bit cautious, and went little bit hiding. Not completely, but they didn’t leave their offices, for example, because they would be easily found, and people knew their names. So that was a negative thing that really stuck with me odiously.