Shape of the Moon

( Netherlands / 2004 )
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Finding its place in the daily lives of the Sjamsuddin family, SHAPE OF THE MOON resonates deeply of faith and gratitude, despite the tightly woven links between Muslim religion and Indonesian politics. The vérité style creates an experiential rhythm as the camera silently weaves in and out of tunnels and water wells, and lingers delicately as characters sleep, eat, and live. In the largest Muslim country in the world, among a population of 240 million people, Helmrich is able to find quiet moments with three generations of a Christian family.

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Formats: Digital Copy, DVD
Running Time: 92 min.
Theme: Asian Studies, Religion and Spirituality, Society
Language(s): Indonesian
Subtitles: English
Director(s): Leonard Retel Helmrich.
Producer(s): Leonard Retel Helmrich
Excluded regions: Netherlands
Shape of the Moon


  • “Shape of the Moon” is a documentary of such stunning visual grace that while watching it at Sundance, I occasionally wondered if I was mistaken about its category and the film was actually an entry in the dramatic world cinema competition that had very naturalistic actors. … they show that the documentary can be elevated to a level of poetry.
    Jeremy Mathews, FILMTHREAT.COM
  • Leonard Retel Helmrich's docu, "Shape of the Moon" reps an ambitious melange of ethnography, family drama and expressionist style.
    Leslie Felperin, VARIETY

Academic Notes

  • Single-Shot Cinema and Ethnographic Sympathy in Contemporary Indonesia: A Review Essay on The Eye of the Day (2001), The Shape of the Moon (2004), and Position Among the Stars (2011) by Leonard Retel Helmrich, by James B. Hoesterey
    "The beauty of Helmrich's filmmaking is that his story about the perils and possibilities of post-authoritarian Indonesia is told from the bottom up. Helmrich weaves together narratives about the lives of ordinary citizens as they experience and engage the people and policies of the state."

awards & accolades

  • Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, Netherlands - Joris Ivens Award (Grand Jury Award)
  • Sundance Film Festival, USA - Grand Jury Award - World Cinema Competition
  • Hong Kong International Film Festival, China - Humanitarian Award
  • Netherlands Film Festival - Best Feature Documentary
  • Chicago Documentary Film Festival, USA - Excellence Award in Cinematography
  • Full Frame Film Festival, USA - Jury Award

Festival participation

  • Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, Netherlands 2004
  • Sundance Film Festival, USA 2005
  • Hong Kong International Film Festival, China 2005
  • Netherlands Film Festival 2005
  • Chicago Documentary Film Festival, USA 2005
  • Full Frame Film Festival, USA 2005
  • Adelaide International Film Festival, Australia 2005
  • Full Frame International Film Festival, USA 2005
  • Nyon International Film Festival, Switzerland 2005
  • Seattle International Film Festival, USA 2005
  • Munich Doc Festival, Germany 2005
  • Silverdocs Film Festival, USA 2005
  • San Francisco International Film Festival, USA 2005
  • Montreal International Documentary Film Festival, Canada 2005

viewers comments


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Additional Info

Production Company: Scarabee Films
Distribution Company: Films Transit


    “I have been following Rumidjah and her family for several years, and they have allowed me to film crucial moments of their everyday lives. From my first contact with the neighbourhood of Rumidjah’s family I became known as a person with a camera. For them, the camera in my hand is part of my identity, my body. This association has made it possible for me to capture intimate scenes devoid of camera shyness or self-consciousness, like the one involving Rumidjah’s neighbour who lost her apple.

    To get this close to the skin of the people, all the scenes of ‘Shape of the Moon’ have been filmed according to the principle of the “Single Shot Camera”, which I have been giving workshops on these last years in countries like the USA, Uganda, Indonesia and Germany. I have been developing this method by carefully comparing film history with the history of other forms of art, like painting, sculpturing, architecture, music and poetry.

    Like the “Cinéma Vérité” or the “Nouvelle Vague”, “The Single Shot Cinema” is based on the theory of the French film critique André Bazin. His was the idea not to cut reality into pieces, but to leave the temporal continuity of a scene intact to achieve a greater form of realism.

    Unlike the “Cinema Vérité” and the “Direct Cinema”, the central idea of the “Single Shot Cinema” is that the filmmaker has to participate in the action he’s filming to be able to feel the cadence of what is happening and to anticipate on it with the movements of his camera. In fact, reality unfolds itself according to certain schemes, and taking part in the action enables the one behind the camera to sense what is going to happen, which isn’t the case if he looks at it as an observer from the outside.

    In de “Cinéma Vérité” and the “Direct Cinema”, the emotional expressiveness of a scene is often snowed under by wobbly and uncontrolled camera movements. In the “Direct Shot Cinema”, the camera movements are intuitively directed by the involvement of the filmmaker, which enables him to put into light the different emotional point of views of the action taking place. This multitude of emotional point of views makes it possible to have different camera positions and movements, like crane-shots, close-ups, perspectives, and totals in one single dynamic shot. So even if the camera lead is a subjective one, the physical presence of the camera and the filmmaker is getting invisible during the filming process and in the film itself.

    The ideal of the Single Shot Cinema is an intuitive and anticipating way of filming, through which the filmmaker is able to completely jump into the action and to get transported by its tone and rhythm.”

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Shape of the Moon

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