Filmmaker Yury Sharov traveled to Bali expecting to enjoy sun, sea and surf. Instead, the island’s rich cultural heritage drew him in. We talked to him about his experience in this popular location and the video he made there.
1. Why did you go to Bali? How long did you spend there?
I went to Bali for two weeks’ holiday. After a while in London, I felt that I needed a bit of sun, a different environment, and to see another side of the world. I didn’t have any intention to shoot anything serious, so I brought my camera for personal reasons.
2. What’s the first thing you do when you get to a new place?
I try to understand the “rules” of the place and adjust myself to the different culture. By the “rules”, I mean the traditions and the state of mind of the local people. You can really see the difference from, say, Europe or America. It’s quite easy for me to adapt because most my life, I lived in Moscow and the last four years I have lived in London and things are pretty different here as well.
I check on the Internet for basic information about rules and laws. For example, can you can smoke inside or not? But for me, it’s more important to understand how people live and the different types of societies I will encounter. Sometimes what is okay at home will not be okay in a place you are visiting. How people eat — can you use your hands or not? Should you talk to women or not – is that disrespectful? It’s just different types of social interaction. If I have questions, I just ask people.
Bali from this point of view is very interesting. It’s very traditional and there are so many things you can’t do, but also so many things you can. I learned a lot about Balinese culture. For example, if someone dies and they don’t have money for a funeral, all the people in the community will contribute. When they have enough money to bury with the proper traditions — traditions are very important, so they make sure to do it the proper way or else the soul is believed to be stuck somewhere in the middle — they will. But not before. They believe in reincarnation. For me, that’s something outside the box, but for them, it’s something normal. It’s logical.
3. How was Bali different than your expectations?
Bali was very different from my expectations because I was expecting to see surfing, lots of young Australians in cocktail bars, and long sandy beaches. I hear the city life in Bali is very much like that, but I was mainly in Ubud, which is a very traditional city full of culture. It is a more spiritual place, and it seemed like a lot of people were in the same state of mind. Each house had its own temple, so you see them every 10 meters. I definitely expected something different. I found Ubud to be a very religious and spiritual island. The people are extremely warm and proud of their Hindu beliefs and culture. I learned a lot about their traditions and admired how devoted the people were to their faith. Watching them honouring their rituals and practices was very humbling.
I saw some celebrations but I could not go inside. A lot of temples are closed to the public. But you know something is going on because you can see the crowd inside- there are ceremonial celebrations often. You see maybe 100 or so people praying, and people in traditional dress. For me, it was beautiful to see.
4. What was a really special experience you had in Bali?
I would say my favorite place in Bali was Pura Lempuyang. It is a temple on the mountain where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the volcano. And it’s not only about the view. The temple has three different levels, so with every level you climb, you see more and more. It’s in East Bali, outside the normal tourist circuit, so there were no tourists on the day I visited, only a few locals. I felt like Indiana Jones when he went to find the golden idol in the secret chamber.
The second place I remember is Tampak Siring which is the Holy Spring Water Temple. I saw it several times on TV and in photos, so I thought it was a tourist attraction, but I was completely wrong. There were some tourists taking photos, but overall it was a very spiritual and calming place, where you can really look at your life from a different angle, which may surprise you and open new horizons. The water was so refreshing and clean — you really feel brand new afterward.
5. What was it like working with and interacting with locals?
All the locals I met in Bali were very nice and cheerful. I enjoyed spending time with them. They were always very open and willing to share their experiences and way of life. They have a lot of problems with work, money, and other aspects of life, but, at the same time, they are very grateful for what they have. Their religion (Hinduism) says that if you are born as a human, it’s already like winning a lottery and so they are just thankful for their lives in general. While people in the west mainly focus on the future, legacy, or life after death (if they are religious), the Balinese people just want to enjoy life. I think this is something Western society should learn. So everything felt very easy, friendly, and I didn’t experience any problems. Children liked the camera and the adults didn’t mind it at all. For them it’s normal because tourism is such a big industry.
I didn’t meet any language barriers because everyone I met spoke English — probably because of all the tourists. Mainly, I was talking with my tour guide and he talked to me a lot about his life. There wasn’t the same filter that we have in the West.
Another interesting interaction I had was with some people who run cock fights with roosters. It’s illegal, and they usually just do it on the side of the street. Still, they were open to talking to me about it. What is interesting for me is that, if you just meet someone on the street, or anywhere that is not in a market, they are ready to answer your questions and give you some suggestions on what to do. People are very open and willing to talk to you. I’ve been in many countries — Turkey, Egypt — where you feel forced on the street to buy things. Everyone is trying to sell you something. But I didn’t feel like this in Bali.
6. What equipment did you use to shoot this film?
I didn’t take any professional equipment because I didn’t plan to shoot every day, so I had one DSLR camera Panasonic Lumix GH4 with only one prime lens Voigtlander 25mm. All the time lapses were shot on my IPhone 6, Cos I didn’t have any wide angle lenses. I was hoping the lack of equipment would not encourage me to shoot Bali, as I mainly went to relax, but there were too many beautiful locations and opportunities I could not afford to miss. It would be great to come here for some commercial project and shoot Bali with a professional crew and equipment in the future.
7. Can you tell me a little about your editing process?
Usually I put all footage I shot on a timeline, which is about four to seven hours. I then skip through all the footage and understand what vibe I want from the video. Do I want to just show beautiful places, or should I focus on people and traditions? My main purpose is always to try to transfer my experience to the viewers. So I think it’s always important to have a message or an idea that you want to show. In this case, I decided to focus on the spiritual aspect.
Bali is a Hindu Island, but Indonesia is a Muslim country, so it was very interesting to see how so many people with different religions live on such a small island in friendly way. I feel that our busy lives don’t give us enough time to understand who we are and we end up using that as an excuse for our actions. We use being busy as an excuse to not reflect. Back in London, I found an old interview with Alan Watts and I decided to use it for the beginning of my video. The main point is that the “real you” is not something you can plan for. The “real you” is just you in the moment, your body, the wind around you, the grass you stand on, the nature you see in the moment. I think it teaches us to appreciate our life in the moment, which is very important because sometimes you just need to throw out all your thoughts about yourself and just live. This quote became the introduction for my video and then I decided to show all my experience of Bali in the fast cut sequence to showcase a different technique. So I wanted to show all of my two weeks in fast-paced, bold flashes so viewers could see Bali through my eyes. The editing process usually doesn’t take long, maybe four, five days. Sometimes a week. The main point is just to understand what you want to show in your video and, when you know the main theme, you just need to find material that supports your vision. On this project, I wanted to practice with camera movements and trying different sound effects. A lot of footage was thrown in the bin, but I’m more or less happy with the result.
8. Do you have any advice for people traveling to Bali?
Have a purpose. I would suggest understanding what you really want to do there because there are so many options.
When I was thinking about going to Bali, I was thinking about surfing. But you should consider learning about culture or focusing on taking a relaxing holiday. It’s a small island, so it’s concentrated and things are very close together. You won’t have to spend more than two hours driving from place to place, which is great from a tourist’s point of view. Bali is full of tourists, but the Balinese have not lost their identity. It’s a fascinating place to be.