How This Indonesian Lady Became A Subtitler For Over 100 Films


This is Temi. A subtitler who has translated subtitles for more than a hundred short films on Viddsee!

Subtitlers hold an important role in the film ecosystem. For Indonesian filmophiles who frequently stream and torrent, subtitlers like Lebah Ganteng and Pein Akatsuki have become a prominent name. The subtitler community is growing ever so robustly with the increased film consumption on digital platforms. They have a shared vision; enabling audiences to enjoy short films from various countries without language barriers. This is also a way to support local filmmakers so that their stories can reach a global audience.

“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barriers of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong Joon Ho urged in his Oscars acceptance speech where Parasite took home 4 awards. For many film viewers in Indonesia, subtitles are an important component in enjoying foreign films.

Viddsee Subbers have a crucial role. They function as a cross-cultural bridge. The process of translation isn’t merely as simple as translating languages. As short films on Viddsee come from a myriad of countries with different cultural backgrounds, it’s important that Viddsee Subbers make sure cultural context is captured in their translations too.


In this special Persona for National Film Day, we had a great conversation with Temi, one of the members in the Viddsee Subbers community. She has translated more than one hundred short film titles at Viddsee. Check out our chat with Temi about her exciting experience in the world of subtitle translation!

How did you initially decide to become a subtitle translator?

Temi: Through a subtitler job opening in 2005. It feels great to be able to translate foreign films into your own language and help so many people understand what the film means. Unfortunately, I did not get the job. So I could only hope that one day I would enter this field because I’ve been interested in the language field since I was in elementary school.

What made you interested in joining the Viddsee Subbers ID community?

Temi: Since I had always wanted to be a subtitle translator, when an announcement emerged for a volunteer at Viddsee, I immediately registered. Coincidentally, I had just downloaded the Viddsee application on my phone and was exploring existing films on the platform.


Do you have a role model in this world of subtitle translation?

Temi: No. Frankly, the world of subtitling is still new to me, and more so the people within it. That’s why when Viddsee held a discussion about subtitles last year, I was adamant on going to Jakarta. So far, I have been self-taught. I studied the subtitles of foreign films that I watched, took courses and read some literature online.

What was the first film you subtitled? Why did you choose that film?

Temi: The first film I actually wanted to work on was ‘He Took His Skin Off For Me’ because his idea sacrifice for love was very disturbing. But at that time I wasn’t confident enough to rely solely on listening to the dialogues and translating them. So I looked for other films that already had English subtitles. All I had to do was translate those English subtitles to Indonesian. I happen to choose ‘Shadow‘, a thriller from Malaysia that tells the story of the identity theft of a blogger.

How many movie titles have you translated subtitles for?

Temi: I’ve done 106 titles now. 105 of translating English to Indonesian and 1 translating Indonesian to English.

What is the most difficult challenge in working on subtitles?

Temi: Capturing the characters’ nuances in terms of culture, religion, values and etc. Translators have a great responsibility to ensure the messages conveyed by the characters in the film reach the audience correctly. That is not easy. Translating films cannot be done by translating literally with a dictionary.

For example, when a character says, “Are you okay?” I could just translate it to “Kamu baik-baik sahaja?” but this kind of translation feels a bit stiff. Because in daily life we don’t talk like that. Instead, we say “Kamu tidak apa-apa?“. Apart from that, the toughest is of course to translate jokes. Translating it too literally could make its humour disappear altogether. Translators must be very clever in looking for the equivalent joke within the Indonesian cultural context.

Are there specific criteria for the film that you are translating? For example per genre or country?

Temi: Because Viddsee freed us to choose films that we liked, so I tend to choose films that are in line with favourite genres, namely horror and thriller. I always take the time to watch the film I will translate first, at least half of it to get a general picture of the story. If you don’t like it, look for another one. Films that get awards, such as those listed in the synopsis, usually come to my attention too.

Of all the titles that you have translated, what is the most memorable film in the process?

Temi: ‘Fleshly Meat Pies’, a Taiwanese short. I left it half-finished, for months. The film was about the abuse of school children. It felt too emotionally heavy for me as I have a child who is the same age as the main character in the film. Moreover, the ending does not provide a clear answer about the fate of the children who abused him. Did they really die or was it just his imagination?

I also had difficulty in finding the right title and there were some scenes that featured Chinese characters without English translations. Fortunately, there is a Google translate with photo features that can help translate the letters!


How do you see the role of the subtitle translator in the scope of the Indonesian film industry?

Temi: On an international scale, the role of the subtitlers has been given light thanks to the film ‘Parasite’. This should be both evidence and encouragement for the Indonesian actors that language differences are not a barrier to appearing in the international scene. I saw on Viddsee that quite a number of Indonesian short film directors had attached English subtitles to their work before it was even shown to the public. That is good. Noteworthy, of course, is that people with hearing impairments should be able to enjoy films through subtitles too!

What are your hopes for the Indonesian subtitling and film industry in the future?

Temi: I hope that this profession is valued as part of the overall film production process. Without subtitles, no matter how great the storyline, no matter how smart the dialogue, we won’t be able to reach many audiences. Also, I hope there will be translation standards as a reference to help us work more professionally.


This article was originally written for Viddsee Buzz Indonesia by Maylinda Cecilia. It has been translated and edited for length. To view the original article, click here!

If you’re interested in joining our Viddsee Subbers Community, learn more about getting your translations published on our films here! >>

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