The Memory Tape of Kotot Sukardi

He was the pioneer of Indonesian children's films, yet the possibility of finding his name in the grandeur of film history is little to none.

Translation by:
Prihandini Anisa
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Illustration: Betaria Sarulina

"If you ever lack a story to tell, you can either come to brother Kotot Sukardi or to me." The remark was given by Sukarno in his speech during the farewell night of the artists and filmmakers gathering held at the State Palace on 12 March 1956.

Previously, in that big meeting where Persatuan Artis Film Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Film Artists or PAFI, but later more known as Parfi) was established, there was a discussion regarding the convoluted problems in the national film industry, which also brought up the lack of government support as one of the causes.

The meeting concluded with a resolution that was submitted to President Sukarno, to which he responded positively by expressing his willingness to support the film industry. However, Sukarno also proclaimed his indignation over the fact that most Indonesian films didn't fully embrace the authentic Indonesian character, and imitated those of foreign films instead. Moreover, the local film industry at the time was flooded by imported films from India, Malaya, and America.

"I am truly saddened that Indonesian films are only imitating America's samba and mambo films," said Sukarno as quoted by Harian Rakjat, 16 March 1956. Samba and mambo are Latin American music and dance genres that were widely adored as the American films rose in popularity.

“Indonesia has an abundant history. Our history has ample patriotic stories, not to mention the August 1945 Revolution," said Sukarno, who then referred to Kotot Sukardi, to which the audience gave loud applause.

Who is Kotot Sukardi, the source of inspiration for the country's filmmakers as mentioned by Sukarno?

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"If you ever lack a story to tell, you can either come to brother Kotot Sukardi or to me." The remark was given by Sukarno in his speech during the farewell night of the artists and filmmakers gathering held at the State Palace on 12 March 1956.

Previously, in that big meeting where Persatuan Artis Film Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Film Artists or PAFI, but later more known as Parfi) was established, there was a discussion regarding the convoluted problems in the national film industry, which also brought up the lack of government support as one of the causes.

The meeting concluded with a resolution that was submitted to President Sukarno, to which he responded positively by expressing his willingness to support the film industry. However, Sukarno also proclaimed his indignation over the fact that most Indonesian films didn't fully embrace the authentic Indonesian character, and imitated those of foreign films instead. Moreover, the local film industry at the time was flooded by imported films from India, Malaya, and America.

"I am truly saddened that Indonesian films are only imitating America's samba and mambo films," said Sukarno as quoted by Harian Rakjat, 16 March 1956. Samba and mambo are Latin American music and dance genres that were widely adored as the American films rose in popularity.

“Indonesia has an abundant history. Our history has ample patriotic stories, not to mention the August 1945 Revolution," said Sukarno, who then referred to Kotot Sukardi, to which the audience gave loud applause.

Who is Kotot Sukardi, the source of inspiration for the country's filmmakers as mentioned by Sukarno?

Young Kotot Sukardi who later made his way into the elite row of Indonesian film directors. (Perpusnas RI)

The Humble Beginning

Kotot Sukardi was unquestionably enigmatic. His works were much discussed, but the traces of his past were mostly drowned in the intricately tangled history. It is almost impossible even to find his exact birth date.

In the history of Indonesian film, Kotot Sukardi's name rarely got its deserved recognition. In Apa siapa orang film Indonesia, 1926-1978 compiled by Sinematek Indonesia, Kotot's name appears in the notes entailing the stories of several figures, with a blatant absence of an entry dedicated specifically for him. The same thing happened to the account of his contribution to the independence movement, as his name can be hardly found in most history books.

Kotot Sukardi had been involved in the youth movement since the 1930s. He was one of the pioneers of Suluh Pemuda Indonesia (literally Indonesian Youth Torch or SPI) that was established in Malang in 1931. In the same year, due to great pressure from the authority towards SPI, Kotot and several other youth in Yogyakarta founded a new organization, Persatuan Pemuda Mataram (Mataram Youth Association or PPM), which later changed into Persatuan Pemuda Rakyat Mataram (Mataram People's Youth Association or PPRM) and then to Persatuan Pemuda Rakyat Indonesia (Indonesian People's Youth Association or PERPRI).

In "Sejarah Pergerakan Pemuda Kerakyatan dan di Sekitar Proklamasi Agustus 1945" included in Bunga Rampai Soempah Pemuda, Mantoro Tirtonegoro, who was once a member of PERPRI, revealed that PERPRI was focusing on educating young people in the villages. They established many public schools and a scouting known as KB (Body's Health).

"Kotot Sukardi was a member of SPI who was actually the leader of Children’s Front called Have Not from several villages under the name KB (Body's Health), which was also PERPRI's onderbouw that focused on the education of children from 6 to 15 years old," Mantoro wrote.

