Janet DeNeefe

The founder of Ubud Food Fes­ti­val and Ubud Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val re­veals what it takes to run an in­ter­na­tional cul­tural fes­ti­val on the is­land of gods.

Indonesia Expat - - NEWS - By Caranissa Djat­miko This tran­script has been con­densed and edited. For more in­for­ma­tion on UFF and UWRF, please visit the fol­low­ing web­sites: www.ubud­food­fes­ti­val.com www.ubud­writ­ers­fes­ti­val.com

It is the kind of story ex­pats may be fa­mil­iar with:

for­eign­ers visit In­done­sia for a va­ca­tion, fall in love with the coun­try and de­cide to call it home. But for Aus­tralian ex­pat Janet DeNeefe, she did more than turn Ubud into home sweet home for the past 30 years. After ar­riv­ing in 1984, she has helped make Ubud, one of Bali's most ex­otic lo­cales, a pop­u­lar for in­ter­na­tional cul­tural fes­ti­vals.

This month, the Ubud Food Fes­ti­val re­turns for the third time, while the Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val ( UWRF) cel­e­brates its 14th an­niver­sary in Oc­to­ber.

I sat down with DeNeefe at her fa­mous restau­rant Casa Luna in Ubud, where she shared the ex­cit­ing process be­hind pre­par­ing for a fes­ti­val in Bali's cul­tural cap­i­tal.

How do you nor­mally pre­pare for UWRF ev­ery year?

Well, first we have to come up with a theme and then we se­lect the writ­ers that kind of fit in with theme. We also look at those who are do­ing in­ter­est­ing things, those that we have not heard of about be­fore. It is like be­ing a de­tec­tive, we just search for cur­rent work that we feel is re­ally ap­pro­pri­ate for us. And then it is invit­ing the writ­ers and hop­ing that they can come along.

The prob­lem some­times can be that they con­firm ini­tially and then later at the last minute, some­times they can­cel. It is a bit, par­tic­u­larly last year, was a bit of a night­mare for the pro­gramme be­cause sud­denly, just a cou­ple of days be­fore we need to find a re­place­ment for the speak­ers or mod­er­a­tors who are cru­cial to the ses­sion.

Last year you had the theme of Tat Tvam Asi (I Am You and You and I), what ex­actly was the idea be­hind it?

It was a re­ac­tion to two years ago and the fact that we all share the same hu­man­ity and iden­tity. And I guess it was also a re­ac­tion to what was hap­pen­ing around the world, with 65 mil­lion peo­ple be­ing forced from their homes. There are al­most more bound­aries, more bor­ders, more di­vi­sions across the world. It’s time that we as a col­lec­tive look at the fact that we are all one.

How ex­actly has the is­sue of cen­sor­ship in the past af­fected the way the fes­ti­val is run?

Well ac­tu­ally it has not af­fected that much. I was wor­ried that it would af­fect the over­all pro­gramme but even­tu­ally it hasn’t. We are still cre­at­ing pro­grammes that we want to cre­ate.

How do you feel about those who think that UWRF fo­cuses more on the tourism as­pect as op­posed to lit­er­a­ture?

I think the peo­ple who say that have never been to the fes­ti­val. It is about bring­ing peo­ple to­gether and when you have a writer’s fes­ti­val, you don’t call it tourism.

It is a fo­rum for dis­cus­sion, so just be­cause it is held in a tourist des­ti­na­tion, you kind of get la­beled I sup­pose. Of course peo­ple are trav­el­ing here to see the event, but hey you travel any­where to see any event and that doesn’t mean it is di­rectly called tourism.

A lot of peo­ple are in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in com­ing here and be­ing a part of the lo­cal arts scene, es­pe­cially the younger gen­er­a­tion. As the cre­ator and founder of UWRF and UFF, what do you think are the keys to or­ga­niz­ing a suc­cess­ful fes­ti­val?

To or­ga­nize the event, you have to have skilled and pro­fes­sional staff. In terms of se­lect­ing the pro­grammes and co­or­di­nat­ing, all these peo­ple must be ex­pe­ri­enced. And I think that it is bet­ter that they are young be­cause it is a high-en­ergy job, you re­ally need a lot of stamina. And I guess you just have to be aware of the com­mu­nity. In or­der to or­ga­nize a top fes­ti­val, you must have a set of top peo­ple work­ing be­hind it.

What do you think peo­ple ex­pect when they come to the fes­ti­val?

I think a lot of our au­di­ence have been to the fes­ti­val be­fore so they al­ready know. But the new­bies, the ones who have never been here be­fore, I think they ex­pect an Aussie-style writ­ers’ fes­ti­val. And when they come here, they are kind of blown away by the fact that it’s so di­verse and so ex­cit­ing. There’s so much to hear and see, the lo­ca­tion is fan­tas­tic, so I think it be­comes a mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence for them.

What do you mean by Aussie-style writ­ers’ fes­ti­val?

In Aus­tralia we have a lot of writ­ers’ fes­ti­val and we were men­tored by the By­ron Bay Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val, so we kind of ini­tially looked a bit like them. That was be­fore we grew into our own skin.

You have your own restau­rants and also writ­ten sev­eral cook­books. Can you share a lit­tle bit about what you do in the food in­dus­try?

I have had restau­rants here since 1987, so I am re­ally pas­sion­ate about In­done­sian and Ba­li­nese food. I have pub­lished two books, both of them started with recipes. The first one started with recipes and then I wove in the stories around food, whether it is some­thing we ate at cer­e­monies or some­thing that my kids love. So it started with recipes and then I built stories around them. And the sec­ond one was recipes with stories to do with those dishes so that was kind of easy.

What do you think is so spe­cial about In­done­sian food?

It’s just so ex­cit­ing and in­ter­est­ing. There are so many lay­ers of flavours. I think be­cause we are in this spice is­land, there’s sort of flavours you get from the dif­fer­ent gin­gers, lemon­grass and all those de­light­ful in­gre­di­ents to use.

In or­der to or­ga­nize a top fes­ti­val, you must have a set of top peo­ple work­ing be­hind it.

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