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Position Among The Stars

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DVD: Available Now
Consumer Advice:

Mild themes, violence & coarse language

Run Time:
111 minutes

Indonesian (English subtitles)


Leonard Retel Helmrich


The Sjamsuddin family

Web Links:

Official website

Sundance Film Festival Interviews: Part I, Part II



Now available to watch on beamafilm

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For 12 years, film maker Leonard Retel Helmrich followed an Indonesian family from the slums of Jakarta in the process creating the films Eye Of The Day and Shape Of The Moon (2005 Grand Jury Prize, Sundance & 2004 Joris Ivens Award, IDFA respectively).

With Position Among The Stars, the maker continues to show us the underlying patterns of life in Indonesia, both literally and metaphorically with his revolutionary camera work. The Sjamsuddin family is the microcosm of the most important issues of life in Indonesia: corruption, conflict between religions, gambling addiction, the generation gap and the growing difference between poor and rich.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and also has the largest Muslim population. The grandmother Rumidjah, a confessed Christian, has left the bustle of Jakarta to live with her friend Tumisa in the countryside. Her son Bakti, who has converted to Islam, takes care of her grandchild Tari. Bringing up his Tari is hard for him, so Bakti brings his mother back to town.

However, Tari grows up in a time when young people have become much more open and she does not hide her opinions. This behaviour regularly brings her into conflict with the older generations. The problems faced by the Qatari family make the old woman decide to stay in town until Tari has finished her secondary school and can study at university. The whole family regards the bright Tari as their only opportunity of improving their own status and ever being able to escape the slums of Jakarta. Bakti’s job as district chief doesn’t earn much, as a result of which he trains fighting fish to gamble with on the side.

While the whole family does all it can to collect enough to pay the college fees for Tari’s study, Tari prefers to spend her time and money with her girlfriends in the nightlife of Jakarta. Her friends from secondary school also bring her into contact with the nouveau riche of Indonesia, which is miles away from her life in the slums. Will Rumidjah managed to allow her granddaughter to study in this economic crisis?


The Hollywood Reporter - Kirk Honeycutt

Helmrich has observed the Shamshuddin family living in a Jakarta slum for a dozen years to make his cinema verite saga. While the tumultuous changes that have rocked Indonesian society swirl around the family, of course, more than anything Rentel Helmrich has intimately captured a family in transition as they adjust to bewildering gaps in education, outlook, religion and even class among three generations jammed into cramped quarters.
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Hammer To Nail - Pamela Cohn

The two-hour installment of this saga is told through vivid imagery that is captured with exhilarating camera movements—graceful, playful, light on its feet like the most lithe and weightless prima ballerina. As a viewer, you cannot feel but deeply connected to these people with an immediacy that will take your breath away. Because of this intuitive way of shooting, this proximity that goes beyond “intimate access,” it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve known the Sjamsuddin family for the past decade, or whether you’ve just spent ten minutes with them. There is a vested tension in every aspect of filmmaking that is exciting, immediate, organic, a sure-fire rhythm to the pulse and beat of lives lived from moment to moment. Just as certain stars are given significance in the night sky due solely to their orientation to one another and the rest of the orbiting planetary hit parade, so too do we get to spend time with certain pinpoint individuals in the swirling stream of life due to an expert storyteller and craftsman like Helmrich.
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At The Cinema - Julian Buckeridge

The last part in Leonard Retel Helmrich’s decade-in-the-making trilogy is an affectionate finale for the series’ subjects: the Sjamsuddin family in Indonesia. Bakti and his mother, Rumidjah, have been the central stars of the trilogy since The Eye of the Day in 2001, which followed them in the period of national unrest following President Suharto’s resignation. This was succeeded by the 2004 film Shape of the Moon, where Bakti’s conversion to Islam and his young niece, Tari, were the firm focus, ending with Rumidjah retiring to her rural village.
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Slug Magazine - Angela H. Brown

This documentary was masterfully filmed. The director and cinematographer Leonard Retel Helmrich did a fine job of accurately displaying Indonesia in an artful way. "Position Among The Stars" captures the beauty in everyday reality such a city workers spraying down the slums of Jakarta with bug poisoning (it rids against Dengue Fever)... In 111 minutes of edited documentary footage, we see the lives of this family touch on many issues—globalization, preservation of native culture, education, religious clashes between Christianity and Muslim culture, xenophobia. "Position Among The Stars" is an intriguing look into the current obstacles one must overcome living in Jakarta today.
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