The Urban Poor from Below

May 02, 2012

An important documentary film sharpens our focus on the lives of Jakarta’s urban poor.

Often seen only from the highway or high-rise buildings of Asia’s ever-changing metropolises, its poorest neighbourhoods are bursting with stories like this; of people eager to realise their potential through economic success. Tragically, their poverty puts them a universe away from the shiny high-rises and expressways which seem just within reach.

‘There isn’t a government in the world’, Bakti shouts during an argument about Tari’s school fees, ‘that looks after its people’. Such is the sense of loneliness and frustration of Indonesia’s poor, who feel betrayed by their government and by the failure of globalisation to provide for different paths to ‘modernity’. Helmrich’s inspirational Position Among the Stars helps to sharpen our focus on the inequality that plagues the developing world and the urgent need to address it.

L. Retel Helmrich & Scarabée Films, Position among the Stars (Stand van de Sterren), United States: Films Transit, Inc. International, 2010.

Benjamin Hegarty ( is a graduate student at the Monash Asia Institute in Melbourne. He has worked with Indonesia’s national indigenous peoples’ organisation (AMAN) in Jakarta and writes on cultural politics in the archipelago.