Aside from leading KB in Yogyakarta, Kotot also actively participated in Taman Siswa as a teacher at one of its branches in Jembrana, Bali. Nyoman S. Pendit in Bali Berjuang said Kotot pioneered and led Taman Siswa in Tejakula in the eastern part of Buleleng Singaraja. Those activities made him easily acquainted with many Balinese artists.

Once, at the end of 1942, Sukarno initiated the establishment of Badan Pusat Kesenian Indonesia (Indonesian Arts Center) which was originally proposed by Abisin Abbas or Andjar Asmara, a playwright and film director. A performance entitled “Lukisan Zaman” was planned to be held at Gedung Komidi (Komidi Building, which is the present-day Gedung Kesenian Jakarta) on 8 December 1942.

Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (The Jakarta Art Building) back then. (KTLV)

Sukarno proposed an idea to bring in a troupe of Balinese dancers and musicians as the performers. To realize his goal, writer and theater director Kamajaya was sent to Bali with a letter and some money. However, Kamajaya was unable to carry out his duties as he failed to obtain a permit from the local authority. The only way left was to smuggle them in.

"With the help of the late Kotot Sukardi, the 'smuggling' of 45 artists along with the gamelan was successful,” said Kamajaya in Sejarah Bagimu Neg'ri.

“Lukisan Zaman” was the only performance held by Badan Pusat Kesenian Indonesia, as the military authority of Japan established Keimin Bunka Shidoso (Cultural Center) on 1 April 1943 to replace it.

After their "Lukisan Zaman” performance, the dancers and musicians from Denpasar and Tabanan remained in Jakarta. Kotot stepped up as their manager while also working as a touring play actor. Later, a Balinese dance performance by Kotot Sukardi was staged in "program malam gembira" (happy night program) organized by Djawa Hoso Kanrikyoku (Java Broadcasting Supervisory Bureau) and Sendenbu (Department of Propaganda) to welcome "the favor of Indonesian independence in the future" at Shiritsu Gekijo (now Gedung Kesenian Jakarta) on 23 September 1944.

Youth movement was also one of Kotot’s activities during his productive days. In 1943, together with Peno, Asmara Hadi, Sarwoko and Suhud, he founded Barisan Pelopor Istimewa (Special Front of Pioneers) that rooted from their distrust of Japan's Barisan Pelopor (Sushintai or Front of Pioneers). However, the formation of Barisan Pelopor Istimewa was leaked and ultimately hijacked by the Japanese military authority, forcing it to change name into Tokubetsu Keibotai (Special Guard Troop).

Realizing that the underground movement was far from effective, the youth eventually joined Japanese organizations. Kotot himself decided to join Keimin Bunka Shidoso (Cultural Center). During his time there, he became closely associated with various theatrical activities.

Kotot Sukardi with a group of dancers. (Perpusnas RI)

Following Nippon

Amat was a popular name during the Japanese occupation, as it was a character’s name in the play scripts produced as a propaganda tool by the Japanese. He was described as a brave Heiho volunteer who died in Tarakan.

To assure the success of their propaganda campaign, the Japanese military authority established Djawa Engeki Kyōkai or Persatuan Oesaha Sandiwara Djawa (Javanese Theatrical Union or POSD) in 1944 under the auspices of the Propaganda Division of Sendenbu and was led by Eitaro Hinatsu or Dr. Huyung. Its mission was to gather theatrical associations, organize various performances, and compose play stories through Badan Permoesjawaratan Tjerita POSD (POSD's Story Advisory Board). The stories were later distributed and played by several theatrical associations.

POSD's first production was titled Fadjar Telah Menjingsing by Hinatsu. The play was staged for four nights in Jakarta and Surabaya in September 1944 to mark Japan's promise of Indonesian independence.

“The play was noteworthy as the first stage performance of a character named Amat, an enthusiastic volunteer of Heiho (support soldiers),” wrote Matthew Isaac Cohen in Inventing the Performing Arts: Modernity and Tradition in Colonial Indonesia.

A poster promoting the folk play. (

Amat's character was later reproduced to propagate Heiho's heroism. The Japanese propaganda magazine, Djawa Baroe on its 14th issue 15 July 2605 (according to the Japanese calendar, which was 1945) published a poster promoting the play of the Heiho hero with the title "Toeroet Sama Amat" (Following Amat). “Toeroet Sama Amat” was then written by Kotot Sukardi into a play script.

Kotot's Toeroet Sama Amat was staged in celebration of the Marine Memorial Day from 18 to 27 July 1945 simultaneously in Jakarta, Surabaya, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Bondowoso, and Situbondo. The income from the shows was donated to the families of the victims of Heiho Kaigun (Marine Soldier Assistants).

Despite not being the center of the story, Amat also appeared as one of the characters in Kotot's two-act drama, Koesoema Noesa.

