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Sun & Moon in Indonesia: The Single Shot Cinema of Leonard Retel Helmrich

Indonesia is one of the most populous nations on earth, and that population is among the most diverse anywhere. In order to depict and explore that diversity and its complexities, Leonard Retel Helmrich (b. 1959) aims not for a vast overview but rather focuses on the daily, the specific and the intimate. He has spent several years documenting the fortunes of one working-class family in Jakarta, headed by the matriarch Rumidjah. The two films that he made with that family, The Eye of the Day and Shape of the Moon, have won prizes at festivals from Amsterdam to Sundance.

Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Javanese mother, Helmrich graduated from the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in 1986 and made his feature debut with the fiction film The Phoenix Mystery (1990). He began traveling to Indonesia shortly after the death of his mother in 1990 and now splits his time between Jakarta and Amsterdam. In documenting the lives of Rumidjah and her family, Helmrich shoots simply, his camera an extension of his hand. At the same time, his camera work displays incredible virtuosity and ingenuity. Both The Eye of the Day and Shape of the Moon are built out of long takes, with Helmrich improvising apparatus that enable his camera to move smoothly, seeming to float. Helmrich dubs this method "single-shot cinema."

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