This post was sponsored by Sun and Moon Films. All views and opinions are my own.
I was recently invited to a media conference call with the director and main star of the new film, Bali: Beats of Paradise – an original documentary that uncovers the cultural influence and tradition of Gamelan – Bali’s unique style of traditional music. This documentary film will show in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on November 16 and followed by one night only screening events in select cities across the country.
Bali: Beats of Paradise spotlights pioneering Indonesian composer, Nyoman Wenten, who spent most of his life spreading the beauty and mystery of Balinese music and dance across America. Shot mostly in Bali by director-producer Livi Zheng, the film encapsulates the brilliant scenery of the island as well as the authenticity of Balinese culture and Gamelan music. Known as the music of Indonesia, Gamelan (pronounced Gah-Meh-Lahn) typically uses bronze, iron, bamboo or wooden bars, as well as bronze and iron gongs, gong chimes, cymbals, bells, and two-headed drums to create a unique shimmering sound.
After 40 years of teaching Gamelan throughout America, and giving thousands of performances all over the world, Wenten wanted to leave something special behind before retiring to Bali. Coincidentally, Grammy Award-winning singer Judith Hill was looking for a distinctive sound for a new piece of music she was composing. She was intrigued by Gamelan music and approached Wenten to discuss the blending of musical styles.
As Hill and Wenten worked in the studio on “Queen of the Hill,” a song blending funk and Gamelan music, they wanted to take their collaboration one step further – a music video. As with the fusion of two musical styles, Hill and Wenten wanted the stark background of the desert with the beautifully colored traditional Balinese costumes. Shot in Southern California’s Joshua Tree Desert, the music video is a kaleidoscope of funk and traditional Balinese dance and costumes showcasing Hill’s ethereal vocals.
Here’s a short trailer of the movie:
Media Conference Call
During the media call, we were able to ask Livi Zheng, the director of the film, and Grammy Award-winning singer Judith Hill, some questions about the film. Here are some of the discussions that I wanted to share with you:
Moderator: For Livi, I know you touched on this in the film a bit. But why don’t you tell us just, in your own words now, how did the subject matter of the film first come to you? How did you… Was it the music video first or the documentary first? How did the project begin?
Livi Zheng: Okay. So, last year, the Indonesian Consulate asked me to film a Balinese Gamelan concert. So, I said yes because I love filming, I love filmmaking, film is my first love. And when I arrived at the concert, it was a full house and I saw how the audience reacted to the music. And it really inspired me to make this a feature film and make it something bigger. And then, so basically after the concert, I edited it. And then once the concert coverage on YouTube and it got really good feedback, we got press from all over. Internationally, as well. And it got quite a lot of views in a short amount of time and I really felt like, at the time, I have to make this a feature film. So, then I started the documentary, we went to Bali, filmed in Bali and then after that, along the way, I met Judith. So, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Judith Hill: Yeah. So, I met Livi for interesting reasons. I was also putting together this big show called The Golden Child. It’s a musical that basically brings culture together. And I was really… I’ve always been such a fan of Balinese Gamelan music and dance and so I was looking for unique collaborations where I can infuse different cultures and style. And I was introduced to Livi by a mutual friend and we just clicked immediately. And she told me about her documentary and how she’s doing this documentary on Balinese music and was also interested in collaboration of different styles of music so that’s kind of how we came together.
Livi Zheng: Yeah. So, Judith became a part of the documentary because… So, I introduced Judith to Wenten because Wenten is a Balinese dancer all over the U.S. He’s performed in Walt Disney Hall and he’s collaborated with a lot of artists and he also teaches in several universities, including UCLA and Harvard [PHONETIC]. So, Judith and Wenten met and Wenten has been in the U.S. for 40 years and he’s going to retire. And he wanted to leave a legacy. So then he had an idea to do a music video with Judith and have me direct it and that’s Queen of the Hill. So, he wanted a fusion between pop music and Balinese Gamelan with Balinese costumes and it’s very colorful and everything. And so the music video is already launched, it’s now on YouTube. It has over a million views and the music video Queen of the Hill is also featured in the documentary Bali: Beats of Paradise.
Moderator: Yeah. And I’m just kind of curious because Gamelan music was brand new to me and I really don’t know anything about Bali or Balinese culture and I’m just curious. Did you have to do any explaining? Was there any assumption that you were actually talking about Bollywood or anything like that? Like, Bali, the people. Was there any confusion? Was there a lot of educating involved?
Livi Zheng: Actually, Gamelan is Indonesian traditional music but Gamelan has influenced a lot of the pop culture. For example, do you know the film Avatar by James Cameron? It uses Gamelan. The Los Angeles Times wrote about this. And also, the TV show Star Trek used Gamelan, as well. The Nintendo game Mario Brothers also uses Gamelan. So, actually, you probably have heard Gamelan but you just haven’t seen it. A lot of composers… Actually, Judith went to college here and she actually learned about Gamelan. Right, Judith?
