Livi Zheng: Bali Beats in Hollywood

For eight months, Blitar born film director and producer Livi Zheng has been shuttling between the US and Asia as she showcases Indonesian culture to the world.

Interview by Megiza

While her film Bali: Beats of Paradise is not scheduled for release in Indonesia until August 22, the story of Balinese gamelan master I Nyoman Wenten has already won the hearts of movie-goers from America to Korea and China.

It’s the story of a cultural marriage between gamelan, the traditional instrumental ensemble music of Java and Bali, and funk, which originated in African American communities in the US in the mid-1960s. Livi Zheng’s narrative has ensured the eyes of the world are now upon Indonesia, especially Bali.

However, the pinnacle of a successful movie career enjoyed by the director, who also happens to be a world champion athlete in the Chinese martial art of wushu, does not come easy. Her dream of bringing Indonesia to the world film industry was once underrated by many in Hollywood.

“Since day one, I intended Bali: Beats of Paradise for the international market, as Indonesians are already familiar with gamelan. The first time I shared this, people didn’t think that it was a good idea, but I stuck to my belief in the project,” Livi says.

A graduate of the University of Southern California, majoring in film and television
production, Livi reveals that her idea to make movies about gamelan began with a request from the Los Angeles office of the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia. They wanted her to make a teaser about a Balinese gamelan concert held in LA.

Initially, the concept was a short film telling the story of a professor and gamelan master who teaches at UCLA and the California Institute of Arts. As the process of movie-making went on, Livi decided to turn it into a full-length feature film.

Interestingly, big Hollywood films such as Avatar, Star Trek and Super Mario Bros. have all used gamelan on their soundtracks. Music subjects taught in leading universities including Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley also made Livi feel more confident that her movie would be well received.

The movie draws on the magic of Balinese backdrops, with Penglipuran village, Tanah Lot, Besakih Temple and Sading village all featured. A deal with a sponsor strengthened Livi’s confidence in the project.

Livi’s bright star seems to keep on shining. American singer-songwriter Judith Hill, who has worked with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, happened to be looking for a gamelan composer for a personal project.

A meeting between I Nyoman Wenten and Judith inspired Livi to put them together in her fifth movie.

“The response from America has been good, even though it is a very new art and culture for them. I think they are very interested. We were even invited for a screening at Disney, and now I have been recruited as the Walt Disney USA Consultant for Southeast Asia,” concludes Livi, adding that another two movies, , are coming soon. We can’t wait to see the next projects from this talented Indonesian director.The Santri and Sabai Nan Aluih