Laura Coppens joined the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern in August 2014 as a research assistant with a focus on media anthropology. She completed her Master’s degree in social anthropology, sociology, and Latin American studies at the Free University in Berlin. Besides her work at university she is also a documentary filmmaker and film curator. From 2009-2012 she was a PhD student at the University Research Prioroty Program „Asia and Europe.“ Laura received a one-year Phd finishing grant from the Swiss Science Foundation and the Foundation Stiefel-Zangger and was a visiting scholar at the Center for Media, Culture, and History at New York University. In 2014 she received her doctorate degree from University of Zurich. In her dissertation she investigated the phenomenon of film activism in the context of democratization and Islamization in contemporary Indonesia. Laura is currently the film review editor of the Visual Anthropology Journal and prepares a new research and film project.



Queer Autoethnography, Film Festival Politics, and the Subversion of Heteronormativity

This dissertation explores the cultural phenomenon of film activism in the context of democratization and Islamization in post-Suharto Indonesia. Focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) cultural producers, namely the organizers of Asia’s largest queer film festival, the Q! Film Festival, and the directors of the collaborative film anthology Anak-Anak Srikandi, it aims to illuminate an aesthetic movement that has played an active part in the construction of the new Indonesian nation since the political reformation in 1998. The democratic opening in combination with the development of new media technologies made possible the emergence of marginalized voices that had been suppressed and dominated by the New Order regime. For the new liberal actors, cinema has played an important role in promoting novel understandings of sexuality and gender, raising awareness about controversial issues like homosexuality and individual sexual rights. However, the advancement of a liberal understanding of sexuality and sexual citizenship has met with strong opposition from both the government and Islamic groups, who produce and disseminate heterosexist and homophobic discourses based on invented “Islamic values.”

Within the broader moral and political debates of the national public sphere, this study advances our understanding of how these LGBT middle-class cultural producers carve out their place in a rapidly changing Indonesian society. The homophobic protests of the Defenders of Islam Front (FPI) against the Q! Film Festival in 2010 showed the limits of the visibility politics of sexual and gender minorities. Although the realization of a queer counterpublic seems far from possible at this moment in time, the cultural activism explored here makes transformative politics imaginable. By demonstrating how film activists in contemporary Indonesia generate new forms of queer knowledge and enable community and alliance building based on affinity, I challenge and ask for the extension of existing notions of the political in LGBT rights activism. I argue that film activism creates inclusive critical sites of resistance where oppressive heteronormative discourses can be subverted and reconfigured in liberatory ways.

Drawing on anthropological fieldwork at the Q! Film Festival, interviews with key participants, close ethnographic analysis of Anak-Anak Srikandi and of my own involvement in the film’s production, this work contributes to the study and practice of anthropological filmmaking, to the emerging field of film festival studies, and also to interdisciplinary studies of non-Western media. Furthermore, it counters anthropological othering discourses and repositions the Indonesian cultural producers presented here as co-producers of knowledge. The findings offer insights into the workings of film activism and prompt consideration of the importance of listening and valuing voice.

Dr. phil. Laura Coppens

Autumn Semester 2021

Ethnographic Documentary Practice (Praxiskurs)

Spring Semester 2021

Together! Das Kino der Gemeinschaft

Spring Semester 2020

Storytelling in documentary film

Digital Labor: Rethinking Work in the Digital Age

Spring Semester 2019

Imaginations of Future and Sovereignty in Indigenous science-fiction literature and films

Autumn Semester 2018

Anthropology of Hope