The Mirror Never Lies. JP/SET Film/WWF
Hollywood films were nowhere to be seen at local cineplex movie theaters for months, while the Indonesian Film Festival got a facelift and Piala Vidia was back after missing for five years.
For movie enthusiasts, one of the most shocking events this year was the absence of imported movies from Indonesian cinemas around midyear, following a dispute between the government and film distributors over taxation.
Moviegoers across the country missed their chance to enjoy Academy Award nominated films, such as Black Swan with Natalie Portman, and True Grit with Jeff Bridges.
Local importers that had exclusive rights to import Hollywood blockbusters from the Motion Picture Association (MPA) began to stop importing films in January while they were working to resolve the Rp 300 billion (US$35.09 million) tax issue in the form of unpaid royalties and penalties.
Hollywood movies started to hit local cinemas again in late July, after the then Culture and Tourism Ministry granted permission to film importer PT Omega Film to bring imported films back to the country.
The appointment of Omega, however, drew criticism from a number of local movie distributors including its main competitor, Blitz Megaplex, as Omega was affiliated with the cinema giant, 21 Cineplex Group, which had been held responsible for the unpaid taxes.
Meanwhile, Ekky Imanjaya, a movie critic who is also a faculty member of School of Art and Design at Bina Nusantara University, saw a growing local film industry, saying there was a wider range of genres, not only the usual cheap horror flicks.
Young audiences got several treats, as there were a number of movies aimed especially for them, from Rumah Tanpa Jendela (A House without a Window), Serdadu Kumbang (Beetle Troops), Lima Elang (Five Eagles), Mestakung, Langit Biru (Blue Sky) and Garuda di Dadaku 2 (Garuda on My Chest 2).
Horror flicks, however, remained available in cinemas and some, surprisingly, even netted hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Arwah Goyang Karawang (Karawang Dancing Spirit) — later re-titled as Arwah Goyang Jupe Depe (Jupe Depe’s Dancing Spirit) — drew more than 720,000 moviegoers, superceding other films such as ?, Get Married 3, Tendangan Dari Langit (A Shot From the Sky) and Catatan Harian Si Boy (Boy’s Diary).
However, it was emotional drama Surat Kecil Untuk Tuhan (A Small Letter to God) that achieved the largest audiences, attracting more than 740,000 viewers, according to a film portal initiated by film critics JB Kristanto and Lisabona Rahman.
A report about the catfight between Arwah’s two actresses — singers Julia Perez and Dewi Persik — seemed to enhance the popularity of the project.
Some producers adopted the strategy of releasing their films overseas before launching them to local audiences.
Take the psychological thriller The Perfect House, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, and action flick The Raid, which won the People’s Choice Award at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival in September.
Besides that, all eyes were on the 2011 Indonesian Film Festival, known locally as the FFI or Piala Citra (Citra Awards).
After a series of controversies over the last few years, which were primarily aggravated by poor management, the FFI, the country’s equivalent of the Academy Awards, finally got a revamp.
The FFI was initiated in 1955 but hibernated for a hiatus period of 12 years from 1992 when the Indonesian film industry faced the dark years of the 1990s, before the festival was reborn in 2004.
The festival has been marred by a string of controversies, including selection and nominations, the poor performance by the organizers, and the accusation of sidelining new talent in the industry.
Back in 2006, filmmakers and actors returned their Citra awards from previous wins to the Culture and Tourism Ministry in protest at the shock win of Ekskul, a comedy-drama named as the year’s best film, beating critically acclaimed Berbagi Suami (Sharing a Husband) and Denias: Senandung Di Atas Awan (Denias: A Hum Above the Clouds).
aT the 2010 FFI, the organizer failed to keep the festival on schedule. The decision not to include Hanung’s epic Sang Pencerah (The Enlightener) plus the dismissal of some juries during the selection process caused debate.
This year, the FFI appeared in a slightly new look as the organizer refined its judging system by setting a nomination committee comprising 21 people in seven sub divisions, including directing, editing, acting, screenwriting and cinematography. A panel of seven judges later decided the final winners.
The seven-judge panel mainly consisted of representatives from the young generation, such as Agung Sentausa, director of Garasi and Badai di Ujung Negeri (Storm on the Edge of the Nation), writer Djenar Maesa Ayu, who earned a Citra award for her script Mereka Bilang Saya Monyet (They Say I’m a Monkey), musician Zeke Khaseli, and Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka, a member of the Indonesian Film Society and a film curator.
Although filmmakers like Riri Riza, Mira Lesmana and Nia Dinata still boycotted the FFI, it did not diminish the enthusiasm of other producers and filmmakers in submitting their work to this year’s festival.
Sixteen out of 41 big-screen movies were nominated in 12 categories. Besides feature films, there were also categories for short movies and documentaries, while the judges comprised people actively involved in film communities.
There were a total of 98 short films and 60 documentaries screened at this year’s FFI.
“It still used an enrollment system, so films that were not submitted [by filmmakers] wouldn’t be included in the competition,” said Ekky, citing the examples of Garin Nugroho’s Mata Tertutup (Eyes Closed) and Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s Lovely Man.
The first flick is about radicalism in Islam, while the latter portrays a transgender issue. “If the two movies had been included in the festival, it would have been more interesting,” he added.
Talking about the change in the festival’s structure, Ekky said, “This is a reform process [for the local film industry], although it’s still only halfway there; it’s still under construction.”
“But we should give them a chance. We should appreciate their efforts. I noticed that the judges mostly consisted of young people who were experienced in their fields.”
Sang Penari, taken from critically acclaimed novel Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (Paruk Village Dancer) achieved four out of nine nominations, earning prizes for best movie, best director (Ifa Isfansyah), best leading actress (Prisia Nasution) and best supporting actress (Dewi Irawan).
Benni Setiawan’s drama Masih Bukan Cinta Biasa earned two gongs for best adapted screenplay and best sound production, while Kamila Andini’s The Mirror Never Lies won best original screenplay and best music direction.
Young actor Emir Mahira, who starred as a boy with autism in children’s flick Rumah Tanpa Jendela, surprisingly ousted the hot contender Oka Antara, who played an illiterate, naïve, poor-guy-turned-military officer in Sang Penari, to take home the award for best leading actor.
Hanung’s ?, nominated for nine categories, and Tendangan Dari Langit (A Kick from the Sky), which had four nominations, bagged “only” one prize each, while veteran Mathias Muchus was awarded best supporting actor in another Hanung production, Pengejar Angin (The Wind Chaser).
The 2011 FFI also marked the revival of Piala Vidia, a competition dedicated for made-for-TV films that has been dormant since 2006; the competition presented 13 awards to filmmakers and actors.
Bakpao Ping Ping (Ping Ping’s Bun), which highlights the culture of West Kalimantan’s Singkawang, bagged five awards, comprising best film, best director, best script, best supporting actress, and best artistic direction.
Ringgo Agus Rahman took home the best actor award for his role in Mahasmara, while Maudy Koesnaedi earned an award for best actress for her role in Si Doel Anak Pinggiran (Doel, A Street Boy).
In spite of the changes to the FFI, the industry was in grief as noteworthy independent event, the Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) was halted for the first time since it was inaugurated in 1999, due to a lack of funding.
Last year, the festival almost disappeared because of the same problem, before a cell phone manufacturer and the government came to its rescue.
Sadly, no such cavalry charge has been made to keep this year’s JiFFest alive.