Cinema comes out of the
dark ages

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Indonesian film industry experienced its so-called "golden age", turning out several quality flicks - a trend replicated in the 2000s.

A few decades ago, the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) with its coveted trophy, Piala Citra, was a highly anticipated and prestigious event for every one connected to the local film community.

But during the 1990s, the bright lights of the industry faded to darkness. Several reasons have been offered as the reason for the poor output, including the emergence of several private TV stations, offering entertaining programs for free, thus diminishing cinema.

During those gloomy years, Hollywood flicks dominated Indonesia's cinemas, with very few local movies screened in theaters. Even the FFI went into a hiatus, such was the state of the industry.

But the past decade has seen an amazing turnaround in the production and output of Indonesian films. The film industry has risen from obscurity to global recognition, with locally made movies screened in film festivals abroad, some even winning awards.

They've been appreciated and welcomed at home as well, both critically and commercially, resulting in boosts to productions and attendance. Here's a look at the highlights of Indonesian film over the past 10 years.


Petualangan Sherina (Sherina's Adventure) was like a breath of fresh air wafting through the stale Indonesian movie world, according to Yan Widjaya, a local film observer and critic.

The 114-minute children's musical, directed by Riri Riza and Mira Lesmana, deals with friendship, children and family relationships amid the pressures of the entertainment business.

This movie, produced by Miles Production at a cost of about Rp 2 billion, starred talented singer Sherina Munaf accompanied by newcomer Derby Romero.

Also in the cast - and boosting the film's attractiveness for local viewers - were such respected names as Didi Petet, Mathias Muchus, Butet Kertaredjasa, Djadoek Ferianto and Teater Koma's Ratna Riantiarno.

The film was so popular that people waited in long queues to get tickets. The musical took the nation by storm, pulling in more than 1.4 million viewers, still a record for a local musical.


The following year, Jelangkung (The Uninvited), a horror flick directed by Rizal Mantovani Jose Poernomo, enjoyed similar success.

More than 1 million people lined up at cinemas to watch the movie, which starred Winky Wirawan and Harry Panca.

Other films of the year were: Joshua Oh Joshua, Marsinah and Pasir Berbisik (Whispering Sands).


2002 saw the beginning of the craze for teen flicks, with the breakthrough film Ada Apa dengan Cinta? (What's Up With Love?), starring Dian Sastrowardoyo and Nicholas Saputra.

Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? directed by Rudi Soedjarwo, sold 2.6 million tickets, and thrust the two young leading stars into the spotlight, making them the new teen idols.

The success of the teen flick help give filmmakers the encouragement they needed, and they started making more and more movies. Slowly but surely, the Indonesian film industry began to stir from its hibernation.

Another notable film was Nia Dinata's Ca Bau Kan, based on the novel of the same name by Remy Sylado. Set in the 1930s, the film tells the story of two ethnic Chinese freedom fighters, played by Ferry Salim and Lola Amaria.

As Yan pointed out, the people behind these movies were among those leading the renaissance.

"Young and talented directors like Mira Lesmana, Riri Riza, Nia Dinata, Hanung Bramantyo played a big part in restoring the glory of local movies," said Yan.

Other films: Andai Ia Tahu (I Wish She Knew) and Eliana, Eliana.


More fresh, gorgeous young stars came into the spotlight with the success of another teen flick Eiffel I'm in Love (2003), starring Shandy Aulia and Samuel Rizal.

Nia Dinata's Arisan! (The Gathering), starring youngster Tora Sudiro, Cut Mini Theo and Surya Saputra, was also a big hit.

The film, a well-made and witty story about the ins and outs of Jakarta's upper classes, featured such characters as frustrated wives, jealous wives, career women, cheating husbands, man-hunting girls and two gay men (one closeted and one open).

Other films: Rumah Ketujuh (The Seventh House) and Tusuk Jelangkung.


The awakening of the Indonesian movie world was confirmed with the rebirth of FFI in 2004. In the first event (after years lying dormant), Rudi Soedjarwo earned his first award as Best Director for Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?, and Nia Dinata's Arisan! took the Best Film award.

The number of movies the local industry was producing continued to increase, with filmmakers tackling a range of themes, including dramas, teen romantic comedy, horror, historical and religious.

Other films: Mengejar Matahari (Chasing The Sun) and Virgin.


As chicklit, a new genre of books targeting young women, gained popularity with increasing numbers of titles hitting the bestseller lists, filmmakers jumped on the bandwagon, taking the stories and ideas onto the big screen.

Just some examples of the romantic comedy trend were Alexandria, Apa Artinya Cinta? (What Does Love Mean?), Cinta Silver (Silver Love), Brownies, Dealova and Me vs High Heels were just some examples.

But it wasn't all love and laughter - Detik Terakhir, a drama adapted from Aberthiene Endah's debut novel Jangan Beri Aku Narkoba (Don't Give Me Drugs) and starring Cornelia Agatha, was warmly welcomed by both viewers and movie critics.

Other films: Janji Joni (Joni's Promise), Banyu Biru and Mirror.


Husband and wife team Ari Sihasale and Nia Zulkarnaen made their debut film with the heartwarming children's tale Denias, Senandung di Atas Awan (Denias, Hum Above the Clouds).

The cinema industry also got a boost - and a shake up - with the opening of the first Blitz Megaplex in Bandung, in West Java. Blitz has since expanded to some parts of the capital, offering a new option and competition in a sector that had been dominated by 21 Cineplex.

Further competition came in the form of a multitude of affordable pirated DVDs. Being able to watch what you wanted when you wanted it meant fewer people went out to the movies.

