A Distant Call
In an isolated village in Indonesia lives the last leader of an ancient way of life.
In this culture, there are 5 genders: man, woman, trans-man, trans-woman, and Bissu. Bissu is the revered “gender transcendent” who encompasses all other genders and shepherds these people.
This culture has long been persecuted for its unconventional perspective on gender, as far as the events of 1965, when a religious fundamentalist movement slaughtered non-binary people in the region. They tortured, forcibly shaved Bissu’s heads, and ultimately decapitated them and displayed their heads in public if they refused to dress and act like men. The role of Bissu was pushed to the edges of society.
By the 21st century, the numbers of Bissu have declined dramatically after years of increasing persecution. As the atmosphere becomes increasingly hostile, fewer people have been willing to pursue their calling as Bissu.
With no successor to lead his people, the life of this culture is in the final Bissu’s hands. This documentary closely follows this Bissu as he is confronted with the pressures of gender identity, religious belief, and the extinction of his culture.
As well as exploring how an ancient way of life challenges the modern mainstream perception of gender, the film also captures a critical point in the existence of an endangered culture tightly tied to Indonesia’s complex history.