October 16, 2008 / 6:54 AM / 9 years ago

Indonesian hit film tells tale of poor kids

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A film about a gang of poor Indonesian children who struggle to get a basic education has become an unexpected blockbuster in a country where many youngsters still don’t have adequate schooling.

“Laskar Pelangi,” or “Rainbow Warriors,” is set on the island of Belitung, Indonesia’s main tin-producing region, and stars local children. Since its September release, nearly 2 million Indonesians have seen the movie, a tear-jerker and a bitter reminder of the poverty in their own backyard.

Based on a best-selling novel by Andrea Hirata, who wrote about his childhood experiences on the island, it tells the story of several poor children, one of whom wins the school prize but has to drop out at the age of 11 when his father dies, so that he can take care of his three sisters.

“This movie should remind policy-makers that currently we have an unsolved problem: education for all,” the film’s producer, Mira Lesmana, told Reuters.

“Film is a more popular medium for idea dissemination than books,” she said.

Lesmana, whose past films have been crowd-pleasers, said she plans to take “Rainbow Warriors” on tour in poor areas, with screenings at makeshift outdoor cinemas such as soccer fields.

That way, she hopes to reach a wider audience in a country where some villages do not have electricity, let alone a cinema.

Some critics predict the film could do even better than the Islamic romance movie “Ayat-ayat Cinta” (Verses of Love), the country’s top hit, with 3 million viewers.

“Usually Indonesian movies are about love between a man and a woman, but this movie explores the love of a teacher of her students,” said one viewer, 19-year-old Jilly Nelwan.

Another viewer, Virna Pangau, said the movie had opened her eyes to the country’s wide income gap.

Despite its abundant minerals, Belitung hasn’t escaped poverty, and some penniless parents are forced to send their children to work in the factories because they cannot afford to pay for their education.

The National Education Department said that in 2005-2006, about 850,000 Indonesian children between the ages of 7 and 12 quit school.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who invited street children to a showing of the movie last week, has promised to increase spending on education.

Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; editing by Sara Webb and Miral Fahmy

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