Terlena: Breaking of a Nation

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Documentary films often show us the real story behind what we think we know. As an educational tool, they are incredible. As a window into another life, they are critical to humanity. This week at Cornell, there will be special presentations of a very important global documentary, Terlena.  Terlena is a documentary film about Soeharto's ruthless dictatorship in Indonesia. We might think we remember the horrible events of 1965 in Indonesia, but there is much of the truth that we don't know. I was lucky enough to sit down with Rossie Indira, one of the creators of the film, and get the story behind the documentary.  Here's what she had to say...


Rossie Indira

Rossie Indira


WE:  Please tell us about your groundbreaking documentary, Terlena...

RI:  TERLENA is the first full length documentary about the impact of 1965 entirely shot in Indonesia, using exclusively Indonesian testimonies, including those of former President Abdurrahman Wahid, one of the greatest living novelists and former prisoner of conscience Pramoedya Ananta Toer, leading historian Asvi Warman Adam, world-famous archeologist and former prisoner of conscience Sutayasa, Djokopekik – painter based in Jogjakarta, Bondan Nusantara – ketoprak (traditional Javanese drama) actor and script-writer in Jogjakarta, Marco Kusumawijaya – leading Indonesian architect and urbanist, Ester Jusuf – human rights lawyer, Ilham Aidit – architect and son of the killed PKI leader, as well as many other important political and cultural figures.

TERLENA is not just a “dry”, straight-forward documentary. It is full of music (traditional and modern); it moves from historic footage to the present-day slums and traffic jams, from the offices of political parties to Indonesian countryside, art galleries and theatre stages.


Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer


What led you to make this film?

RI:  There were killings of between 500,000 to 3,000,000 people following military coup of 30 September 1965 in Indonesia, yet when we asked Indonesian people about those periods, their answers were always the same - that it was a PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) coup and killings of 6 Army generals and 1 high ranking officer. They did not mention anything at all about the killings as they consider it as killings of PKI members and its supporters. Very few people realized that there were other explanations than government propaganda. Therefore, we use the title TERLENA which means to forget, to be off guard or to be in oblivion, which exactly explained the condition of Indonesians for this event.

WE: Who was involved in making it? and, where was it filmed?

RI: The filmmakers are:

Andre Vltchek: Writer, Producer and Director

Linda Puroaho: Photographer and Editor

Max Holm: 2nd Photographer

Rossie Indira: Translator and Production Manager

It was shot on locations of Jakarta, Bandung, Depok, Yogyakarta and Bali.


Andre Vltchek

Andre Vltchek


WE: What is the philosophy behind making the film?

RI: The main purpose of the film is to revisit the past of Indonesia, ask provocative questions and challenge the propaganda of Orde Baru. It also deals with the evidence of the US involvement in the events of 1965, as well as with the impact these events had on the present life of the nation. It hopes to provoke lively discussion in Indonesia and abroad and to positively influence the course of development of this country.

WE: You'll be showing this in NYC - can you please tell us more details about that?

RI: The film will be screened at:

Columbia University on October 2, 2008 at 6:15PM

Cornell University, on October 9, 2008 (late afternoon, time will be advised later) at Cornell Cinema, 104 Willard Straight Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853.

There will be a presentation by Andre Vltchek on October 9, 2008, at Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 117 Kahin Center, 640 Stewart Avenue, Ithaca, NY 14850.

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

RI:  TERLENA was finished in May 2004 and had been selected and screened by prestigious New York International Independent Film Festival in November 2004. 

In 2004, TERLENA had also been screened during the Indonesian Week in Amsterdam, the Netherland, at Goethe Institute in Hanoi, Vietnam, in Berlin by Watch Indonesia, and also in Jakarta (underground screening).

In 2005, TERLENA had been screened at Auckland University, New Zealand, in Hongkong at Hongkong University and City University of HK, at Cinemateca 18 at Montevideo, Uruguay during their Winter Festival, at Facultad Ciencias y Sociales at Montevideo, Uruguay, and at Universidad Arcis at Santiago, Chile. TERLENA was selected to participate in Barcelona Independent Film Festival (November 11-19, 2005) in Barcelona in its Synergy of the History category.

In 2006, TERLENA was also selected to participate in 19th Singapore International Film Festival in April 2006 in Singapore and in August 2006, TERLENA was screened in the 1st Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. 

'TERLENA – BREAKING OF A NATION' is also available on DVD. It has English subtitles as almost all interviews are in Indonesian language, but some, including those with former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, are in English. Narration – very important part of the film – is also in English. We also have Spanish subtitles, thanks to our Uruguayan friend Agustin Fernandez.


Ilham Aidit

Ilham Aidit



WE: Thank you so much, Rossie, for creating this powerful movie, and for sharing it with us.

For more information, please see: millache.org/




All photos courtesy and copyright of Linda Puroaho.