People watch films during a wedding party in Bogor, West Java. Kamaluddin, an entrepreneur from Tangerang runs a mobile cinema business, bringing movies to wedding and parties. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Film Communities: Shining Light of Indonesia's Film Industry


MARCH 29, 2018

Jakarta. This year’s National Film Day on March 30 is officially themed "Gemilang Film Indonesia," or "Indonesian Films: A Shining Light." A series of activities have been held as part of the celebration, and most of them were focused on trying to empower film communities, now seen as the bulwark of the film industry in Indonesia.

Basic filmmaking workshops for communities were held earlier this month by the Education and Culture Ministry's Film Development Center (Pusbang Film).

Its head Maman Wijaya told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday (28/03) in the workshops students were taught editing, cinematography, sound editing and artistic direction.

On March 23-25, Temu Komunitas Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film Communities Meet-up or TKFI) took place in Sukabumi, West Java.

A total of 320 film activists from 98 communities in 40 cities all around Indonesia took part in the event.

"I hope these film communities can help promote local culture, and they can improve themselves as well, be it in making movies, doing research or organizing movie screenings. The government is ready to help them," Maman said.

But what exactly is a film community in Indonesia? What do they do, where is the list of their successes and what kind of obstacles are they facing?

Who Are They?

The term "film community" has a broad and fluid definition, according to film critic Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu, the co-founder of film website Cinema Poetica and one of the organizers of TKFI.

According to Adrian, a film community can be any non-government, non-corporate group that shares their love for film production, education, appreciation, exhibition or a combination of all of these things.

Any entity outside the film industry can form a film community, including student-run organizations.

Maman meanwhile defines a film community as an organization involved in film-related activities for non-commercial purposes.

Adrian begs to differ. The film critic says independent production houses like Fourcolours Films in Yogyakarta and Palari Films (previously Babibuta Film) in Jakarta are also communities since their views and values (especially in gaining profits from making movies) are different from those of the major studios.

"There are quite a few communities that do things for commercial purposes and are legally recognized as business entities, but they aren’t part of the industry," Adrian said.

These grassroots movements started mushrooming after Reformasi in 1998, when Indonesians started to enjoy more freedom of expression.

The film industry at that time was still recovering from the onslaught of Hollywood movies in the later years of the New Order era. Only a few studios were able to thrive.

"Hence the communities. They were created to fill in the gaps. Got no cinema? Then you hosted screenings. Got no films? Then independent films were made," Adrian said.

A film community screening in Ambon, Maluku, to celebrate International Women's Day. (Antara Photo/Embong Salampessy)

In 2016, Cinema Poetica Research Center surveyed the communities during TKFI and found that production and exhibition were their two most common activities.

Out of 77 communities, 49 produced films and host screenings and/or festivals.

Those numbers can change quickly, Adrian noted. There are many new names in TKFI 2018, he said. This reflects the reality of film communities: they come and go easily.

"They come out of nowhere, and they disappear as mysteriously. […] They're often not very well organized. They're not attached to a bigger system. They can be gone in 5 months. This short-livedness is a problem," Adrian said.

So, what factors can decide if a film community is going to last for a long time or disappear as quickly as it comes up?

Individual Brilliance

Adrian said a film community's survival is often down to "individual brilliance."

If there is someone who keeps it going, who has the knowledge, technical and leadership skills, or access to resources, then the community will flourish.

When that person is gone, the community goes with him or her.

Access to resources – and this more often than not means money – is key, according to Adrian. It would definitely help if these brilliant individuals are also financially sound.

"They usually already have a steady income or come from a privileged background so they can dedicate themselves to their communities without having to hold down a full-time job. They don't have to be rich, but earn enough so they can engage in these extracurricular activities," Adrian said.

Adrian mentioned Wregas Bhanuteja of Studio Batu in Yogyakarta as a case in point.

Though he founded the production house with his friends, Studio Batu is primarily known for the films Wregas directed, including "Prenjak" (In the Year of the Monkey), which won the Leica Cine Discovery Prize at Cannes Film Festival's Semaine de la Critique program in 2016.

In an interview with Serunai published in the same year, Wregas said he has a day job as one of Riri Riza’s assistant directors, a job that pays him enough to be able to make at least one short film every year.

"I really respect Wregas for having survived this far because it’s not easy. But if the community system really works, we should've been able to find 10 Wregas-es each year from different places," Adrian said.

Organize, Organize, Organize

Then there are film communities that are begun by persistent efforts from one individual but in time develops into a system.

Purbalingga's Cinema Lovers Community (CLC) is an example.

CLC was formed in March 2006 in the sleepy Central Javanese town by local filmmaker Bowo Leksono, who had used the name since 2004 for the production house that made his short films.

The community has now not only survived but flourished for over a decade along with its student film festival, the Purbalingga Film Festival (FFP).

Adrian said the key to CLC's survival is having a fully functional system.

Bowo and his friends in CLC, such as film activist Dimas Jayasrana, constantly recruit new members to help organize the festival.

They also have smaller teams at the village level to network with local schools.

CLC Purbalingga held a short film workshop for students in Kebumen, Central Java, in August last year. (Photo courtesy of CLC Purbalingga)

One of the classic problems for film communities is a lack of commitment. Adrian said many new communities have a lot of problems recruiting new people for regeneration.

"Their organizational culture is weak. That’s why most of them still need 'brilliant individuals' to survive – if they can find one," Adrian said.

Access to Films and Filmmakers

"Equality doesn't exist in local distribution system. This is one of the factors that kills film communities. Technically you can still produce a movie even when you live in a remote area. But if you want to organize screenings but don’t have any connection to filmmakers, then you’re done," Adrian said.

That’s why exhibition communities only thrive in "the right cities."

Festival programmers in big cities in Java benefit from easy access to films and filmmakers.

If you live in Jakarta or Yogyakarta, where many filmmakers are based, arranging film screenings or inviting filmmakers to a discussion isn’t really a tough task.

Adrian said Jakarta-based arts foundation Forum Lenteng is trying to redress this imbalance by supplying films to communities in Padang, West Sumatra, and Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.

"But what if you don’t know Forum Lenteng? Ask communities in Palu [Central Sulawesi], Makassar [South Sulawesi], or Ambon [Maluku], they really struggle to keep going. I often get angry at people from Java who complain, ah, Palu always screens the same movies. Check your privilege, I tell them," Adrian said.

A 'layar tancap' (mobile cinema) at a wedding party in Bogor, West Java. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)


Funding is a big problem for grassroots movements in Indonesia. Adrian said Cinema Poetica has survived since its inception in 2010 only because their founders have kept chipping in to keep the site afloat.

Funding from the government or private sector or prize money from competitions does help, but the first thing you need to ensure a long life for your film community is a commitment to spend your own money for it.

One of the few opportunities for film community financing is available at TKFI.

In 2016, the event's Financing Forum awarded two communities Rp 5 million ($350) each. That amount has doubled this year to Rp 10 million.

While it's always helpful to receive grants or funding, Maman said this should not be the be all and end all for film communities.

Film communities should not get discouraged every time their financing proposal is rejected, Maman said.

"We always say that any financial assistance is just a stimulus. Community organizers must be militant, in the sense that they have to work hard for their programs. Avoid being dependent on others," Maman said.