When I arrived in Jakarta in September of 1991 my first job was Editor-in-Chief of What’s On Jakarta Program magazine. This position brought me into contact with a group of professional writers, editors, photographers and other creative people loosely and humourously known as “The Writers’ Block”. Among them was an enigmatic professional film-maker called Gary Hayes. He was a quiet and unassuming man, always dressed conservatively in an Indonesian batik, but he had a great sense of humour and he always showed his appreciation of a good joke with a husky laugh, which almost always transitioned to a chesty cough due to his enthusiastic appreciation of kretek cigarettes. Because Gary was a film-maker and I was in publishing our paths didn’t cross professionally in those early days, but we did become good friends over the years, and I always looked forward to seeing him at the monthly meetings of The Writers’ Block because I found his work extremely interesting and exciting. I always asked him what he was working on and I enjoyed picking up tidbits of movie jargon as he understated his most recent achievements while stroking his bushy silver moustache.
Ten years later I started organising live shows in Jakarta and I asked Gary if he could record them professionally for me at “mate’s rates” because I couldn’t really afford anything else. He agreed and recorded my shows every month for almost two years. Every time I saw him I asked him to tell me what I owed him for his professional services, but he never told me and he never accepted a penny from me. I knew he had to pay overtime for his camera crews and his sound and light people, but he wouldn’t accept anything, not even for his overhead costs. He just came and enjoyed the shows like everybody else while making sure his crews did a good job – which they always did. Many years later, when the world moved to digital and I only had copies of the shows on the original tape, I asked Gary if he could help me convert the recordings. He digitised every show for me but again, he never responded to my request for a bill. Luckily many years later I found myself in a position to repay some of his kindness and generosity, but I had to ignore his constant requests for an invoice.
Gary was an accomplished film-maker with many impressive awards and credits to his name. From his early days in his native Boston, USA, working with several major production companies, through to establishing his first company Katena Films in Indonesia in 1989, he went on to direct and produce hundreds of TV shows, documentaries, advertisements and movies, and became a legend as a director in the Indonesian advertising industry. He was also a treasured friend and mentor to countless people trying to make it in the film industry, to whom he happily gave generously of his time and wisdom. On many occasions he was commissioned to work with Hollywood superstars, among them Julia Roberts (while filming Eat, Pray, Love), Mickey Rourke (while filming Java Heat) and Tyler Perry (while filming Alex Cross). Every time I met him I would ask him what he was working on and as he told me fascinating stories about being on set with famous names I noticed one thing – he never had a bad word to say about anyone. Not that there was nothing bad to say – just that he preferred to focus on the good things rather than bring people down. Definitely a sign of good person and a shrewd businessman.
Gary loved Indonesia and was particularly proud of any work he did connected to this country. He did a lot of work with the Ministry of Tourism and helped to present Indonesia to the world in its best possible light. His favourite projects were Merah Putih (parts one, two and three knowns as Trilogi Merdeka – The Freedom Trilogy), and Hungry is the Tiger, a critically acclaimed documentary which he directed and which highlighted the plight of the poorest people in Indonesia and offered solutions to alleviate their poverty.
Gary was a well-known, much-loved and much-respected figure in the Indonesian TV, movie and advertising industries and he will be greatly missed by the many close friends he made professionally and personally during his life in this country. He passed away surrounded by family and friends after a short illness on July 11, 2018, aged 70 years. He is survived by his wife Herlina and his four children, Anysa Insyira (28), Toufan Lee (25), Garren Jehan (21) and Anya Amanna Leilani (18).