At POSD, Kotot was one of the best playwrights. The other titles he wrote include Petjah As Ratna, Benteng Ngawi, and Bende Mataram. The last title mentioned was the most famous play of its time, which narrates the heroism of Diponegoro's soldiers during the Java War. The play centers on a young man named Lagiono who is at a crossroads, as he must choose between the rebel troops or his father, who is loyal to the palace that backs the Dutch government. The play premiered simultaneously in six cities by the theater associations affiliated with POSD.

According to Cohen, every play that tells the story about Diponegoro, Untung Surapati and Sawunggaling were banned by the Japanese authority in the mid of 1943. The reason was that the plays were difficult to stage and could inadvertently make fun of the national heroes. However, it was quite apparent that the Japanese rulers feared that the warriors would stir up an uprising. Nonetheless, Kotot managed to write it skillfully.

Djawa Baroe magazine. (Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta)

"Sukardi's drama did not only lift the fighting spirit of the historic rebels as a model for the struggle against British and American imperialism, but also allowed us to reflect on wartime spies, loyalists, enemy's propaganda, and even the Indonesian nationalist flag that was on par with the nineteenth century," wrote Cohen.

Despite pouring a great amount of passion to the theatrics, Kotot was also contributing actively to the youth revolution. He was present at the meeting in Jakarta on 3 June 1945 that initiated Gerakan Angkatan Baru Indonesia. After Indonesia's independence, artists who worked at the Cultural Center established Seniman Merdeka, and Kotot was part of it. After that, he joined the battlefield.

“Members from the Angkatan Baru group were also part of the guerrilla forces. Kotot Sukardi was the battalion leader,” Cohen wrote.

After the Dutch seized Jakarta, Kotot moved to Yogyakarta concurrently with the Republic's capital move there.

Kotot Sukardi directing a cameraman in one of his films. (Perpusnas RI)

The Yogya Stage

In Yogyakarta, Kotot devoted most of his time to the world of play. Along with a number of artists, he became the driving force of the theatrical arts in Yogyakarta, which mostly produced works that were inspired by the spark of revolution.

“The revolution period gave them a lot of materials to unfold new stories. Kotot Sukardi, Sri Murtono, Bakri Siregar and Hamidy Djamil were especially very productive in penning essays," wrote Toekidjo Handojo et al. in Daerah Istimewa Jogjakarta.

One of Kotot's stories entitled Nasib Si Mientje was published by Revolusioner, a magazine of Pemuda Sosialis Indonesia (Indonesian Socialist Youth) on 5 January 1946. Meanwhile, his other plays were titled Sepandjang Malioboro, Jogja Bukan Hollywood, and Dibalik Dinding Sekolah.

Kotot was not just a writer and a play actor, as he also taught drama arts at Kino Drama Atelier (KDA) which was led by Dr. Huyung. During his free time, he kept himself busy with various social activities.

In “Dongeng Pakdhe Awul-Awul tentang Alun-Alun” on, 29 April 2009, artist Hersri Setiawan recounted Kotot's activities in “asrama BM” (BM dormitory). BM was short for Barisan Mataram, but most people associated the abbreviation with Barisan Macan (Tiger Front), and some even call it Barisan Kere (Poor Front).

“There, young homeless boys from the city were gathered and 'forged' to become members of the patriotic unit. The one who surprisingly had a significant contribution was a filmmaker, Kotot Sukardi, uncle of another filmmaker, Basuki Effendy," said Hersri.

Kotot Sukardi giving script directions to the artists. (Perpusnas RI).

However, Kotot was more known for his act in bringing together homeless and abandoned children in what was called as Barisan P (Front P). The letter “P” stands for Pengharapan (Hope). Basuki Effendy also assisted him in managing the children.

Painter Mia Bustam in Sudjojono dan Aku said that Kotot was a bachelor who resided at a hall on the east side of the square. "He was dubbed as the father of vagabonds and pickpockets", and that was how he was known.

“He gathered homeless children and pickpockets there, gave them food and drink as well as spiritual and physical education. In short, they were trained to begin a virtuous and ethical social life,” wrote Mia.

Kotot did not only nurture and provide education for those children. He also trained and invited them to participate in plays and perform in various shows to raise funds.

Unfortunately, the fate of Kotot and his foster children suddenly became uncertain after the Dutch launched their second military aggression and occupied Yogyakarta. He decided to evacuate. In June 1949, Kotot and his foster children were transported to Semarang and later continued their journey by ship from Tawali to Jakarta. On the ship, as recorded in the series of photos kept in the National Archives, Kotot remained giving school lessons to the children. A performance was also staged by those children coming from Yogyakarta's orphanage.

In Jakarta, Kotot continued his endeavor in theatrics along with Basuki Effendy, Soerjono or Pak Kasur, and I Gde Wajanseken, a renowned Balinese dance teacher. "They were a quartet that organized children's plays, radio plays, Balinese dances, and many more," wrote Aneka, 20 April, 1952.

Kotot also published a novel entitled Bengawan Solo. However, there was a new world he dedicated himself to, which put his name on the map: the film industry.

