The documentary was the result of Lise Zurné’s research for her Visual Anthropology master’s thesis at Leiden University. “Filming wasn’t something new for me, since I had completed the first year of the fine arts programme at University of the Arts Utrecht. So it seemed a logical step to record my research on film as well as in writing,” says Zurné.
Zurné is well-acquainted with film festivals. Since 2016, ‘The Feel of History’ has been screened at fifteen ethnographic film festivals. In October the documentary will be screened at the Regard Bleu Film Festival in Zurich. This festival focuses on academics and researchers. “I think the film is interesting mainly due to the insights it offers in how a community positions itself and moves between historical conflicts and political interests.”
Lise Zurné follows a historical society in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which annually stages an historical re-enactment of Serangan Umum 1 Maret, one of the last battles against the Dutch coloniser in 1949. Zurné spent three months filming the historical society Komunitas Djokjakarta 1945, from their earliest preparations to the performance itself – a performance with a limited number of attendees chiefly consisting of family and friends.
“What makes this re-enactment special is that it involves a lot more than just re-enacting historical events,” declares Zurné.
This is because in Indonesia, there are numerous controversies regarding the historical narrative of Serangan Umum 1 Maret; to this day Indonesians debate who was responsible for initiating the offensive and they also have their doubts about Suharto’s role in the attack. Suharto later went on to become the president-dictator of the country.
The doctoral candidate continues: “Because the battle was somewhat of a sensitive issue in history, my main questions were: how does the historical society deal with all these controversies? Which choices do they make for the re-enactment?”
Zurné answers these questions in the film by deconstructing the re-enactment. She lets the participants themselves speak and she observes how they fashion their replica weapons and outfits. “While filming I discovered that the people doing the re-enactment in Yogyakarta feel a close kinship with the army and soldiers,” says Zurné. “They aren’t staging this re-enactment purely in the interests of history. They also just enjoy walking around in their army uniforms with their military equipment.”
The participants take virtually no notice of the controversies surrounding the theme. “There are no profound discussions regarding the controversy or Suharto’s role. The society has chosen to focus on the spectacle of the event. The re-enactment must be as spectacular and impressive as possible; the ‘truth’ of the historical narrative was less important to them,” Zurné says.
In her current research she is comparing re-enactment in the Netherlands, Belgium and Indonesia. “The study is still ongoing, but I suspect that re-enactment in the Netherlands and Belgium will demonstrate more concern for sensitive issues; my research shows, for example, that someone wouldn’t wear an SS uniform during a re-enactment, while in Indonesia there would be far more leeway allowed regarding how people would approach a sensitive issue.”