Meet I’in Purwanti: A Berkshires-based documentary filmmaker who keeps Indonesia close to her heart



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WEST STOCKBRIDGE — As a child in Indonesia, I’in Purwanti was the ringleader of a band of pint-sized private investigators. 

“My childhood was very adventurous,” Purwanti says.  “I wanted to be a detective.  I read a lot of detective books so I would tell my friends every Sunday, ‘hey we need to go solve a mystery!’ 

“And then we would go out and find things and get into trouble.” 

"The Famous Five" series of mid 20th-century children detective books by British writer Enid Blyton gave her inspiration for their games in their poor, working class neighborhood in the large city of Solo in Central Java.  

She is now a documentary filmmaker in West Stockbridge.  From their house next to the Williamsville sign on Rt. 41 and Water Street, she and her husband George Cox run the Outpost production company. 

But her homeland is still very much a part of her life: from the extra spicy hot sambal bakso and sticky sweet ketjap manis in her food drawer to the Indonesian Country Fair she organizes. 

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“I want people to learn about the pluralism of Indonesia, the diversity,” 40-year old Purwanti says about that fair, held this year on September 23rd in the new Turn Park in West Stockbridge.  “People hear about Indonesia maybe from Fox or CNN and that might give them negative ideas.  I want to show them the positive. 

“For instance, I am from Solo, so I am Muslim,” she continues.  “But we have syncretism, we combine the religion with the old, traditional beliefs.  My grandfather practiced Islam, but he also still did offerings [to the local Gods] every morning when I was a kid.  With an egg and little bowls of red and white porridge and chicken. Under the bed.” 

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Her childhood home had bamboo walls, a dirt floor and terracotta roof shingles that made for a noisy racket every time the tropical rains came.   

Purwanti describes a lively neighborhood – “busy 24/7” – with small entrepreneurial metal- and other workshops and food stalls that filled the air with the smells of fried foods and steaming coconut rice.   Her father Purnomo was a construction worker.  Her mother Dasanti made sure that the chicken curry recipe accompanying this Accents-episode is the authentic family recipe. 

Their daughter I’in (pronounced E’in) became one of a relative few kids with her background to graduate from the University of Indonesia in the capital Jakarta.  Family and neighbors chipped in what they could to help her finance her degree in English literature.  

“I never wanted to be a filmmaker, I wanted to be a community organizer,” she says, referring with gratitude to the collective neighborhood effort to help her. 

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After graduating, she worked for the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation and became a “fixer” for foreign journalists needing access and insights into her country.  That’s how she met the American documentary photographer Andrea Star Reese.  Helping Reese finish a documentary brought her to America for the first time in 2001. 

She moved here permanently in 2007, obtaining a Masters degree in writing, directing and documentary making at the City University of New York (CUNY).  She met her husband and in the summer of 2011  they found the Berkshires and founded Outpost a few months later. 

Making a documentary is not unlike the detective work she practiced as a kid, Purwanti agrees.

“I am curious about so many things,” she says.  “I always want to know why it is that people think the way they think.“ 

And she also draws a connection between the sense of community she grew up with in her busy Solo neighborhood and the quiet, tiny Williamsville enclave where she and George and their three-year-old son Rya now live. 

“Everybody knows each other by name, people just come by to ask if they can play with Rya,” she says.  “I just feel so happy when neighbors will text me or knock on my door.”


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