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Closing the Gap of Information

Since 1949, Kotot Sukardi had worked at the State Film Company or PFN (now State Film Production) which produced news, documentaries, educational, and informational films. As a senior in the theatrics, Kotot played an important role in that company under the auspices of the Ministry of Information. Mimbar Penerangan magazine reported some of Kotot's activities during that time.

At the end of 1952, Kotot was in North Sumatra with Max de Haas, a Dutch filmmaker specially invited by the Ministry of Information. They both toured around Karo, Prapat, Sibolga, and Balige to make a news film about Tapanuli. News films, or commonly called Gelora Indonesia, usually presented important events around the country. A year later, Kotot was in the Maluku Islands for a similar program.

In 1954, Kotot from PFN went to Prague to represent Indonesia in the Karlovy Vary Film Festival which took place from 5 to 24 July, for which Indonesia sent the films Pulang (1952) and Dari hutan kehutan . During its screening at the festival, Pulang, directed by Basuki Effendy, received a standing ovation from the audience and even won an award.

In response to criticism directed to Pulang, Kotot argued that Indonesia's film industry was still growing, and while at it, the lack of tools and experts in technical matters was the obvious stumbling block for further development.

“For instance, in washing film, sometimes we have to use our hands. And because we only have one microphone, every time a conversation takes place, the microphone must be moved from one speaker to another, which sometimes causes 'pauses' between the dialogues. In PFN's film studio in Polonia, we still had to use old equipment, some of which came from Belgium, France, Australia, or other countries," said Kotot, as quoted by Antara on 29 July 1954.

Kotot Sukardi working on his documentary in the remote regions of Indonesia, from Mentawai to Maluku. (Perpusnas RI).

In 1955, Kotot worked on Ayo Memilih (Let's Vote) and Mbok Ijah Turut Memilih (Mbok Ijah Also Votes), two short films made for campaign purposes and disseminating information regarding the general elections to be held in 1955.

“I forgot why but after the shooting process, Mr. Kotot was unable to complete the final stage. Maybe at that time he fell ill, or most likely he had to go to Canada. But what was very true was the task was then assigned to me,” wrote Soemarmo, who at that time was working at the Ministry of Information, in Soemarmo, Pejuang Tanpa Tanda Jasa.

The trip to Canada that Soemarmo mentioned was a training program organized by the Colombo Plan. According to the National Film Board Mat Release No. 6 on 28 April 1955, Canada received 260 delegates from South and Southeast Asian countries for training in various fields. Kotot himself took part in the training on film-making techniques held by the Canadian National Film Council.

After that, Kotot was entrusted to work on a documentary about Ki Hadjar Dewantara. "In an effort of the State Film Company to document Indonesian national figures, another film unit under the leadership of Kotot Sukardi is currently working on a documentary about the struggle of Ki Hadjar Dewantara, a national figure who is familiar to the Indonesian people," wrote Mimbar Penerangan in August 1956.

The working process was apparently quite time-consuming, and, unfortunately, very little information was known about the film production. In the book Menggali Butir-butir Mutiara Museum Dewantara Kirti Griya, Suharto mentioned that there was a film owned by Dewantara Museum titled Ki Hadjar Dewantara, Pahlawan Nasional, and it was made by PFN in 1960. The movie was a 33mm film with a running time of 80 minutes.

In between working on films, Kotot led the Indonesian delegation at the Asian Film Festival in Peking (now Beijing), China in 1957. There were two films that he brought, namely Djajaprana (1955) by Kotot Sukardi and Tjorak Dunia (1955) by Bachtiar Siagian.

The film Djajaprana, which was based on a Balinese folklore, was nominated for the Golden Bear award at the 8th Berlin International Film Festival in 1958. The Golden Bear was eventually awarded to the Swedish film Smultronstället by Ingmar Bergman, an internationally acclaimed film director.

A year later, a film directed by Kotot entitled Indonesian Dances was screened in the Season of Ballet Films at the National Film Theatre, London, England. "He showcased three Indonesian dances, presented in a simple and tasteful manner on a black background that showed the body lines and limbs of the dancers perfectly," wrote Ballet Today in 1959.

Besides working on informative films, Kotot immersed himself in story films, especially films that lighted the story of children.

<div class="strect-width-img width70"><figure><div><img src="" alt="img"></div><figcaption>Kotot Sukardi with Ki Hadjar Dewantara during the making of his film. (Perpusnas RI).</figcaption></figure></div>

Unraveling the World of Children

As a film funding company, PFN produced various films, from news, documentary, educational and informative films, to story and entertaining films. Its first production was titled Inspektur Rachman (1950) and was directed by Nawi Ismail.

"We saw that the production was handled by someone new to the film industry, but was a seasoned figure in theatrics and a familiar face in the Cultural Center and POSD during the Japanese era, namely Kotot Soekardi," wrote Armijn Pane in Tjerita Film Production in Indonesia.

