WORDS BY MEGAN PELSON '17
IMAGES BY ANI ACOPIAN '16, RYAN HEFFERNAN '16, & ALISON LAM '17
When I first mention his thesis film, Rizky dances around a definite classification of it. “There’s no philosophy. It’s not an art film. It’s, you know, I don’t know, a horror film.” Eventually, I glean that the intrigue of making a horror film comes from his younger days in his home country of Indonesia where he and his friends would go and laugh at the atrocities of these campy exploitation horror films. After much contesting, he settles, at least temporarily, on defining it as a “horror parody that pays homage to Indonesian vibrant horror exploitation movies." While his equivocal rhetoric may suggest confusion, it quickly becomes clear that Rizky knows exactly what his film and its intentions are.
Rizky is a film major originally from Indonesia, where he plans to return a year after he graduates in May. While many students spend their first two years of college surveying courses from different areas of study before deciding a major, Rizky knew he wanted to study film well before he came to Wesleyan. On his application for the Freeman Asian Scholarship Program, Rizky noted that he wanted to be a film major in order to improve his country’s film culture and industry. This goal of his didn’t become real until he set foot on campus. It wasn’t easy for him initially, however, as he struggled to do things that we often take for granted. “I could barely write anything in English. But I sacrificed going out a few weekends and put in a lot of work. That got me into the film major, which I prayed for my sophomore and freshman year.”
During his spring semester junior year, Rizky went abroad to Bolivia, an experience he recounts as being life-changing. Aside from the anticipated realizations one has during a study-abroad trip, he learned something else—something that had more of an immediate impact on his life. “After I went to Bolivia, I realized that the film department wouldn't teach me everything that I believe is important in studying film. They often refrain from including social/ cultural elements in the discussion of cinema although these elements could have only added richness to the discussion. It's sometimes hard to relate to the department because of its alienation from what's going on in the world today.” Despite this critique of the film department, Rizky still thinks the Wesleyan film department "gives him a reason to live in this world" and he was quick to give a shout out to Professor Lisa Dombrowski who taught the only film class “that allowed me to talk about feminism and teach me about why I cry when watching melodrama films.”
While the film department provides most of the basic equipment for shooting and editing, there is a complete lack of financial assistance from the University and department. Rizky is just one of the many thesis film makers who found it difficult to produce their films with limited funds. By using alternative fundraising strategies, such as his indiegogo campaign from which he got $1,635, Rizky was able to secure 80% of his budget and shoot the film of his dreams, Mild Medium Hot.
It seems a bit misleading that the film department relies so heavily on teaching a structured, classical narrative when, for thesis makers, it has the potential to limit their creativity. Rizky’s film confronts this and Rizky acknowledges that “it doesn’t really conform to what the department wants”. His thesis plays with the idea of gender reversal by using a female instead of the male slasher we see in traditional horror films. “This woman is the hostess at a hot sauce tasting café that attracts a lot of guys.” And, as to not spoil the ending, one can surmise the rest. So…why a hot sauce café? Rizky explains to me that, after being away from home in Indonesia for three years, one of the things he misses most is his mother’s hot sauce. “She makes hot sauce and one of the big things about our culture is eating everything with hot sauce.”
As our interview comes to an end, I ask Rizky one more time about how he classifies his film. He recently finished a rough cut of it and claims it looks ridiculous. He reflects momentarily on the process of making his own film and collaborating on other films and deems it the craziest semester he’s had at Wesleyan. When he finally gets to his film, he expresses that, although it isn’t a conventional film within the department’s confines, it’s his personal vision. “It’s between exploitation and art. I’m aware the audience is going to watch it and it’s going to refer to pop culture but it’s also my pop culture vision, my personal vision”. And, at the end of the day, there is something to be said for defiance of the norm to avoid stifling creativity. Throughout his whole process, it is clear that Rizky did just that—made this his process.