Tsunami of New Dreams

Summary: The 2004 tsunami devastated the community in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and accelerated the end of the civil war in this deeply religious region. A handful of survivors, men and women, tell their odyssey and question the community’s preparedness to face natural risks of this scale.

BA New Hope Winner Laurels-Gold-1K

How does a community keep life together after surviving a civil war and a massive natural disaster? Tsunami of New Dreams is a documentary about the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on the Banda Aceh community. Click here for a version of this webpage in Indonesian.

On 26 Dec. 2004 one of the largest underwater earthquakes ever recorded struck 50 kilometers off the coast of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The estimated number of dead and missing from the 2004 tsunami in Aceh alone is around 167,000 people. It is estimated that about 65-70% of the casualties were female. The events in this movie may have happened almost twenty years ago, but they resonate in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Massive loss of life can happen when communities are unprepared against natural hazards.

The goal of this documentary film is to present the wide range of emotions experienced by survivors during and after the tsunami instead of focusing on quantitative information and technical explanations.

Disaster survivors tell their tale of survival and reevaluate the roles of faith and scientific knowledge to minimize future disasters. The survivors’ testimonies expose the contradicting opinions about science-based disaster preparedness often found in this religious province governed by Sharia Law.


The film presents unique archival footage and artistic recreations of tsunami-moments, in addition to the tales of survival and snipets of the survivors’ post-tsunami lives.

One of the survivors’ stories was so unique that we decided to edit some of it in the form of a short film. Ichiro and the Wave presents a unique and inspirational experience by a survivor who was fishing on a boat when the tsunami struck. Ichiro’s post-tsunami outlook remained positive and his matter of fact descriptions help to understand the step-by-step disaster scenario. bandatsunami.com/ichiro

We also worked with local musicians and ethno-musicians to provide the narrative with a local flavor and perspective. Aceh star singer Rafly, for example, performs a minimalistic powerful rendition of Haro-Hara, a song of deep despair written in ancient Acehnese.

Everything is destroyed, fallen into the lakes,
and everyone is gasping for breath in the catastrophe.
Everything is devastated, everyone feels despondent.
Everyone is left with nothing.
All is washed away.

Nobody cares and there is no one to help.
There is chaos in almost every corner,
people do not know what to do.
Don’t make a noise no more.

The interviews in Tsunami of New Dreams emphasize a positive outlook on life, and also provide valuable information about disaster preparedness in the region. The subjects interviewed represent a balanced sampling in terms of geography within the city and surrounding areas, age, gender, education level, occupation, income level and understanding of natural hazards.

BA-Web-Fisherwoman BA-Web-UnLady BA-web-Syafawi BA-Web-Muharram BA-Web-Mosque BA-Web-Ichiro-1

Tsunami of New Dreams
A documentary feature film by Isaac Kerlow
Total running time: 69 min, color (Director’s Cut, 90 min.)
Completed: May 2021
In Indonesian, Acehnese and English, available with English or Spanish subtitles
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Tsunami of New Dreams is a Singapore/Indonesia/United States/France co-production. Produced in collaboration with the Earth Observatory of Singapore, ICAIOS the International Center for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies in Banda Aceh, Indonesia; and art-science-media.com, with major funding provided by the AXA Research Fund. Producer: Isaac Kerlow. Associate Producers: Saiful Mahdi and Yenny Rahmayati. Assistant Producers: Jeannie Loo, Rizanna Rosemary, Aida Azlin, and Antoinette Jade.

Festivals and Screening Schedule

Tsunami of New Dreams (69 min.) was completed in May of 2021. The Director’s Cut of the film (90 min.) was premiered at the New Hope Film Festival where it was also an Award Winner.

November 2021
IndieFEST Awards 2021, La Jolla, California. Award of Merit, Special Mention.

July 2021
New Hope Film Festival 2021, New Hope, Pennsylvania. Award Winner.
BA New Hope Winner Laurels-Gold-1KBA Faith + Science KLEFF 2020 Laurel Color BA Mem Ocean Film Festival 2021 Laurels-1K Ba Tsunami Clermont Ferrand Market+ Ba Tsunami Roma CinemaDoc Laurels 1K

Tsunami Memories: Faith and Science Short Film

Using segments of the feature film we assembled a 9-minute short film titled Tsunami Memories: Faith and Science. In this short a few tsunami survivors reflect about the topics of faith and science as they remember the Indian Ocean tsunami that caught by surprise the city of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in 2004. The 9-min 23-sec short premiered online at the 13th International Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Fest 2020 in Malaysia.

September 2021
Roma Cinema DOC 2021, Roma, Italy (SHORT only, European Premiere)

April 2021
International Ocean Film Festival, San Francisco (SHORT only, US Premiere)

Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Market, Clermont-Ferrand (SHORT only)

October 2020
International Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Fest, Malaysia (SHORT only, World Premiere)