After getting to know the ins and outs of film, Kotot went on as the screenwriter and director for the film Si Pintjang (1951). In line with his idealism, the film narrates the story of children who were victims of the war, with roles played by children who suffered from the actual war. His son, Nurdjojo Kotot, was also involved in the film production.

According to Antara on 10 June 1952, Si Pintjang was inspired by Kotot's experience in organizing and leading Barisan P in Yogyakarta. Most of the cast in the film also consisted of children from Barisan P. "Si Pintjang, a film made in 1950, was finished in 2 months and the cost of production was Rp250,000."

Soed M. in his review on Minggu Pagi, 9 March 1952 said that the involvement of the children from Taman Pengharapan dormitory fostered by Kotot Sukardi enabled this film to intimately capture the reality at that time.

“Some of the children were in junior high school. The emotions of grief and joy, innocence, playing around, mocking, all are described by the children through their daily habits as abandoned children. With that, regisseur Kotot Sukardi wanted to bring his story into a more realistic portrayal, like what Italian regisseur Fitorio de Sicca did in the making of the film Ladri di Baciellette," Soed wrote.

Kotot Sukardi was also known as a children's educator. (Perpusnas RI)

Si Pintjang opens with a statement shown on the screen describing Kotot Sukardi's intention in making the film as his personal goal: “This story was written as a tribute and an expression of condolences to the children who were victims of the ferocity of colonialism and war, as well as a homage to them who had opened their hearts to those children.”

In the film, Kotot also featured some documentary footage showing cities that were destroyed during wartime and queues of child refugees living on the streets.

This 67-minute film, later hailed as a pioneer of children's films in Indonesia, was included in the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and was screened around Czechoslovakia.

"Si Pintjang, the only Indonesian film shown at the International Film Festival in Prague, received a special honorary prize at the closing of the festival: a certificate for Kotot Sukardi and PFN," wrote Minggu Pagi, 10 August 1952.

Usmar Ismail in Usmar Ismail Mengupas Film extended his appreciation for Kotot and remarked that Si Pintjang was a movie with profound meaning, as it can involve children as actors effectively. However, Usmar, who directed Darah dan Doa, highlighted Kotot’s inability to let go of the influence of the Japanese-era propaganda play, thereby destroying the social tendencies he was trying to convey.

Film historian Salim Said proposed a different opinion. In Pantulan Layar Putih: Film Indonesia dalam Kritik dan Komentar, Salim said that Kotot Sukardi didn't concern himself anymore with the grandiose ideas about the fruit of independence. Instead, his goal was simple, to voice the life of the neglected children that had to experience the horrors of war they didn’t understand.

“Among those ex-combatants who were starting to betray their own ideals, all Kotot Sukardi asked for was more attention for the children who were abandoned due to the revolution. The fire of hope that once was fiercely blazing, was getting dimmer due to the reality that was starting to get too far from the initial dream," said Salim.

<div class="flex-content-podcast"><figure class="img-left"><div><img src="" alt="img"></div><figcaption>Kotot Sukardi directing child actors in one of his films. (Perpusnas RI)</figcaption></figure><div class="img-right"><div class="podcast-container"><img alt="person" class="entered loaded" data-ll-status="loaded" src=""><div class="audio-podcast"><audio controls controlsList="nodownload"><source src="" type="audio/mpeg">Your browser does not support the audio element.</audio></div></div><div class="caption"><span><b>Satrya Wibawa</b><br>UNAIR’s cinema studies expert. (</span></div></div></div>

In terms of children's films, Kotot didn't stop at Si Pintjang. He also wrote the story and screenplay for the film Si Melati (1954), which was directed by his student and colleague, Basuki Effendy.

In 1958, Kotot worked on the film Lajang-lajangku Putus which tells the dream of a child who is chasing a kite from Mentawai to Ambon, and also Tiga-Nol, a film that centers on a football game that depicts diverse human natures. Meanwhile in 1961, he directed Dibalik Dinding Sekolah which was based on a play he wrote during the revolution about the children from impoverished families who had to work at school age.

I Gusti Agung Ketut Satrya Wibawa, a lecturer at Airlangga University Surabaya, in his research on children's films for his dissertation entitled "Constructing the Nation: Children and Representation in Indonesian Cinema" found that Si Pintjang developed a narrative for children's films that was quite influential at its time.

"What Kotot did, structuring the narration then forming the construction of children’s life at that time, had influenced the other films," said Satrya.

As the first children's film, Si Pintjang impacted the children's films produced after it. Satrya took the example of Djenderal Kantjil (1958) by director Nya Abbas Akup. "The narration was more or less the same even though the film was produced by a different person, whose political affiliation was the opposite of Kotot's," said Satrya.