Judith Hill: Yeah.
Livi Zheng: And I wanted to learn it. And they teach it at MIT, they teach it in Harvard, they teach it in UCLA. A lot of schools have it and 49 out of the 50 states have a Gamelan program. But I think if you’re not a composer, maybe you’ve heard it but you don’t know it’s Gamelan. But actually, it’s in a lot of films and everything that uses Gamelan. That’s why I feel like I should tell the story just because it’s a treasure of Indonesia and I want to share this.
Moderator: And when you guys started to make the video, I’m curious, because it’s a little hard to gauge from the documentary. How long did it actually take you? I know you were in Joshua Tree for a while. But from the point of conception to the point of finishing the music video, how long was that process?
Livi Zheng: Actually, it wasn’t really that long. It was two weeks. It was two weeks because Wenten had to go to Bali and Judith had to go to… You were going to New York? Judith was touring. So, we basically had two weeks to make this happen. So, we recorded the Gamelan and the music and everything. And then we had to come up with a concept, put together the costumes, rehearse the dance. It all happened in two weeks. And then we basically only had one whole day in Joshua Tree. And then the next day, both Judith and Wenten left L.A. So, I basically only had one shot and one day to direct the music video.
Moderator: Okay. Wow. So, other than a tight timeline, what were some of the other challenges in making the video?
Livi Zheng: The whole process was pretty fun but we did shoot in the summer. So, you can imagine Joshua Tree in the summer and we filmed there the whole day. So, it gets very, very hot. And the Gamelan, if you put it under the sun too long, it may crack and there’s only one of these Gamelan that we have. So, when we transported it, it took three hours to transport it here, it’s like a whole… Gamelan is an ensemble so you cannot just use one and so you have to bring the whole ensemble that consists of [INAUDIBLE 00:20:16] and a whole bunch of instruments to Joshua Tree. So, we transported with a truck and it took three hours. And we… It can be broken but there’s only one of them. And then when we started rehearsal, we kind of wanted to make sure that the Gamelan doesn’t crack so we have to put it in the shade and keep moving it back to the sun when we need it. And then otherwise, we have to move it back to the shade. So, there was the worry that the weather could cause the Gamelan to crack and it was hard for people to be out that long. So, we had a lot of water and everything. But otherwise, it went pretty well and it was really fun and it turned out really good. We have over a million views so we’re really happy about that. Yeah.
Moderator: Everyone looks so beautiful in the video. You’d never know it was hot out. Nobody looks glistening or anything like that. It looks beautiful. So, yeah. And I thought, Judith, and for all the other women in the video, I thought the makeup was stunning. You guys all looked amazing. What was it like for you guys to be working on the documentary and the music video at the same time?
Livi Zheng: I think both the documentary and the music video kind of goes together. And it also goes together with Judith’s show The Golden Child that’s actually launching in December. Yeah, so it was just great because it started from one thing, just a casual introduction, to something bigger. And also now the film is officially competing for the Academy Awards. The rep just told me about it this week. So, it was pretty great because we just met casually and then now we have three projects basically together. So, it’s really great, in one year. So, yeah.
Moderator: And Livi, what advice would you share to encourage more women in film in the future?
Livi Zheng: I think if you have a dream, just go for it and don’t let… Like, let’s say, you want to make a film and the budget would be big. Don’t let budget be the obstacle. When I first did my film, my first feature film that I ever directed, I was going to shoot it with three crew and $10,000, basically. Because my brother is in film and I have a friend who’s in film that has a DSLR. So, we were going to shoot it, just the three of us, with $10,000 and we were going to make it happen. And we didn’t let the fact that, oh, we don’t have a million dollars or two million dollars to do the film, stop us. And if you decide to do something, people around you will see your passion and they will help.
Judith Hill: Well, same as with Livi. Just follow your passion and give it 120% every single day. I was lucky to work with a lot of different people and inspired by a lot of different people. But in my journey, every chapter I’ve learned that when you’re really true to yourself and you follow what your heart is telling you and you give it all, the stars will align and the doors will open up. And I think that it’s important also to be proficient and know how to do a lot of things and not rely upon other people to make things happen for you…. and so just keep pushing through no matter what happens. Rejection is another step to success, just as Livi was saying. I was inspired by what you were talking about. But I think the same thing. Every season there’s always a lot of rejection but you just keep going. And the most important thing is to do it because you have a message of love and you have something to give to the world and that stands the test of time.
For more information about this film, Bali: Beats of Paradise, go to their website @ http://balibeatsofparadise.com/ or go to their Facebook page.
All images used with permission from the sponsor.