Becoming Cik San: A battle for gender identity
Becoming Cik San: A battle for gender identity

Becoming Cik San: A battle for gender identity

Thursday, September 14
By Vladan Petkovic

The first feature-length documentary project by the Indonesian filmmaker Riskya Duavania has received the IDFA Spotlight Award at Jakarta-based Docs by the Sea.

In this very personal documentary, 20-year-old Duavania develops an unexpected connection with an older person who inspired them to start their journey of self-discovery. 

Living with a family holding conservative Islamic and Javanese norms, Riskya (they/them) feels restricted and cannot be themselves. As they search for a role model to guide them, Riskya meets Cik San (she/they), a sixty-something second-hand merchant who lives alone at a small town’s flea market in Indonesia. With Riskya, Cik San shares her journey towards adulthood 40 years ago where she let go of the possibility of a stable life with her family to live freely as a trans woman. Looking up at Cik San has inspired Riskya to live independently and authentically as a person. In the moments they share, they start to perceive each other as a chosen family, but circumstances will complicate their relationship and the younger person will have to find their own answers.

“As a first-feature documentary director coming from Southeast Asia, making a personal film to seek social and family acceptance can be jarring,” says Duavania. “How to tell the audience a personal story that they can also feel personally?" 

Post awarding riskya

Riskya Duavania

“For me, Becoming Cik San is not only a project, it is a way to navigate adulthood through the guidance of my role model. Through meeting Cik San, I learned that I can be myself, discover my identity as a non-binary, seeing her like my mirror, the person I aspire to become. Knowing that Cik San can’t guide me forever, I must be brave to lead my own journey alone. Eventually, becoming Cik San also means becoming Riskya.”

Winning the IDFA Spotlight Award means that Duavania will receive a tailor-made program within IDFAcademy 2023 and have the chance to take part in the festival, with travel and accommodation expenses covered.

Becoming Cik San tells a story of self-discovery and longing for acceptance, universal themes that the filmmaker explores in a delicate and intimate way, infused with humor and guts,” says IDFA Deputy Director Isabel Arrate Fernandez, who gave out the prize at Docs by the Sea. “With the IDFA Spotlight Award we want to support this team, including producer Riani Singgih, in their commitment to carve out a space for individual freedom amidst a traditional society.”

“The IDFA Spotlight Award is not just a recognition of me, but also for the people in the same boat as me who are still struggling to find themselves,” says Duavania. “This award can be a good start for me to acknowledge a safe space and empower me further to be resilient in exploring my identity and be brave to show it through the film that I am making. Even if it's going to be a painful and risky challenge, I hope people can get inspired to start embarking on their self-discovery journey, and it can evoke questions for them about living authentically and the cost that may come with it.”