In contrast with Si Pintjang, Kotot's films produced at the end of the 1950s until the end of 1960s were no longer talking about the big political theme. For instance, movies like Layang-layangku Putus, Tiga-Nol and Kantjil Mentjuri Timun were believed to be examining problems in the children's world itself. However, this assumption was only concluded from the film's synopsis, as the celluloids were nowhere to be found. Possibly, each film's story wasn't as simple as what was described in its synopsis.

"Even though the film can be categorized as a children's film based on the synopsis alone, if we consider the historical record, films such as Layang-layangku Putus were required to be recensored at that time," added Satrya.

The celluloid of Si Pintjang by Kotot Sukardi in Sinematek, Jakarta. (Fernando Randy/Historia.ID)

Backing the Conception

During that era, artists who associated themselves with politics were very common, and Kotot Sukardi was no exception. His political orientation was basically influenced by his circle and experience during the national movement, the Japanese occupation, and the revolution era.

In 1952, along with ten other people, Kotot was chosen as one of Indonesia's delegation in the preparation for the Asia-Pacific Peace Conference in Peking. "Indonesia's peace supporters decided on 10 April to send a delegation to Peking as preparation for the conference," Daily News Release wrote in 1952. The event itself was held from 2 until 12 October 1952.

However, that decision was impeded. On 9 November 1951, Attorney General R Soeprapto sent a letter to Prime Minister Sukiman Wirjosandjojo prohibiting the departure of Indonesia's delegation to the Conference because they were deemed as pro-communist. However, it seemed that Komite Perdamaian Indonesia (Indonesian Peace Committee) led by Setiadi Reksoprodjo ignored the government's ban.

In fact, Kotot was chosen not as a PFN's member but as an educator. On the contrary, the other delegation were members of organizations that were associated with Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), such as Werdojo from Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia (Indonesian Labour Central Organization or SOBSI), A.S. Dharta from Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (Institute for the People's Culture or Lekra), and Suwarti from Gerakan Wanita Indonesia Sadar (Movement of Conscious Indonesian Women or Gerwis), and Sidik Kertapati from Sarekat Tani Indonesia (Indonesian Peasant Union).

In September 1952, Kotot was present at the establishment of the permanent committee of Gelanggang Kesenian, a literary body initiated by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Basuki Resobowo, two artists who later became prominent in Lekra. Kotot later joined the committee as one of the members.

His roles in various organizations were indeed not pivotal. Despite that, his name frequently appeared in the discussions relating to the national film industry. Kotot was also listed as a founder of Parfi (Indonesian Film Artists Association) which was initiated by Djamaluddin Malik and Usmar Ismail, and was established in SBKA Building Manggarai Jakarta on 10 March 1956.

The association was created as an effort to counter the flood of imported films. That situation also prompted Djamaluddin and Usmar Ismail to establish Persatuan Perusahaan Film Indonesia (the Association of Indonesian Movie Production Companies or PPFI) two years prior. PPFI was very vocal in criticizing the situation surrounding the national film industry and pointing out the lack of support from the government. At the height of their exasperation, on 19 March 1957, PPFI–particularly the owners of big studios–concurrently shut down the operation of their studios.

Kotot was not only active in the film industry. He suggested puppetry to be a means of disseminating information. (Perpusnas RI).

These collective actions provoked backlash from several organizations and filmmakers. Sarekat Buruh Film dan Sandiwara (Film and Play Workers' Union or Sarbufis), who was affiliated with SOBSI, expressed their animosity over the shutdown action, to the point of asking the government to step in. On the other hand, Kotot considered PPFI's decision as a mere empty threat. He believed PPFI wouldn't just simply close their studios as it would cause a huge loss to them.

The protest ended two months later, but the problems in the film industry persisted. In PPFI, there was a tension between the supporters of the President's Conception and the group that opposed the idea of artists being involved in politics.

On 21 February 1957, Sukarno issued the President's Conception that objected liberal democracy and became the genesis of guided democracy. The conception received mixed reactions from the artists. Kotot himself was one of the artists who was upfront in supporting the conception.

The backing from the artists was marked by the issue of 4 March 1957 Document, which was named after the date of the meeting where it was concluded. The statement that expressed their support was signed by painter Henk Ngantung, writer Pramoedya, and film director Kotot Sukardi, and was delivered to Sukarno by approximately 40 artists at the Merdeka Palace two days after the signing. Pramoedya was entrusted to read the document before Sukarno.

Walujadi Tur in the article published by Harian Rakjat on 7 March 1957 mentioned that the president warmly welcomed the enthusiastic support from the artists. Sukarno affirmed that the presence of the artists were able to strengthen the conception he was pushing, calling it as a mental revolution for Indonesia.

