The terrifying power dance (27 min)

Practiced in Java for centuries, Jathilan is a folk dance that uses the power of music and dance to channel powerful and sometimes terrifying forces. Led by a spiritual guide and a whip-bearing ringleader, a group of dancers ride woven horses in rhythmic unison until they are entered by spirits. Once possessed they engage in a range of self-mortification behaviors until safely emerging from their altered state, left with no memory of the event and no lingering ill effects.

The film, Jathilan: Trance & Possession in Java, combines footage of a number of Jathilan performances with interviews with dancers, spiritual leaders, anthropologists, and enthusiasts. This extraordinary practice becomes more than just spectacle as Jathilan is contextualized within broader processes of Indonesian historical, political and social change and the viewer is provided a window into the subjective experiences of those who participate. Multiple interpretations of Jathilan’s significance ultimately emerge, from an empirical proof of spiritual presence, to a strategy of community building, to a resistant expression of folk identity.

After I become possessed, I don’t remember anything. If my friends, wife or child watches me, I won’t recognize them.
— Budi, dancer

Purchase Film


Robert Lemelson
Robert Lemelson
Alessandra Pasquino
Wing Ko
Dag Yngvesson
Wing Ko
Malcolm Cross



Music Composer


  • Parnu Inter­na­tional Doc­u­men­tary and Anthro­pol­ogy Film Fes­ti­val, Parnu, Esto­nia, 2012
  • Days of Ethno­graphic Cin­ema, Ljubli­jana, Rus­sia, 2012
  • Inter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val of Cin­e­matic Arts (Shorts and Micro Cin­ema) Los Ange­les, Los Ange­les, CA, 2012
  • Sun­screen Film Fes­ti­val, St. Peters­burg, Florida, 2012


  • 111th Amer­i­can Anthro­po­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion Meet­ing, San Fran­cisco, CA, 2012
  • Per­son­hood, Pos­ses­sion and Place Con­fer­ence, Santa Bar­bara, CA, 2013


  • UCLA Mind, Med­i­cine and Cul­ture Group, Los Ange­les, CA, 2011