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Film Review – Sokola Rimba (Jungle School)

Film poster for Sokola Rimba

Film poster for Sokola Rimba

I was delighted this week to attend a screening of the film Sokola Rimba (Jungle School) with a Q&A session with the anthropologist who set up the schooling initiative, Indonesian anthropologist Butet Manurung. The Jungle School is a full length feature film adapted from a book of the same name by Butet who wrote the book from the diaries she kept during her first years living in the jungle in Sumatra. In 1999, Butet joined the conservation NGO, WARSI, to lead their informal educational program for the indigenous Orang Rimba, (People of the Forest) who live in nomadic tribes in the rainforests of Jambi. The way of life and homeland of the Orang Rimba is under threat from deforestation and development. Her work in the jungle evolved into co-founding SOKOLA, a non-profit organization providing educational opportunities for marginalized people in remote areas of Indonesia. 

Actress Prisia Nasution did a great job as Butet in the film showing a great love, patience and compassion for the Orang Rimba. She is also exceptionally lovely to watch on the big screen. Like his previous works for the films “Atambua 39 Derajat” and “Laskar Pelangi,” Director Riri used indigenous cast members to play local characters. Another protagonist in the movie is Nyungsang Bungo, who plays himself as a young Orang Rimba man who thirsts for education. In the film he was restricted by the law of his local tribe from receiving a modern education but Bungo had a hunch that his people were being cheated by palm oil planation owners who force them to keep moving around.

Bungo’s character is inspired by Butet’s real student named Gentar. But since years have passed since she first worked as Gentar’s teacher, he is now too old to play himself in the movie. Butet has known Bungo since he began learning to walk and Bungo has a great affection for Butet which he shared with the audience through his interactions with the actress Prisia playing Butet.

I greatly enjoyed the film and was captivated throughout the duration. The indigenous children were truly delightful to watch. Riri also did a good job of portraying the doubts, fears and superstitions experienced by the village elders as the palm plantation and loggers encroached on their traditional lands.

Indigenous Orang Rimba film stars

Indigenous Orang Rimba film stars

Butet learnt the language of the Orang Rimba to be able to teach them in both their own language and Bahasa Indonesian. This did not come across to me in the film perhaps because my Indonesian is extremely rudimentary. The film is subtitled throughout and it was a pleasure to listen to Indonesian again after travelling through Malaysia and Indonesia at Christmas last year (lots of posts under the Travel menu). My children study Indonesian and it was their teachers that invited us to this film launch. I decided not to take my children because the film was in Indonesian and they would have struggled to read the subtitles.

The movie, directed by acclaimed Indonesian director Riri Riza, was released nationally throughout Indonesian cinemas in November 2013. The movie received The Piala Maya Award for best film of 2013 in Indonesia. It was screened at the International Environmental Film Festival in Washington DC and is on the program for the Indonesian Film Festival (IFF) in Australia this year. You can view the trailer here:

Butet Manurung, born lived in the jungles of Sumatra for 8 years on a quest to bring self determination, education and advocacy to indigenous tribes struggling to adapt to the loss of their jungle home to logging and development. As an educator and anthropologist, she kept journals of her experiences which were made into a book ‘Sokola Rimba’ (The Jungle School) in 2007. Butet has received numerous international awards including: Time Magazine: Hero of Asia 2004 and Ernst and Young, Social Entrepreneur of the year 2012.

Since 2003, SOKOLA has initiated programs in 13 different areas across Indonesia, which have benefited over 10,000 children and adults in isolated indigenous communities. In Jambi, SOKOLA developed an alternative education program that includes self advocacy, in order to meet the challenges of deforestation and outside encroachment. I’m very impressed by their work and I hope that the literacy charity I fundraise for ( will soon begin work in Indonesia.

Makeshift classroom in the forest

Makeshift classroom in the forest

After watching the film and hearing Butet speak in person I’m super keen to read her book and in line with our strategic consumption manifesto I have asked my local library to buy it rather than me buying it myself. This will mean more money for Sokola through the tiny amount paid in royalty each time it is borrowed from the library.

Other information:


8 comments on “Film Review – Sokola Rimba (Jungle School)

  1. Deni Robertson
    August 22, 2014

    Dalam filmnya Sokola Rimba saya merasa sangat senang untuk orang rimba karena mereka belajar membaca, menulis dan nomor-nomor tambahkan. Karakter saya favorit adalah Doctor Astrid karena percaya komunitas salah tentang orang rimba dan orang rimba lebih cerdas mengerti lingkungan. Tema menggambarkan efeknya transmigrasi, menghancurkan hutannya dan penyebaran perkebunan kelapa sawit. Dalam Indonesia orang rimba digambarkan minoritas sosial dan budaya. Orang yang tingal di hutannya menggambarkan tradisional aspek budaya.

  2. Butet
    August 25, 2014

    Saya menonton film itu di bioskop dengan sekolah saya. Ketika saya mendengar tentang film ini, saya tahu film itu terlihat tertarik. Saya suka cerita film dan saya suka karekter nama Butet and saya suka Orang Rimba, tetapi saya tidak suka Butan karena Butan tidak berpikir tentang Orang Rimba, hanya bisnisnya dan uang. Tema favorit saya ketika butet bertemu wanita Warung karena wanita Warung sangat lucu!

  3. The Real Butet
    August 25, 2014

    Saya menonton film itu di bioskop dengan teman-teman saya dari sekolah saya. Ketika saya mendengar tentang film ini, saya tahu film itu terlihat tertarik. Saya suka cerita film, karekter nama Butet dan Orang Rimba, tetapi saya tidak suka Butan karena dia tidak berpikir tentang Orang Rimba, hanya bisnisnya dan uang. Tema favorit saya ketika butet bertemu wanita dari Warung karena dia sangat lucu! I rekomendasi film itu ke anak-anak dari umur 10+ karena film itu memiliki beberapa tema yang rumit

    • strivetoengage
      August 25, 2014

      Terima kasih! I agree that the film is best suited to viewing by older children. I thought about taking my own children to see it but they are only 7 and 5 years old and I’m glad that I didn’t take them along because they would not have understood everything and their Indonesian language skills are not good enough for them to understand. I loved the character of Bungo too.

  4. Tayla Oliver
    August 27, 2014

    Saya menonton film Sokola Rimba dan saya suka film ini karena itu berdasarkan kisah nyata. Film ini tentang grup minoritas di Indonesia, transmigrasi, penebangan hutan dan perkebunan kelapa sawit pengembangan. Saya suka Butet karena dia membantu Orang Rimba dan mengajar anak-anak membaca, menulis dan berhitung. Dia tahu rimba adalah penting untuk mereka, jadi dia membantu mereka meneruskan hidup di rimba.

    • strivetoengage
      August 27, 2014

      Terima kasih. You make some good points about the themes of the film. Thanks for the comment!

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This entry was posted on May 7, 2014 by in Books & Ideas and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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