• Newsfeed
  • Google Doodle

Today Is the 97th Birthday of the Father of Indonesian Cinema. Here’s What You Should Know About Usmar Ismail

2 minute read

On what would have been his 97th birthday, a Google Doodle celebrates prolific film director and the father of modern Indonesian cinema Usmar Ismail.

Born in 1921 in what was then the Dutch East Indies, Ismail belonged to an aristocratic family and received an elite education.

Shortly after independence was declared in 1945, Ismail began making films, but was he briefly arrested by the Dutch forces after they discovered he was a major in the Indonesian National Army. The first film Ismail directed was an adaptation of Molière’s comic play The Miser. But it was Ismail’s more overtly political works that explored the moral ambiguity of the revolution, and were made in his own film studio Perfini, that secured his legacy as the pioneer of Indonesian film.

His first independent film Darah dan Doa — or Blood and Prayer — (1949) follows a teacher turned army captain who eliminates a communist rebellion, leads a long march westward and is eventually captured and tortured by Dutch forces. The movie is regarded as the first truly “Indonesian” film and the day it began shooting, March 30, is celebrated as Indonesia’s National Film Day.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Ismail produced and directed dozens of pictures, including beloved Indonesian classic Pedjuang (1960), which won accolades internationally and earned an acting award at the Moscow International Film Festival.

At the time of his death in 1971 at just 49-years-old, Ismail had 28 movie credits to his name as a director, producer, writer or some combination of the three. Today, Indonesia’s film awards, as well as a cinema and concert hall, are named in his honor.

Sinematek has 4000 movie titles produced from 1930
A film archivist holds up a film roll in the storage room at the Usmar Ismail Building in Jakarta, Indonesia on Oct. 28, 2016.Dasril Roszandi—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Google’s doodle depicts Ismail behind a camera with a film reel from one of his few commercially successful works Tiga Dara (1956), a humorous musical about the entangled love lives of three sisters.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com