Jakarta. Classic Indonesian movies from the 1950s and 1960s are lining up to be restored professionally. The trend started in 2011 when a rejuvenated version of Usmar Ismail's post-war classic "Lewat Djam Malam" (After the Curfew) — restored in Italy — was shown again in local cinemas.
Now it is the turn for Asrul Sani’s 1961 noir drama "Pagar Kawat Berduri" (Barbed Wire Fence) to be restored under the auspices of the Education and Culture Ministry’s Film Development Center (Pusbang Film).
An adaptation of Trisnojuwono’s short story, and later a novel, Pagar Kawat Berduri tells the story of a bunch of Indonesian prisoners attempting to escape a Dutch encampment.
This is the second restoration project done by the ministry after "Darah dan Doa" (The Long March), another Usmar Ismail flick, which was released in 2013, but a first for the newly formed Pusbang Film.
Speaking to the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday (14/11) in Jakarta, Pusbang Film's head of film archiving division, Rita Siregar, said Pagar Kawat Berduri was selected for restoration by a team of curators comprising ministry representatives, Sinematek chief Adisoerya Abdi and Indonesian Film Council (BPI) members Alex Sihar and Adrian Pasaribu.
The other films that were considered were Wim Umboh’s 1974 "Senyum Pagi di Bulan Desember" (A Smile in a December Morning), Alam Surawidjaya’s 1969 "Nyi Ronggeng" (Madam Ronggeng), Nya' Abbas Akup’s 1958 "Jendral Kantjil" (General Mouse-deer) and Sjumandjaja’s 1973 "Si Mamad" (Mamad).
Pagar Kawat Berduri was selected mainly because its original film reels were in poor condition and need to be immediately restored.
The fact that it was directed by Asrul Sani, a legendary scriptwriter and director of his era, and that it shows an important slice of Indonesian revolutionary history, was a bonus.
Render Digital Indonesia, a Jakarta-based film preservation and restoration company, will undertake the restoration after winning a bid for the project.
The company was given a total of 100 days to restore the film. They reportedly started the process in September.
"We received four copies of the film in varying conditions," Render Digital Indonesia director Taufiq Marhaban said.
Around 70 percent of the film has now been restored. The process includes cleaning, rebuilding broken or missing clips, scanning, digital color grading and restoring the sound.
Windra Benyamin, an audio restorer who worked on the restored "Tiga Dara" (Three Maidens, also by Umar Ismail) released last year, said the main challenge for Pagar Kawat Berduri was maintaining continuity in a film packed with dialogues.
"Tiga Dara was a musical, this one is not. Each dialogue has to be heard clearly," Benyamin said.
Revolutionary or Kowtowing to the Dutch?
Back when it was first released in 1963, Pagar Kawat Berduri received quite a bit of flak, mostly from the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), for its humanist depiction of the Dutch.
There were protests to ban the film but President Soekarno decided it did not promote values that contradict the Indonesian revolution.
"The film tells an important part of our revolutionary history. There will always be pros and cons, but we hope people will appreciate it," Rita said.
The new Pagar Kawat Berduri will premiere in an exclusive screening at the end of December in Jakarta.
There is no information if the film will be distributed commercially in cinemas.