According to Misbach Yusa Biran in Peran Pemuda dalam Kebangkitan Film Indonesia, the ideas proposed in the President's Conception immediately drew various responses from the political arena. However, the President's Conception never obliged anyone to pledge their support, nor silenced whoever refused to do so. "The only filmmaker that was starting to be attacked was RM Soetarto, the director of PFN." The reason was because Soetarto didn't send a cameraman to record the President's Conception demonstration on 24 February as a news film, and because PFN didn't raise the Red-and-White flag on the first day the President's Conception was announced. "In actuality, there was no requirement to raise the Red-and-White flag on that day. It was then revealed that R.M. Soetarto was close with PSI (Indonesian Socialist Party) and Bung Hatta."

The clash was getting more obvious after the "Film Artists and Political Party" symposium held by Persatuan Pers Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film Press Association or Perpefi) at the Auditorium of University of Indonesia on 8 September 1957. Tan Sing Hwat, Sarbufis' representative, stepped in as the supporter of the "film actors involved in the politics".

"It was true that the symposium wasn't directly followed by launching any attack against their enemies, but our film history has entered a new period, which is 'a period of political strife'," wrote Misbach.

Kotot was absent from the symposium, yet his name was mentioned several times in the forum. "Warganegara Dhalia, Kotot Sukardi, Bachtiar Siagian and the others indeed have a right to carry out political activities, but their capacity while doing those political activities is not by any means as a 'film artist'."

Akin to Pramoedya, Kotot's closeness with the left-leaning artists brought him closer to the organizations of similar direction. He became a part of Lekra's Central Leadership based on the result of the National Congress on 24-29 January 1959 in Solo, Central Java. He was also the vice chair of Lembaga Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film Institute) under the auspices of Lekra, member of Panitia Sensor Film (Film Censorship Committee) representing Lekra, and member of Pleno Sarbufis.

Despite all those affiliations, Kotot was still open to collaborate with other artists whose direction in politics was different from his. Particularly, he helped Djamaluddin Malik, who was the founder and chairman of Lembaga Seniman Budayawan Muslimin Indonesia (Lesbumi), Nahdlatul Ulama's cultural organization, during the making of Holiday in Bali (1962).

Holiday in Bali was a fruit of collaboration between Perseroan Artis Indonesia (Persari), a film studio established by Djamaluddin, and a Philippines company, Sampaguita Pictures. The color film that tells the love story across the nations was directed by film director Tonny Cayado and Misbach Yusa Biran.

According to Misbach Yusa Biran in Kenang-kenangan Orang Bandel, working on this film gave him a lot of opportunity to work closely with Kotot Sukardi, as they stayed in the same room for two months during the shooting process in Ubud, Bali.

"Mr. Kotot was appointed by Mr. Djamal as an adviser on affairs relating to Bali. The reason was Mr. Kotot knew a lot about the island because he was once a teacher at Taman Siswa Bali. But I'm sure that it was just Mr.Djamal's tactic to ensure that the filming process wouldn't be disrupted by the leftists. It was understandable, since the Philippines was the United States' close ally, which was despised by PKI," said Misbach.

The Passing of Mr. Kotot

Until the very end of his life, Kotot was known as a PFN figure. He took up a crucial role that allowed him to decide which films PFN would produce.

He also filled the position of director at Dinas Film Cerita (Difta) PFN, but when PFN was restructured by the Minister of Information Maladi (1959-1962), Difta was merged and Kotot lost his position. "Then, Kotot Sukardi was unable to make story films until his passing," wrote MS Biono in the obituary published by Minggu Pagi on 8 December 1963.

Kotot's positions also constantly changed. Written in the decree of the Minister of Information on 31 January 1963, Kotot was listed as a staff member of the audio visual department. Two months later, he was assigned as a staff member of the Directorate of Planning Affairs (story and scenario division) and Supervision.

"He was obviously disappointed. He was discontented, because his wishes and plans were stalled by the bitter truth. He always missed his old times in PFN's Dinas Film Cerita. He wanted to give more to the children and to the revolution, but the harsh reality has prevented him!" wrote MS Biono.

Nevertheless, Kotot was an artist with infinite talents. His life was always attached to the world of theater. At the end of the 1950s, his play Toeroet Sama Amat was adapted into a play entitled Turut Sama Sukardi. Kotot also worked on a four-act play titled Bung Tjipto which was published in a series by Pesat magazine. The last part of the play was published by Pesat on 10 June 1964.

Other than that, his visit to Canada in 1955 had him produce a children's puppet play. As he explained in Varia magazine on 25 April 1963, Kotot believed that Indonesia, who has puppetry traditions such as wayang kulit, wayang golek, and si gale-gale puppet, needs to ardently develop the local puppetry.

Kotot Sukardi pictured laughing on the set of one of his films. (Perpusnas RI).

"Due to its appeal, puppetry can be used not only as entertainment but also as a tool for disseminating information and education. Particularly, if it was handled by educated puppeteers, told through a focused story, and performed by the puppet characters created by the experts. If it happens, puppetry will surely become a meaningful part of Indonesian art life," wrote Kotot.

