Indonesian wunderkind in Aurora moves judges and peers with movie premier

10th grader Irl Paulalengan sits for a portrait at Rangeview High School. Paulalengan won the Project Next Viewers Choice Award at the Denver Film Festivel for her short film which she wrote, shot and edited. “Dear people” is an open letter to the audience about the power of self acceptance and the beauty within. Portrait by Philip B. Poston/ Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | The magic of movies is that it might be the most universal art form in existence that can overcome any barrier, including language.

You don’t have to be fluent in English to understand the epic nature of a movie like Star Wars or speak Hindi to appreciate the bombastic quality of Bollywood films. The power of film is its universality, it’s ability to speak to audiences across the world.

The power of film is why Irl Paulalengan made the 9,000 miles journey to Aurora from her home in Indonesia. The 15 year-old sophomore at Rangeview High School left her parents and her family back across the Pacific Ocean last year to come here on her own to learn how to make films.

In that short amount of time, Paulalengan has already proven that she belongs behind the camera. Paulalengan was awarded the Project NEXT Viewers Choice Award at the Denver Film Festival in November for her short film, “Dear People.”

“(I moved) because I want to work on films. My family and I know that in Indonesia, film making isn’t that big of a deal. They don’t really appreciate if people do art. So my dad thinks maybe I could go to school here,” Paulalengan said. “I’ve watched movies with my family since I was a kid. And I always think that movies can visualize something and also can bring greater meaning than (just the plot) itself.”

Paulalengan’s move to Aurora started with a trip to visit her aunt in California in December 2016. Through that visit, she and her family decided she should move to Aurora to live with one of her uncles so she could attend Rangeview High School starting last January.

Since then, she’s been a star student in the school’s journalism program and shown that she truly understands the art of storytelling through film.

“What makes her so great is she’s here after school almost every day, she’s here on her lunch hour most days. Any extra time she has she’s working (on learning film),” said Zeb Carabello, who teaches journalism at Rangeview. “I’ve taught and coached for 12 years, and her effort is as good or better than anyone I’ve ever worked with at the school.”

“Dear People,” which Paulalengan wrote, shot and edited in two weeks by herself, is an open letter to her audience about the power of self acceptance and the beauty within. Beyond the powerful message, in the film Paulalengan shows that she has a natural instinct for shot selection, editing and pacing, critics said.

“I never imagined (seeing my film on a big screen). I joined the competition just because they said if you submit something maybe the professionals would give you feedback, and all I wanted was the feedback. I never thought about winning it,” Paulalengan said. “I always think that if you want to change something, you have to start from yourself. In film, you can give and inspire others, and I think that’s how I think I can personally change the world to what I want to see.”

Carabello said Paulalengan’s film isn’t just great because of the quality of the film making, but because her work also let her express the type of person she is.

“The thing I was most impressed with is just her message really. She’s just such a good person, and the message that came through is what she’s all about,” Carabello said. “For high school kids, what you look like and stressing social media and all those things are such a big deal right now in their lives. I showed (her) film not to just the journalism class but to other classes. Kids were emotional when they were done watching it.”

While she’s already been successful in starting the long path to bring her dream to fruition, Paulalengan has struggled with being so far from her family, learning English and dealing with everyday high school life without the support system she had at home. But despite all of those issues, Paulalengan is determined to pursue her dream and is already hard at work on her next project.

“Almost all the movies in Indonesia come from Hollywood. (When I was growing up), it seemed too far. Now that I’m here, it’s not that far,” Paulalengan said.

To watch Paulalengan’s film “Dear People” visit