A household name in the country's film industry, Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) graduate Mira Lesmana seems to have eyes for picking angles for her films. The years the Indonesia film industry was in a deep sleep, she directed Kuldesak in 1999 and in 2000 produced children's movie Petualangan Sherina (Sherina's Adventure) and teen flick Ada Apa dengan Cinta? (What's up with Cinta) in 2002.
In short, Mira helped bring back the industry from the verge of death. Working with the right directors and film crews, Mira produces films that do not only enjoy success at home, but also victories at overseas film festivals, such as Eliana, Eliana, Gie, and 3 Days to Forever.
The daughter of famed jazz musician the late Jack Lesmana is married to actor Mathias Muchus. They have three sons.
Lately, she has made headlines not only for her films. With several other filmmakers, she founded Masyarakat Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film Society), pushing for change in legislation for the film industry and the Film Censorship Board. She spoke with The Jakarta Post about the causes she fights for.
What is behind the establishment of the Indonesian Film Society?
Initially, it started as a shared concern among filmmakers over the 1992 Film Law. There are many things regulated by that legislation, which, we think, are no longer relevant with our present situation in the (film) industry. One of them is about censorship.
Before establishing the Indonesian Film Society, we formed the Indonesian Film Producer Network (IFPN) in 2001 and later the Indonesian Cinema Commission in 2003. Both organizations stopped halfway for some reason. Then, in 2006, there was a hassle in FFI (Indonesian Film Festival) when the grand jury named Ekskul as the Best Film. Everybody knows the film's score was blatantly copied from a Hollywood film.
This, then, evoked much resentment and concern among various parties. And finally, some film artists returned their Citra trophies. It seemed that all film people united that day.
We felt that then it was the right time to express our interest in reforming the legislation. And for that cause, we established the Indonesian Film Society.
(The Indonesian Film Society filed a petition to revise the film law with the Constitutional Court last year, which then was followed by a series of hearings. The court verdict is expected to come out early next month)
What responses did you get from the action?
Many parties, even people from the film industry, saw us as a bunch of youngsters who defied to be controlled. But there was also an equal amount of support.
It seems that we might get what we demand. However, we also see other possibilities. Above all of that, we feel the importance of speaking up.
What's wrong with the government's role in the film industry, so that the legislation needs to be reformed?
In order to answer this, let's use the role of the Film Censorship Board as an illustration. The institution works within closed doors. It's authoritative, absolute and doesn't want to collaborate with the community.
Closed, by means we never know what is the measurement used to decide whether a scene needs to be censored or not. For example, in the film Gie, there is a scene where Gie kisses his girlfriend. It's an ordinary lovebirds' kiss, but it's cut (censored) with the reason "not suitable with Gie's personality". What does that mean?
As filmmakers, we researched and even met Gie's girlfriend in Europe. Gie's family and the girl did not object to the scene. So, on what grounds did the government institution consider it unsuitable for Gie's personality? How did the government suddenly became the one who knew Gie?
With its authoritative power, the government sorts and controls our films. We don't want government to control film.
Then, how should the relationship be between filmmakers and government?
Partnership. The government is responsible for educating and developing the public's interest in film. Meanwhile, filmmakers are encouraged to produce quality films. Filmmakers are bound in a professional association that has a code of ethics.
What about the control over the films produced? Do you aspire that there should be no control at all?
We want to straighten out this view. Our purpose in reforming the Film Censorship Board does not mean that we do not want any control. On the contrary, we want tighter control but in an open and responsible manner.
Before the court, I gave an example of what the British government does with its film industry. They have an independent institution called the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The BBFC works with detailed guidelines. Films are reviewed and placed according to different age ranges; 12 years old, 15 years old, 18 years old until above 18 years old.
All criteria used to categorize a film are public.
Moreover, if a film is put in the 18 or above category, whereas the filmmaker intended it for a 15-year-old audience, there is a mediation forum to express their objections.
We have family and social responsibility. It would be na