JAKARTA (JP): It's been a long time since movie lovers have been able to watch a locally produced work fit for the whole family. The country's film crisis which began in the early 1990s led to the virtual disappearance of quality movies, including children's fare, made by domestic filmmakers.
Petualangan Sherina (Sherina's Adventure), starring popular child singer Sherina, may help to reverse the trend. Beginning last Wednesday and lasting through the end of the school holidays, the movie will play in major cities throughout the country.
With a storyline easily understood by all, including children from all levels of society, the film boasts a fine graphic quality, smooth camerawork, neatly constructed scenes and attractive cinematography. Particularly outstanding are the shots of mountains, forests and landscapes.
The plot centers on Sherina, the daughter of Darmawan (Mathias Muchus), aJapanese-educated agronomist. The young girl has to leave her close friendsand move with her family when her father is hired to tend to the plantations of the Ardiwilaga family.
In her new home on the outskirts of Bandung, Sherina finds herself throwninto an alien environment. However, she soon becomes acquainted with the class bully, Sadam (Derby Romero), who is the son of the Ardiwilagas. His misbehavior is due to several reasons, including to compensate for his asthma and because he is spoiled at home.
One day Sherina and her family are invited to stay in the hillside home of the Ardiwilagas in Lembang. The room is nestled among plantations, not far from the famed Boscha Observatorium.
The property has long been prized by Kertarajasa (Djaduk Ferianto) for his business plans. He had instructed a woman named Natasya (Henidar Amroe)to try to persuade Mrs. Ardiwilaga (Ratna Riantiarno) to sell the land.
After his scheming failed, Kertarajasa hired Raden (Butet Kertaredjasa) and his accomplices to kidnap Sadam. The plan is set for when Sadam and Sherina visit Bosccha.
The advent of the film is refreshing amid the moribund fortunes of the national film industry. It is also a reminder of Indonesian children's films of the past. Although few and far between, there were several works which were popular in the 1950s through 1970s.
The list includes Si Pintjang (The Lame One/1951) directed by Kotot Sukardi; Jenderal Kancil (1958), produced by Perfini, directed by Ny Abbas Akup and starring a young Achmad Albar; Bintang Kecil (Little Star/1963), produced by PT Aries Film and Garuda Film, and directed by Wim Umboh.
The trend of a few quality pictures continued in the 1970s. Rio Anakku (My Son Rio/1973) was produced by PT Rapi Film, directed by Hasmanan and with Rano Karno. Rano also starred in Si Doel anak Betawi (Doel the Betawi Boy) the same year, which was directed by Sjumandjaja and produced by PT Matari Film. Three years later, there was Chicha, with child actress ChichaKoeswoyo, directed by Edwart P. Sirait and produced by International Cine &Studio.
A marked decline in the production of children's films was evident in the1980s. Among the few vehicles was Nyoman Cinta Merah Putih (1989), producedby PT Jentera Sidha Dyatmika and directed by Judy Soebroto, and, finally, Langitku Rumahku (1991), produced by Ekapraya Film and directed by Slamet Rahardjo. Both films were hampered by distribution problems.
Even with the standout films, few locally produced works played in Indonesian movie theaters in the first half century of independence. Films directed at children were not considered profitable and their production process was viewed as difficult.
Still, with the popularity and amount of children's films on television and licensed and pirated VCDs today, there is hope the situation has improved.
Petualangan Sherina producer Mira Lesmana (she is also the wife of Mathias) and director Riri Reza recognized the difficulties entailed in making a children's movie in the country.
However, it was a longtime obsession of theirs, and they did their utmostto realize their goal. Mira provided the story idea and also wrote the lyrics for the eight songs in the movie.
While a student of film in the School of Film and Television at the Jakarta Arts Institute (it was also where Mira studied), Riri's final film project involved a children's theme. Sonata Kampung Bata (its internationaltitle was Merry Go Round) was named the best short work for children at the1994 Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany.
Riri's debut work was deeply affecting and showed his potential as a rapidly emerging filmmaker. He has maintained the intensity in a creative environment influenced by the happenings of the film world. Between Sonata Kampung Bata and Petualangan Sherina, he has produced several documentaries, television advertisements and video-clips, as well as the feature Kuldesak, in which Mira was also involved.
Riri and Mira hope Petualangan Sherina will not be a cinematic flash in the pan.
""We hope that children will be taught to love watching films in movie theaters, which is why we have not set a date to release Petualangan Sherina on VCD,"" Mira said at the film's premier on June 7.