Indonesian Cinema Transcends Boundaries in 2015


DECEMBER 14, 2015

Jakarta. 2015 saw the Indonesian film industry go through trying times. Box-office wise, only two local films managed to receive more than one million viewers this year: "Surga Yang Tak Dirindukan" ("An Unwanted Bliss") and "Comic 8: Casino Kings 1."

But at the international level, Indonesian filmmakers have been presenting their work and making appearances in numerous film festivals from Cannes and Venice to Toronto, Busan and Tokyo.

A new audience

The SAE Institute in Pejaten, Jakarta, celebrated Film Week last week and screened the black-and-white film “Siti” by Eddie Cahyono to a full house. Earlier that day, crowds filled more than half the theater to see “About a Woman” by Teddy Soeriaatmadja.

The enthusiasm is understandable. Both films have yet to be released in Indonesian cinemas, but international recognition for these projects have sparked enough curiosity to occupy the room. 

Indonesia is now seeing a new generation of filmmakers who seek an audience outside the mainstream movie scene. In a country where film distribution is far from solid and very much dominated by Hollywood films, promotion and theatrical releases cost Indonesian production houses a fortune. It is no secret that Indonesian films struggle to conveniently land release dates in local theaters.

Ifa Isfansyah, the producer of “Siti,” was clear that he and Eddie did not intend to make the film for Indonesian cinemas.

"It is a film with a very small budget, we knew we wouldn't have the budget to make copies and even to register to [Film Censorship Board (LSF)]. It is a huge surprise that we won the Citra [for best film]. I hope this means we can finally appreciate work that is honest and meaningful."

Celebrating film

Siti has been featured in 20 film festivals and received four awards. Beijing-based French producer Isabelle Glachant, who signed on to the film Siti right after saw the film at Rotterdam in January, said they are still working to distribute the film in more film festivals. At the moment, Glachant admitted it is difficult to sell Siti because of its black and white format, making it difficult to market to a general audience. Television networks are afraid that viewers are hesitant to watch black and white movies.

"We are lucky to win the Citra for best film. It means there is a chance for a theatrical release in its home country, which eventually makes it is easier for the film to be featured in more international film festivals. It's a back and forth [effort]," Glachant said.

Teddy echoed Ifa and Eddie's sentiments in "About a Woman," which is the final installment in his trilogy.

"I have tried making films for Indonesian cinemas but it didn't get a lot of viewers, so now I am fine just making films for festivals," Teddy said.

Teddy also stresses that his audience see the full, uncensored versions of his pet projects. For this reason, some of his films will not be released in Indonesian cinemas.

By participating in international film festivals, filmmakers are able to establish a good reputation internationally, score deals in film sales and be part of world cinema. Film festivals and its curations play a huge part in establishing an alternative cinema culture.

In a year where the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) was noticeably absent, Yogyakarta is showing off their talent in film-making in what their local government dubbed Month of Yogya Cinema.

In early December, the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (JAFF) kicked off the month-long celebration with a six-day celebratory event. It was then followed by the Yogyakarta's Animation Fair, Exhibition of Yogya's Film Potential, Film Student Festival and Documentary Film Festival.

"Every film festival is unique. JAFF is born out of its love for films and is run by youth in film communities and filmmakers. We mainly focus on screening Asian films that may otherwise not be screened in Indonesia," said Ifa, executive director of JAFF.

In an effort to further develop the industry, JAFF has dedicated its 10th edition to filmmaker Gotot Prakosa, who passed away on June 4 this year. Gotot was a member of the film committee at the Jakarta Arts Council who initiated Art Cinema at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta, which eventually became the micro-cinema Kineforum, dedicating themselves to screening international movies.

The emergence of microcinemas

Meanwhile, efforts to create alternative viewing spaces are cropping up across Jakarta. Film producer Meiske Taurisia recently opened a new microcinema Kinosaurus at Kemang, South Jakarta. Meiske spent six months in Japan and another six months in Thailand to study the cinema culture in both countries. She learned that the local film industry could get a giant boost with the help of privately-owned mini theaters.

"It is all part of a movement that goes back to the 1970's, when filmmakers felt the need for alternative, non-commercial viewing spaces. It's just like the retail business, you want more shops selling different kind of clothes. Small theaters even have their own specialties, be it documentary, fiction or animation," Meiske said.

For now, Kinosaurus has opened their doors to any film genre, as its main goal is to offer diversity in content and cinema.

Director Edwin, who made "The Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly" and "Postcard from the Zoo" and is also the co-founder of Kinosaurus, said the communal experience of watching a movie is an important aspect of film culture.

Edwin believes that greater efforts are required to distribute Indonesian films, saying that Indonesia only has approximately 1000 screens and there should be a different kind of distribution system to reach Indonesian cities without cinemas.

"My films are mostly screened outside commercial cinemas. For example, it's extraordinary to see a group of people gathered in a small district office in Aceh to see my work. It will not happen if we are only relying to mainstream film distribution," Edwin said.