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Putting Indonesia on the filmmaker's map

Trisha Sertori , Contributor , Gianyar | 

Former New York casting agent, Deborah Gabinetti, fell in love with Indonesia -- Jakarta in fact -- almost two decades ago. She sort of bumped into the archipelago somewhere "between 57th and ninth avenue in New York" back in 1990 and has been a fixture of the island nation almost ever since.

"I bumped into a director friend on the corner between 57th and ninth. I was walking my dog and he said he was going to Indonesia to do some films, tourism videos and things. You know Americans and geography ... I thought, 'Indonesia, where the heck is that?'," says Gabinetti.

She now promotes Indonesia to filmmakers around the world; giving many people a glance at the archipelago and its locational treasures.

Freshly returned from the annual Los Angeles AFCI film locations trade show, a trip she has made five times, Gabinetti says doors to Indonesia are swinging open as its potential to provide film locations becomes more recognized.

"I have been promoting Indonesia as a prime filmmaking location since around 2002. Now I am meeting one-on-one with the presidents of physical productions, they are the guys that green-light film projects," says Gabinetti.
Working from an A-list, Gabinetti met with production heads at Warner Brothers, Dreamworks, Walt Disney, Paramount Pictures and Sony/Columbia Pictures. These meetings could potentially put Indonesia on the filmmakers' map. She also met with film producers from Plan B Entertainment.

"I met with the producers from Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt's film company, to discuss Eat, Pray, Love (the book) which they have just bought the film rights too. Julia Roberts is slated to play the lead," says Gabinetti, pointing out to shoot the Balinese chapters of the book outside of Bali would be difficult.

"I joked that they can't film that anywhere else. They laughed and said 'This is Hollywood' where they can," quips Gabinetti.

Terrorism fears barely got a mention during her meetings with the film executives.

"Only Walt Disney raised the terrorism issue. The others just talked about the fact Indonesia is an untested country for major motion picture production."

Gabinetti's passion for film is what first brought her to Indonesia, albeit accidentally. Since then the country has been an endless source of surprise, much like a life changing phone call she received 18 years ago.

"Back then I had jokingly suggested that if my director friend needed an assistant in Indonesia to give me a call. He did. Six months later he called from Indonesia saying he was having trouble getting people to be on time and could I come out and help. So I flew here for a few months and did what I could.

"Looking back I don't know what I was supposed to achieve. There was the language barrier, the cultural barrier in what was then a new industry here, the television industry," she says.

"Immediately after I arrived, something about Indonesia struck a chord and I knew I wanted to live my life here."
Jakarta opened its arms to Gabinetti in 1991. "(It was) a mecca, a happening place. It was culturally very stimulating," says Gabinetti, adding Jakartans made her feel at home during the sometimes trying adaptation to her new nation.
Those first six months of creating a new life in Indonesia were tough going. "I do find there is a testing time that determines whether this (Indonesia) is for you.

"Every day for that first six months I was crying. I think just from the uncertainty of what I had chosen to do and from the loneliness. I knew I could always go back (to the United States). I realized I could always leave, but I knew it would be twice as hard to come back," says Gabinetti.

She says it all became easier when she realized that the new world around her was not going to change to accommodate the lifestyle she was used to.

"When I realized Indonesian social culture was not going to adjust to me, that it was up to me to adjust, and in so many ways for the better, my life here began to grow. I developed tolerance, open mindedness, a spirituality, it made me a better person," she says.

The flexibility Gabinetti learned through her testing first six months has served her well. The monetary crisis of 1998 almost wrote off her promotions business in Jakarta. But Gabinetti saw it as an opportunity.

"Jobs were drying up in Jakarta and I did not want to leave Indonesia so I came to Bali, which at the time, was a fraction of the cost of living and there was still a need for marketing and public relations.

"Bali still had tourists, in fact more when the rupiah bottomed out at 17,000 to one US dollar. At the time I was still interested in film and television. There were a number of productions coming through Bali. I think there were around 20 in two years and no film office to support that logistically," says Gabinetti. Gabinetti saw an opening.

Tapping into the film market is what Gabinetti has spent the last few years doing. Today she manages the Bali Film Center, a designated office to promote Indonesia to filmmakers around the world.

"We opened the office in 2002. We had huge support from Pak Pitana (then director of the Bali Tourism Office). He was truly a visionary in getting this up. He saw the potential for Indonesia and I am grateful to this day," says Gabinetti.
She says that the current US$285,000,000 Asian Film Fund, set up by The Weinstein Company, will make 13 motion pictures in Asia over the next five years. However, it left Indonesia off its original film proposals.
"Indonesia was not originally thought about. It is now."


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