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Anthropological Documentary for Public Policy in Jakarta


Sarine Arslanian, Visual Anthropology student from 2012, reports from Jakarta and shares her latest documentary.

With the support of the Center for Public Policy Transformation, Sarine Arslanian explores through documentary the social and economic dynamics of life in the slum areas of Bukit Duri which have been overlooked in the current relocation strategy implemented by the government as a measure for flood prevention. Her documentary also examines the bureaucratic and environmental challenges, and alternative approaches to make the plans more sustainable on the long term.


Sarine won the Hugh Brody  Visual Anthropology Runner Up prize for her film ‘Connecting Strings; Armenian Spirit in Music’.


Since graduating from Kent in 2012, with a degree in ‘Cultural Studies and Social Anthropology’, my passion for travelling, discovering new cultures, learning about people, languages, customs and cuisines has taken me to various places around the world.

For 15 months, I travelled throughout Latin America and South East Asia, where I was trying, as much as I could, to experience new places the way the locals do.

Taking an anthropological perspective in producing development-related documentaries has been something I have been aspiring to ever since I took the ‘Visual Anthropology’ class in Kent.

Hence, I decided to return to the UK to pursue a masters degree in ‘Development Studies’ at the University of Cambridge. 

After graduation, I moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I have been living since. I am now working as a researcher for a local think tank called Transformasi, exploring the socio-economic impacts of public policies in the country, through visual means. 

A year ago, if you had asked, I would never have thought about Jakarta. But the think tank I work for has some connections with the Centre of Development Studies at Cambridge and I received an email about this position a little before graduation. The job description looked amazing, especially as it involved producing documentaries based on my research. So I thought, why not move to Jakarta? 🙂 I wasn’t expecting to love the city so much! It’s a hectic city with a lot of pollution, and traffic, but there is always something interesting going on. The movement, colours, smells, people,  food, cultural diversity etc. definitely make the place for me. I have had countless amazing experiences, especially with people in rural areas and slums, but also more ‘disturbing’ but memorable ones, such as experiencing kerokan; a traditional massage to let the wind flow out of your body – someone rubs a coin across your back so hard that you end up with ‘tiger’ stripes, having my roof fall in my room and my room flood, also pushing a bike through flood water, etc. It’s basically a love and hate relationship that is making me love the city even more.


I have produced the documentary ‘The Reality of Ciliwung People in Jakarta’, which explores the social and economic dynamics of life in the slum areas of Bukit Duri which have been overlooked in the current relocation strategy. It also looks at bureaucratic and environmental challenges, and alternative approaches to make the relocation plans more sustainable on the long term.


I could never be thankful enough to Mike and all the wonderful people I met in my ‘Visual Anthropology’ class at Kent. The experience I gained both in the classroom and while filming and editing my first documentary ‘Connecting Strings; Armenian Spirit in Music’ is invaluable. It taught me culturally sensitive research skills, and the more technical and practical aspects of filmmaking that I am now applying in my current job.

I will be working here until the summer, and planning to produce one or two more documentaries until then!


(You can see her prize winning film in SELF Spaces)