In 1996, Dian Sastrowardoyo became the ultimate Indonesian ‘It Girl’ after winning a famous modelling competition, Gadis Sampul. More than two decades later, Dian is known for her work as an actor, brand ambassador and social entrepreneur.

Colours met with Dian a week after she returned from her year-end holiday in Europe with husband Maulana Indraguna Sutowo and their two children. The star of Kartini said she is currently enjoying her work in film and social causes.

Dian said she wants to use her celebrity status to shine a spotlight on social issues that deserve attention. In 2011, just a year after her marriage, the Jakarta-born artist established Yayasan Dian Sastrowardoyo, demonstrating her commitment to work in culture, education and female empowerment. Every year the foundation launches different initiatives, from supplying textbooks and stationery to schools across the country, to publishing and performing arts. It also gives out scholarships annually to underprivileged students.

The foundation allows Dian to give something back. On a recent business trip to Sumba, Dian met with local weavers who produce high-quality fabrics, but her heart broke when she saw villagers suffering from the scarcity of basic necessities such as electricity and clean water. So many young children make a 20km trip every day just to get clean water for their families.

“Sumba is located in the central and southernmost part of Indonesia, but despite its vibrant culture and excellent traditional fabrics as a commodity, it’s one of the poorest provinces. They don’t even have access to clean water,” she said. “How do you even get good grades [at school] if you have to walk for hours every day just to get some water?”

Upon her return from the island, Dian set up a series of phone calls and meetings with her friends in the capital city and decided to hold an exhibition. To celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day in 2017, Dian hosted an exhibition called Lukamba Nduma Luri (Fabrics That Provide a Living) for which she brought hundreds of Sumba’s traditional fabrics to Jakarta.

“I also wanted to start a new trend by incorporating Sumba textiles into daily attire. For the whole month of August, I wore kain Sumba every day.”

The exhibition helped to bring exposure to the traditional art of hand weaving in Sumba. Dian said she still occasionally gets requests from Jakarta socialites who wish to buy more fabrics from Sumba weavers, months after the exhibition ended. Through its auction programme, the exhibition successfully raised IDR250 million for the Waterhouse Project.

“Our foundation does not have experience of working in Sumba, so we passed our money on to the Waterhouse Project. They keep extending their programmes to other villages in Sumba every year,” she said.

The money is being used to build clean water facilities at Wairinding village in East Sumba, which start operating this month

Apart from her activities with the foundation, Dian also runs a healthy food restaurant in Senayan City mall in South Jakarta called The MAM, and a photography start-up, Frame a Trip, with her colleagues. On top of all that, she is still keeping herself busy with acting. She is currently working on two films: a drama about friendship and a thriller/horror film. Both are set for release later this year.

As an actor, Dian said she is open to any kind of acting challenge. She looks up to US actor Meryl Streep for her ability to adapt to any kind of film.

“I don’t want to limit myself. I look up to Meryl Streep for being able to play in comedy, horror, thriller, drama. She was even funny and excellent as a faulty opera singer in the 2016 comedy Florence Foster Jenkins]. I want to expose myself to any role. I think that’s the great thing about being an actor.”

Dian is also looking for opportunities to enrich her skills. Last year, her foundation produced a short film based on Laut Bercerita (The Sea Speaks His Name), the latest book by journalist and film critic Leila Chudori. Dian starred in the short along with actors Reza Rahadian, Ayushita Nugraha and Tanta Ginting. The project was initiated by her manager, Wisnu Darmawan, but Dian said she is keen on learning more about filmmaking.

The film industry in Indonesia is notorious for being unpredictable, but Dian was delighted to see how good a year 2017 was for Indonesian movies.There were films like Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts and Turah that received recognition at international festivals. Also, for the first time in decades, 11 Indonesian films earned more than a million viewers in 2017.

Previously, it would be the case that only the best-selling Indonesian film of the year would earn one or two million viewers. She hopes this trend will continue.

“I remember being optimistic about our film industry only to see it crash because our audiences were only interested in hard-selling movies. Now we have ondemand platforms that allow access to any kind of content.”

Dian said she wants to start producing films. She has been browsing for online courses about film making that allow her to study after her children go to bed. However, her years of experience as an actor have taught her that the most challenging part of film producing is finding good scriptwriters.

“I think scriptwriting is the hardest part. In Indonesia, good scriptwriters are rare. Sometimes I also ask myself if I should just start to learn scriptwriting,” she laughed.

From Colours February 2018