The Curtain Falls on a Stellar Staging of Literature and Language by Renee Thorpe

Origins was the theme of this year’s gathering of explorers, poets, entertainers, activists and storytellers.  Conversations touching on the universal concepts of where we come from and where we are going, ran through every event.

As in festivals past, the audience was witness to moments of brilliance and revelation.  “A sense of wonder,” “beautiful” and “magic” were sincere answers to this reporter’s queries for participants’ assessments.  Writers and guests dropped salient tidbits about their sources of inspiration, their successes, and a few secrets; somehow this year delved just a bit deeper.

Animator Pierre Coffin, director of the wildly popular Despicable Me and Minions films, revealed his love of the melodies and emotional tones of language, in a story of how he came to choose the minions’ vocabulary. Finding melancholy in Italian, one little yellow chap utters “spaghetti” in a run of syllables expressing sadness, while Coffin looked to his happy Indonesian roots to make “terima kasih” the best words for a moment of minion gratitude.

Coffin’s mother, prolific feminist author Nh. Dini (Nurhayati Srihardini Siti Nukatin) graciously received the Festival’s Lifetime Achievement award. There were many acknowledgements of mothers, including Nature, who seemed to heed organizers prayers and cease all rainfall and even to quiet the steaming volcano. Festival Founder and Director Janet deNeefe nodded to a large outdoor canopy and said she took every precaution for inclement conditions, from organizing evacuation procedures to making pleas to higher powers.

“This festival was born out of a tragedy in the 2002 Bali bombing,” deNeefe said, “and we are used to existing amidst chaos.  The recent events remind me of that essential quality of writers, solidarity.  I want to thank everyone for being very Balinese about this festival: showing up is all that’s required.”

Many festivalgoers thronged a session where tables were turned to one of its veteran interviewers, regional political commentator Michael Vatikiotis. Another seasoned researcher, American professor Janet Steele, asked Vatikiotis about his extraordinary career being a confidante to Asian leaders and political insiders.

Michael launched Blood and Silk, his new book tracing the origins of political and economic muscle and bone of south east Asian nations. Former US Consul Stanley Harsha declared it a fully accessible must-read for expats, firmly placed in the canon of cultural texts such as Beauty is a Wound (Eka Kurniawan) and Tikam Samurai (Makmur Hendrik).

If ever there was an up-close and personal literary festival, it’s Ubud’s. Book signings were chatty and fun, poetry readings were egalitarian affairs of laureates like Simon Armitage alongside virtual unknowns, and fan + idol selfies were actually encouraged. Even popular novelist Ahmad Fuadi (The Land of Five Towers) grabbed his camera to film impromptu reviews from his readers.

Origins opened a rich vein for audience fascination. Paul McVeigh’s self effacing chronicle of creating his book The Good Son brought appreciative laughs, while Marina Matahir’s accounts of her father’s ordeals with injustice and persecution were heartbreaking. There’s a source for everything, readers heard, whether it be a scheming rival or a mother with a crack sense of humor.

Sometimes a great story came across in music and other art forms. Eko Supriyanto’s masterpiece of movement, Balabala, stems from a West Halmahera war dance, but the world-famous choreographer and his team worked for more than 3 years with young Maluku dancers, perfecting its complex athletic movements.  What was once their ancestral warriors’ show of strength became, for festivalgoers at a nighttime Blanco Museum event, a powerful realization of the innate strength of women of all ages. The performance was part of a fundraising evening, curated by the UWRF for volcano evacuees.

In summary, the festival proved to be one of the very best in its 14 year lifetime thus far. 160 writers from 60 nations did not disappoint. Perhaps the most poignant words of tenderness towards a writer’s beginnings were heard through a microphone at the festival hub, at the lively free event, Rocking the Prejudice. Kerobokan Prison inmate and songwriter Febri, fronting the extraordinary prisoner rock band Antrabez, dedicated a song to his mother and father, simply adding, after a heavy pause, “I’m sorry.”