2011 Sundance Docs in Focus: POSITION AMONG THE STARS

The third of three films in the World Cinema Documentary Competition that also screened at IDFA, Leonard Retel Helmrich’s POSITION AMONG THE STARS, from The Netherlands, concludes his three-film portrait of a poor Indonesian family and how they are coping with modernization.

Sundance Program Description:

This final installment of the trilogy follows the award-winning documentaries THE EYE OF THE DAY and SHAPE OF THE MOON (winner of the World Cinema Documentary Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival) as filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich concludes his in-depth portrait of Indonesia seen through the eyes of one family living in the slums of Jakarta. Grandmother Rumidjah, a poor old Christian woman, weathers a changing society and the influence of globalization reflected in the lives of her juvenile granddaughter, Tari, and her sons, Bakti and Dwi, who are Muslims. Modern-day Indonesia is entrenched in a tug-of-war between Christianity and Islam, young and old, rich and poor, and beset by encroaching globalization that threatens the simple life that Rumidjah knows so well.

Forgoing interviews and voice-over narration, POSITION AMONG THE STARS allows each exquisite detail to come together and construct a rich mosaic of Indonesia today. The result is poignant, breathtaking, and a singularly stellar vérité triumph.

Some Background:
Dutch-born Retel Helmrich’s mother was from Java, which inspired him to visit the country twelve years ago. It was on that trip that he met the Shamshudin family featured in the trilogy. Both of his previous films won numerous awards on the festival circuit (including Sundance, as noted above), while this concluding chapter has already picked up two awards at IDFA this past November, where it was also the Opening Night film.

Why You Should Watch:
Viewers should not feel intimidated by the film’s placement in a trilogy – it works very well as a complete, stand-alone experience, though you might be tempted to seek out the previous parts due to the accomplished verité filmmaking and for the strong central characters. The family members have been used to Retel Helmreich’s camera for such a long time period that their behavior seems perfectly natural and unmediated, and they allow him to capture moments of joy and conflict in equal amounts. At moments, including one pivotal scene between Tari and her uncle, there are echoes of last year’s masterful Sundance title, LAST TRAIN HOME, in the immediacy of the filmmaking.

Screening Info:
For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph above. The film also has a Facebook page to keep interested audiences aware of upcoming screenings and other developments. The official English language website is still in progress, but there is a Dutch version for those who speak the language.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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