In the film industry, Kotot's ideas never ceased. MS Biono reminisced about his last encounter with Kotot in which Kotot was passionately talking about film. At that time, Kotot was preparing a color documentary movie about people, nation, and Indonesian revolution, which would be brought into the New York World’s Fair 1964. Kotot also planned to produce a film about the liberation of West Irian, and already completed the story script.

"Until his passing, I didn't know the progress regarding that plan of his. However, it is for sure that the late Kotot left this mortal world with a stack of unfinished works," wrote MS Biono.

Kotot Sukardi passed away in Jakarta on Saturday, 21 November 1963 at the age of 47 and was buried in Karet. His funeral was attended by Lekra figures such as Joebaar Ajoeb, Njoto, Bakri Siregar, and Agam Wispi, as well as other filmmakers namely Bachtiar Siagian, Basuki Effendy, and Tan Sing Hwat.

The death of Kotot Sukardi was also a great loss to the Indonesian children, as perfectly reflected through the obituary published in children magazine Kutilang. "Kids, there was shocking and saddening news about the sudden passing of Mr. Kotot on 22 November 1963."

"Kids, you all must have known who Mr. Kotot was."

"Mr. Kotot was a film writer and the writer of children's plays, and lately also a writer of a children's puppetry play that has been aired on television several times," wrote Kutilang.

Kotot died two years before the G30s incident broke out. His friends, Bachtiar Siagian, and his student, Basuki Effendy, were exiled to Buru Island, while Tan Sing Hwat was prohibited from making any artistic works, forcing him to work as a bemo driver for a living. Although Kotot was already gone, the memory about him was unmistakably blown out of the water.

The Shrinking Celluloids

There was a great amount of legacy that Kotot Sukardi left behind after his death. Katalog Film Indonesia 1926-2007 compiled by JB Kristanto listed several of Kotot's story film including Sepandjang Malioboro (1951), Si Pintjang (1952), Djajaprana (1955), Lajang-Lajangku Putus (1958), Ni Gowok (1958), Tiga-Nol (1958), Kantjil Mentjuri Timun (1959) and Melati Dibalik Terali (1961).

Kotot also wrote the stories and scripts for films that were directed by both his students and colleagues alike, with titles including Si Mientje (1952), Si Melati (1954), Sampai Berdjumpa Kembali (1955), Sajem (1961), and Dibalik Dinding Sekolah (1961).

Despite appearing in a great number of film titles, the physical traces of his masterpieces practically vanished. Satrya blamed it on the list of films that was issued by the Department of Information in 1969. On that list, Ni Gowok and Tiga-Nol were included in the category of "suspended", or would only be allowed to be distributed after a re-censorship.

"Layang-Layangku Putus was categorized as "considered" for distribution. "Considered" means there was an issue regarding the film's content. Si Pintjang itself was categorized as “must be destroyed”," said Satrya. Satrya assumed that Si Pintjang was able to be documented at Sinematek due to the good relationship between Kotot and the founders of Sinematek, Misbach Yusa Biran.

<div class="strect-width-img width70"><figure><div><img src="" alt="img"></div><figcaption>Firdaus, Sinematek’s celluloid film archivist. (Fernando Randy/Historia.ID)</figcaption></figure></div>

According to Firdaus, Sinematek's technician who documents and maintains celluloid films, when he started working at Sinematek in 1996, he found Si Pintjang at the storage room and it already suffered substantial damage. The celluloid tape had shrunk and corrugated, the perforation was torn, and there was acidic liquid released from it.

"It (the celluloid) has crystallized. The varnish has torn, the film has also turned diagonal due to high pH level, causing it to be acidic and corrugated," explained Firdaus. Fortunately, the film has been digitized although there was a missing part nearing the end of the film.

Aside from Si Pintjang, Sinematek Indonesia also kept several others of Kotot's works, which mostly have deteriorated. The celluloid tape of Djajaprana was brittle and warped. The perforation was also torn. Si Melati, on the other hand, was 70% in good condition despite the images showing minor, sometimes deep, scratches.

So far, there is no other Kotot's film that can be found. The only well-kept ones are the synopsis and brief description which prove the existence of films made by the filmmaker Kotot Sukardi in the middle of the country's vast silver screen industry.

If in 1956 Sukarno suggested the filmmakers come to Kotot Sukardi whenever they were short of story ideas, to whom else should they go today, Sir?

Kotot Sukardi finally obtained recognition through the awarding of Satya Lencana Kebudayaan in 2015 for his contribution as the pioneer of children's films. However, his name was very much comparable to footage of film that didn't pass the censorship as portrayed in the film Cinema Paradiso (1988). The fragments of memory about him can only be cut and arranged by those who are willing to recall it from their remembrance. That collection of fragments eventually weaved a stretched, yet significant, string of memory tape connecting the crippling history of Indonesian film, projecting a montage of Kotot Sukardi.*

Translation by:
Prihandini Anisa
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