AIDS Education With 'Love from Wamena'

WAMENA - In an effort to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS while solving the education gap in neglected areas in Indonesia, AusAID and the Ford Foundation have turned to an unlikely medium to spread the message: filmmaking.

The pair has funded the feature-length film “Cinta dari Wamena” (“Love from Wamena”), featuring actors Nicholas Saputra and Susan Bachtiar. The film, directed by Lasja Susatyo, is set to hit local theaters in March 2013.

Executive producer Ronald Gunawan said that cultural values and a large education gap are the among main obstacles for AIDS awareness campaigns in Indonesia. He spent nine years working as a doctor in Papua, where the HIV/AIDS prevalence is 18 times higher than any other province in the country, infecting 2.4 percent of the local population.

“If we’re not doing anything about it, it’s very possible that Papua will become like Africa, which has 40 percent HIV/AIDS prevalence,” said Ronald, who is also a consultant at Corsores Indonesia, a nongovernmental organization involved in the film.

“Cinta dari Wamena” follows the story of three friends who leave their village homes to chase their dreams in Wamena, the largest town in Papua’s highlands. Along the way, they deal not only with a new way of life, but also HIV/AIDS. Leading the cast for the film are newcomers Maximus Itlay and Benyamin Lagowan, both students at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura, playing powerful roles.

Wamena, Ronald said, is a magnet for people who still live secluded in the mountains, as it represents modernity. People walk seven to eight days just to get to Wamena, driven by curiosity of a “modern life,” as Wamena offers schools, markets and office buildings.

On choosing Maximus, Benyamin and actress Madonna Marrey to play the central roles in the film, director Lasja said that it was her vision to put them in the spotlight.

“I didn’t want to put the outsiders [roles played by Nicholas and Susan] as heroes, because I want the movie to show local initiative and their strength to solve their own problems,” said Lasja, who recently also contributed to the anti-corruption campaign movie, “Kita vs Korupsi.”

In the trailer shown after the panel discussion at Blitzmegaplex, Jakarta, on Tuesday, the film shows how HIV/AIDS can be treated, while also trying to break the stereotype that AIDS is a curse.

Lasja found a study that explained why Papua is a unique case for the spread of HIV/AIDS, which was used during the development of the script, written by Sinar Ayu Massie. The study said that in Papua, marriage is strictly ruled by local tribes, and a man can only have intercourse with his wife after paying the dowry — usually in the form of pigs, which can cost up to Rp 10 million each ($1,040).

When Papuans move to a town and live more modernly, however, the rules of sex are less strict. Sex, Lasja says, becomes personal entertainment, because there is not much else to do. Ronald stresses that youngsters in Papua are not any different from those in any other cities.

“The only problem is that they don’t know how to protect themselves,” he said.

Benyamin said that the people of Papua have been shocked with the jump of modernity in the past few decades. For him to star in the movie also meant he had to learn more about AIDS.

“I remember I went to an AIDS campaign when I was in high school, but I was doing it because they told me to,” he said. “I didn’t really understand what was it all about.”

This is also why Ronald has such high hopes for the movie’s ability to spread the message about AIDS treatment. Lasja said the film focuses on medicinal treatment for the disease, rather than local homeopathic remedies.

AusAID’s Adrian Gilbert said that the film will be shown in 10 cities in Papua, followed by discussions about AIDS.

Using the power of visual media, combined with presentations on safe sex and AIDS prevention methods, the people behind the project hope to make a dent in the rising rates of AIDS in Indonesia. (JP)
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