Widely known and loved for her role as Cinta in the movie What’s Up with Love?, Dian Sastrowardoyo indeed is a lovely lady whose talents and charms could lit up any room. Her award-winning career in the movie industry began at the turn of the century as Indonesia bounced back from economic and political crises in the late 1990s. However, the former teen model did not always wish to be an actress. “I always wanted to be a movie director. But, for my first movie in 1999, Bintang Jatuh, the team needed an actress: so I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. Dian had always been an avid moviegoer that helps develop her taste for the art, which, in turn, grew her natural talent and taste in acting and its delivery.
“It’s an ongoing learning process until today, and I’m still exploring different types of acting and delivery forms. I keep myself open to keep on learning and growing because acting is a two-way art form; we have to adjust to how our co-stars act to find the right synergy when we work together,” Dian said. Driven by her passion, she has risen and remained among top- billed Indonesian actresses for over two decades across different movie genres and many box-office hits.
“To stay relevant is to keep on learning. Learning, however, means coming out of your comfort zone, working with different people, having the guts to try new things and sometimes experience uncomfortable situations.” For Dian, going outside of her comfort zone included a change in career and focusing on her personal growth. “In 2008, I considered quitting the movie industry for good, had worked at a consulting firm for three-and-half years, went back for a Master’s degree, and gotten married and blessed with two children: I was ready to be a career woman instead of an actress.” However, the calling to work in the industry was still there, and she returned to the movie industry after six years of hiatus.
“With a new mindset and understanding about how business works, upon getting back into the field, I decided not to limit myself to being an actress,” Dian said. “It is part of my duty to shape the movie industry, and it was time for my generation to step up to continue the directing role of the likes of Mira Lesmana and Shanty Harmayn.” With a renewed commitment, she resolved to be more proactive in producing and developing projects, not only waiting for one to come. Naturally, for her, this means learning how to be a producer. As a result, her debut last year as a producer in Crazy Awesome Teachers turned out to be a success.
Nevertheless, from that project, she learned that Indonesia has a scarcity of talents when it comes to directors. “Since then, I decided to educate myself to become a director also, which would fulfil my lifelong dream. As the pandemic wore on, I took an online script-writing class and pushed myself to learn writing.” The resulting 2020 release, Nougat, under Quarantine Tales with four other short stories, was received well by critics and viewers alike. Behind this glamour of successes, however, was a clamour of working hard amid the global slump.
“The effects felt from the Covid-19 pandemic, to be honest, very much affects my mentality. Just before the pandemic spread to Indonesia, I was operating full steam to finish Crazy Awesome Teachers. I started to get the process of being a producer and had a lineup of exciting future projects. But, Covid-19 hit hard; I felt rather down and sluggish to continue with my progress since the industry saw many productions postponed. For projects that did move forward to completion, it was quite a gamble to gain viewership afterwards as most movie theatres are still closed.”
Despite the presence of digital platforms as an alternative to stream movies, according to Dian, there is still the need to sell them successfully through theatres. She then explained how Netflix, for example, purchase a film by first appraising its value and determining what kind of success it had in cinemas. “When the movie has not had a run in cinemas, it would be based on biased, blind valuation. Imagine the kind of power these digital platforms have today as most movie theatres are still inactive, and they become the only way to promote and stream movies.”
She then went on about how digital platforms could ruin this healthy ecosystem within the movie industry. “The AI used in Netflix helped determine your consumption “taste” by giving recommendation based on the latest things you watched. As such, this is not a healthy marketing process because there are other good movies outside your usual preferences, but you will not see them displayed because of the algorithm,” said Dian. “There are alternative genres that would help the Indonesian audience to have a more diverse sense of “taste”, but they will not have the same chance to thrive in this industry.”
With most things in limbo, the budding director and producer found this moment as a turning point in her life. “ It’s a reflective process both for my career and personal growths to see where I would like to go next. At this point, I am more than just an actress; I am growing myself as a director and producer,” she said. “I want to be more honest with the artist in myself despite going against the mainstream market. As a moviemaker, my goal is not to only gain profit but also to create art, an expression of self-actualization.” While working the best at what she could in the industry, Dian actively went on runs, ride bicycles and horseback riding to manage life’s stressors.
She found joys in working from home by having more time to spend with her family and getting to know each other better than before. “After I got married and had kids, I’ve implemented a new discipline to be open-minded and learn a lot, which is very much a rewarding experience. If you are not open, you stop growing; when you stop growing, you stop learning. You might already know so much but still need to humble yourself to expand your horizon—even learning from people younger than you are.” The world now waits with much excitement as Dian slowly grows in her waiting while attentively looking for a chance to shoot upwards once the world opened up again.
This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Tatler Indonesia. Read our e-magazine and their full story here.