Lewat Djam Malam (After the Curfew), a film directed by Usmar Ismail in 1955, was screened at the Classic Film Program of the Cannes Film Festival in France last Thursday. The film, deemed as rare and little-known as it is beautiful and necessary, was screened after having been restored in Bologna, Italy, over more than seven months, thanks to the National Museum of Singapore and the nonprofit foundation Yayasan Konfiden.
“Lewat Djam Malam, like many other movies, was in a critical condition and needed to be rescued,” said Alex Sihar, the director of the foundation. The classic film is hard evidence that the public can participate in preserving film collections.
However, it is only one of nearly 2,000 films that are in a poor condition due to a lack of adequate storage facilities at Sinematek, the Indonesian cinematheque, at the Usmar Ismail film building on Jl. Rasuna Said, South Jakarta.
As the only archive of films in Indonesia, Sinematek’s condition and management are far from adequate for film storage. The basement store-room of celluloid films does not even have proper lighting. The ceiling is moldy and many of the cans containing the films are rusty.
Celluloid, on which the movies are printed, is made of sensitive chemical compounds. It is easily damaged by water, humidity, heat and mold. “Ideally, we have to clean the celluloid films every three months but we lack employees and money so we clean them only once a year,” said Firdaus, 41, an officer at the film store, adding that it took one year to clean the whole collection.
At Sinematek, visitors can still find Indonesian films made in different periods ranging from the 1940s to 2010 by various acclaimed directors like Usmar Ismail, Sumandjaya, Teguh Karya and Garin Nugroho. Sinematek holds 2,714 film titles consisting of 632 master copies and 318 screening copies, 1,615 documentary film copies in 35 mm and 16 mm formats. Most of the films are in bad condition or poorly maintained.
One of the biggest problems that Sinematek faces today is financing. The Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin established Sinematek in 1975 and allocated regular funds from the administration’s budget. However, a 2001 law banned the government from giving funds to nonprofit organizations, including Sinematek.
Yayasan Pusat Perfilman Haji Usmar Ismail (YPPHUI), a noncommercial foundation, should have provided funds for Sinematek from renting the building. However, poor rent returns have led to financial shortfalls.
For Alex, Sinematek’s position is unclear. “The collection belongs to the public but the library belongs to a private party,” he said, adding that was why the government and the foundation needed to sit together to solve the problem.
The most important long-term issue for Sinematek is to resolve this institutional dichotomy but the urgent short-term need is to secure the collection by cleaning the films regularly and providing Sinematek with needed maintenance materials.
Sinematek director Berthy L. Ibrahim has an alternative solution. He plans to charge film companies for the maintenance and storage of their films. “The money will help Sinematek maintain its collection,” he said.
Berthy added that he was tired of asking the government to pay attention to Sinematek. “I just sent an email to them recently. I don’t think they read it,” he said.
Deputy Education and Culture Minister for Culture Wiendu Nuryanti said that her office and film stakeholders were still discussing plans to save the Sinematek collection. “We will map the problems first before making strategic plans to save the collection,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lisa Bona Rahman, a film programmer who is studying film preservation and presentation for her masters degree in the Netherlands, said that the most important thing was that Sinematek should be managed by professionals in audiovisual archiving. “Without professionalism in handling the collection, people will be reluctant to help because they are afraid that the funds won’t be well managed,” she said.
“The Sinematek collection is very important in building our knowledge about Indonesian history through the cinema.” (cor)