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Indonesia on screen: Waiting
for the extraordinary

The Indonesian film industry might be enjoying a mini boom with more films being produced this year, but the main problems — a declining number of viewers, limited cinemas and promotion, as well as poor quality film festivals — still persist.

According to government data, the number of commercial films produced this year reached 86 titles, an increase from the 82 titles last year.

But more films do not mean more viewers. In the first half of this year, the 46 films screened only had 7,952,203 viewers, or down from the 7,993,081 viewers watching 43 films in the same period last year.

On average, this year’s attendance figures were topped by several films, such as action flick The Raid, which garnered over 1.8 million viewers; Negeri 5 Menara (Country of Five Towers), which attracted 766,425 viewers; or 5cm, which reached some 500,000 viewers even though it only played for less than a week in theaters.

These numbers may sound good but they are not satisfactory, especially when compared to the 1990s when film viewers reached some 312 million in a year.

Film producer Sheila Timothy, whose company Life Like Pictures produced Modus Anomali this year, blamed rampant piracy, rising ticket prices and social conditions, such as traffic congestion, for the decline in the number of viewers.

“And there’s a decline in public confidence in the quality of local films,” she says.

Starvision’s Chand Parwaez, who this year produced Hanung Bramantyo’s Perahu Kertas (Paper Boat) which is based on an adaptation of a novel of the same title by singer-turned-writer Dewi “Dee” Lestari, attributed the decline in confidence to the number of producers who merely sold sensation, not quality films.

On average, few films made this year were extraordinary.

“Except for The Raid, no Indonesian films are extraordinary enough to excite people and make them go to the cinema,” said noted filmmaker Mira Lesmana of Miles Film. “So the decline in attendance can definitely not be solely blamed on the audience.”

Other problems also lurked, from limited budgets to promotion to the limited number of movie theaters.

“The limitation of funds is because most money is spent on production. Promotion gets a relatively small quota,” said film publicist Ade Kusumaningrum.

Mira explained that of a total production cost of Rp 8 billion (US$ 830,000) for a movie, around Rp 3.5 billion went on promotion. For a film like Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer), which costs Rp 12 billion to make, Rp 4 billion went on promotion.

Movie observer Hikmat Darmawan pointed to the limited number of cinemas and their location inside shopping centers as another reason for the decline in film audiences.

“Increase the number of theaters and spread their location. The quality of the cinemas does not have to be as good as it is now but the most important thing is they should open up opportunities for more people to come and watch films,” he said.

Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), for instance, traveled around many places to allow more people to watch. “Our population is around 250 million and not all of them are comfortably off and able to watch a movie in the malls,” Mira says.

In many big cities, especially Jakarta, most movie theaters are found inside shopping malls to cater to those who, with the change of lifestyle, want to enjoy entertainment while doing other activities.

“Cinemas that stand alone, unless their location is very good, tend to get less visitors,” explained Catherine Keng, corporate secretary of 21cineplex cinema chain.

On the other hand, competition remains stiff with foreign films continuing to flood movie theaters in the country.

Catherine said 21cineplex screened at least two Indonesian films every week, such as the recent showing of the restored classic Indonesian film — Usmar Ismail’s Lewat Djam Malam (After the Curfew) — and provided room for the activity of Kineforum, a nonprofit cinema organized by the Jakarta Arts Council.

This year also saw the government-sponsored Indonesia Film Festival become the subject of controversy rather than prestige, from the reputed Rp 16 billion to stage the festival, which several observers felt was not comparable with the perceived quality of the results and the winners of its Citra Award.

Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry director general for cultural values, arts and film Ahman Sya said the government might have a small role in the industry but this year, it had taken a number of important steps, such as holding the film festival, financing films it considered worthy and mapping the film industry.

However, Hikmat pointed out that the Indonesia Film Festival failed to take into account the industry’s prominent developments, such as a lack of attention to the number of film productions, the presence of omnibus films and the phenomenal showing of Lewat Djam Malam.

A promising development for film appreciation came from social media with the launch of the Twitter community’s @film_indonesia, which came out with the Maya Award.

Unlike the Citra Award, Maya Award winners were selected by 100 members of a jury who came from a variety of backgrounds, said Rangga Wisesa, the event’s chairman. “The event aims to support the country’s creative economy, especially the growth of an Indonesian film industry that is still searching for its identity and character,” Rangga says.

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