Top Indonesian star Laura Basuki headlines auteur Razka Robby Ertanto’s “Yohanna,” which has its world premiere in competition at International Film Festival Rotterdam.
The film follows young nun Yohanna, whose encounter with the underworld of child labor in the eastern island of Sumba, one of the poorest places in Indonesia, restores her sense of purpose in life.
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For Ertanto, whose “Cross the Line” (2022) looked at migrant workers and “Ave Maryam” (2018) that examined aspects of the Christian faith, the idea for “Yohanna” was born after a visit to Sumba, where he was saddened to see eight-year-old laborers who looked like worn out elders. He resolved to tell their story and present the case for their freedom.
“Child labor in Indonesia is a very important topic that we need to raise awareness about in my country and abroad. Many people fight for good causes whether it’s for the country or for a community but the problem of child labor and children suffering in the poorest areas of Indonesia is often neglected,” Ertanto told Variety. “I also wanted to show that faith should not be limited to the interaction with God but include having faith in humans and helping those around us who struggle in their lives. We should remember that all creatures are equal in the eyes of God and we should not think about faith only in a religious practicing sense.”
“We need to stop child labor even if it’s traditionally been part of local life in some regions. Allowing children to work from 5am until the school day starts and then making them work again after school until late at night is the same as legalizing child slavery. We should be fighting for letting children grow up in their own world, educating parents and the social environment that every child should grow and develop naturally without trauma,” Ertanto added.
Basuki won an acting Silver Bear at the 2022 Berlinale for Kamila Andini’s “Before, Now & Then” and was one of the leads in Yosep Anggi Noen’s 2023 Busan and Singapore selection “24 Hours with Gaspar.” For “Yohanna,” Basuki prepped via readings with Ertanto and children from Sumba and several conversations with nuns. She also had to learn to play the guitar, drive a pickup truck and get on a wild horse.
“Portraying Yohanna was thrilling. She is truly one of the most unique characters I’ve ever played. I actually learned a lot from the children in Sumba, they got such beautiful and pure hearts. So the most challenging aspect was to leave them after the shoot. I left a piece of my heart in Sumba,” Basuki told Variety.
The film is produced by Denis Krupnov and Ertanto. Production companies include Reason8 Films, Summerland and Pilgrim Film. Reason8 Films is handling international sales.
Watch the teaser for “Yohanna” here:
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