The number of cinemas overall fell. According to the All Indonesia Movie Theater Companies Association, Indonesia had around 3,300 movie screens, run by more than 500 companies in the 1990s. At the end of the 2000s, there are just over 600.

Another setback for the burgeoning local film industry this year was the controversy that erupted at the FFI when the grand jury awarded the prize for Best Film to Ekskul. Critics claimed the score for the film had been blatantly copied from a Hollywood film. During the ensuing controversy, some film artists even returned their Citra trophies.

Other films: Berbagi Suami (Love for Share), Jomblo (Single) and Mendadak Dangdut (Suddenly Dangdut)


2007 saw veteran actor and director Deddy Mizwar's revival of the story of Nagabonar, the pickpocket who became a soldier during the war, in the sequel Nagabonar Jadi 2 (Nagabonar Becomes 2).

Just as Nagabonar claimed the Best Film and Best Actor FFI awards in 1987, the sequel earned the prize for Best Film.

This year also saw the rise in popularity of adult comedies, starting with Quickie Express which had a very healthy box-office result.

But if anything dominated the industry in 2007, it was horror, as filmmakers tried to boost revenue by putting local ghosts and ghost stories onto the silver screen: We saw kuntilanak (female ghost), sundel bolong (ghost with a hole in its back), pocong (ghost wrapped in a winding sheet) and suster ngesot (nurse ghost), along with scary places such as Lawang Sewu (A Thousand Doors) and Terowongan Casablanca (Casablanca's Tunnel).

Other films: Get Married, Maaf Saya Menghamili Istri Anda (Sorry, I Impregnated Your Wife) and Mereka Bilang, Saya Monyet! (They Say I'm Monkey).


This was a rich year for Indonesian cinema, with 93 films released nationwide - the most Indonesian films released in a decade, and 10 times as many as in the first years of the new century.

"In terms of quantity, this is a great thing, although not every movie offered good quality," Yan said. "But at least the number shows that the Indonesian movie industry really has got back on track."

This was also the year when the all-time Indonesian cinema box-office record was broken, by the year's two top films: Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors) and Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love).

Laskar Pelangi, based on Andrea Hirata's best-selling novel and directed by Riri Riza, pulled in 4.6 million viewers nationwide - "the highest ever number of viewers in Indonesia's movie history," Yan added.

Ayat-Ayat Cinta, a romantic drama with a strong religious theme, based on another best-selling novel, by Habiburrahman El Shirazi, came second with some 4 million viewers.

Following the success of Ayat-Ayat Cinta, many other filmmakers turned their hand to films with religious themes, making such productions as Perempuan Berkalung Sorban (Woman With Headscarf), Mengaku Rasul (The Self-Proclaimed Prophet) and Doa Yang Mengancam (The Threatening Prayer).

Many horror movies were still to be found in cinemas, with the likes of Hantu Ambulance (Ambulance Ghost), Tali Pocong Perawan (The Virginal Ghost) and others, adding up to a total of 15 Indonesian horror films in 2008.

The sex comedy genre also soared during this year, with the release of Extra Large, Namaku Dick (My Name is Dick), Kutunggu Jandamu (I'll Wait Till You Become a Widow) and Mupeng - Muka Pengen (Horny Look).

Sports-themed films also began to appear in the theater, such as Rudi Soedjarwo's bike-racing drama Liar (Wild), boxing story Sebelah Mata (One Eye) and the comedy Gara-Gara Bola (Because of Balls).

Dian Sastrowardoyo reunited with Nicholas Saputra in 3 Doa 3 Cinta (Three Wishes, Three Loves), which premiered at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea, the prime haven for Asian cinema to gain worldwide recognition, and thus a strong sign of the presence of Indonesian films at an international level.

Other films: Syahadat Cinta (Confession of Love) and Anda Puas Saya Loyo (You're Satisfied, I'm Exhausted)


The number of films released in 2009 dropped to 86, but viewers could not be more pleased about the way Indonesian film was ruling the local cinemas, claiming more than 55 percent of the film-going market.

Religious love story Ketika Cinta Bertasbih (When Love is Extolled), a literary adaptation, successfully attracted about 2.4 million movie goers; its sequel, Ketika Cinta Bertasbih 2 (known as KCB 2), attracted 1.4 million viewers.

About 1.4 million people also watched children's soccer drama Garuda Di Dadaku (Garuda In My Heart), with Get Married 2, the sequel to Get Married, taking fourth spot with 1.2 million viewers.

Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamers), the highly anticipated sequel to Laskar Pelangi, released in mid-December, is expected to rule the local box office just as the first film did. Sang Pemimpi has already made history, as the first Indonesian film to open the Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) in December.

The release of animation Meraih Mimpi (Getting the Dream) added color to the local output because animations have been completely absent for years. The film was voiced by several big-name stars, from teenage singer Gita Gutawa to established stars like Cut Mini, Surya Saputra and Ria Irawan.

2009 also saw the revival of nationalist movies, with the release of Merah Putih (Red and White), and martial arts movies Merantau. Both themes had been absent from Indonesian movies for more than 15 years.

But filmmakers' movie-making spirits were dampened somewhat by the new film industry law, which the industry deemed restricts creativity and freedom of expression.

The law stipulates that movie producers must acquire operational permits from ministries and local administrations before making a movie; a production house must lodge a report containing its project plan, title and plot to the ministry. Article 48 stipulates only certified filmmakers are allowed to make movies.

Other films: Emak Ingin Naik Haji (Mom Wants To Go On A Haj) and Air Terjun Pengantin (Bride's Fall).

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