Of fading film and lost celluloid on National Film Day
Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak
The Jakarta Post
As documentation of the nation's history, local films are falling short. Of the 3,000-or-so titles produced in the country, only a few are in good enough condition for public viewing.
On National Film Day, observed on March 30, movie makers and film critics are saying that the government, the private sector and the people need to prioritize preserving the nation's celluloid heritage.
Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu, who co-founded the film criticism website Cinema Poetica, said that recent government efforts to digitize a few old films resulted from a failure in film preservation. 'Restoration is seen as a contingency plan when everything else is not working,' Pasaribu said in a recent interview.
Separately, Lisabona Rahman, an Indonesian expert on film preservation currently restoring films in Italy, said that good preservation could keep a film in good condition for decades.
'Film restoration is a 'de-aging' process, in which a copy of an old celluloid film is made into a condition that is suitable for re-viewing,' Lisabona, a former film critic for The Jakarta Post, said in an email interview.
Meanwhile, JB Kristanto, the former film critic for Kompas who compiled the Indonesian Film Catalogue, said that most of the films kept in the nation's film archive, the Sinematek Indonesia on Jl. Rasuna Said in South Jakarta, are decaying.
'As long as there is no attention paid to film preservation, the history of our film industry ' as well as the people ' will be lost,' he said.
Budget and management are key, Kristanto said, adding that there was no institution with the needed authority. 'The most feasible way is for the Jakarta administration to take over the Sinematek or to establish its own film archive.'
There are, however, individuals who are preserving film, albeit on a minor scale.
Producer Lavesh Samtani, for example, is currently working on cleaning and digitizing hundreds of old celluloid films.
'The oldest films whose copyrights I have obtained are from the 1960s,' said Samtani. 'However, even the films from the 1990s in our collection that are said to be historical are already in poor condition.'
'Most of us in the film industry don't know how to store a film,' he adds.
The problems facing celluloid film includes fading color dyes, which means images fade; decomposition or outright damage from dust, heat or humidity.
Samtani said that cleaning and digitizing a film costs up to Rp 200 million - more if there is damage. 'I wouldn't say that all kinds of damage could be fixed. We only have standard equipment and limited technicians here.'
Meanwhile, the Lab Laba-laba (LLL) community of volunteers has been cleaning and digitizing over 30 documentaries and animated film State Film Company (PFN).
Local auteur director Edwin, who shoots exclusively on film, said that in the past year, LLL volunteers had documented 800 titles in an abandoned vault at the PFN's offices in East Jakarta. Five-hundred of those films cannot be repaired by the group.
'In mild cases, the films have shown mold but they could still be handled by us here,' Edwin said. 'The worst is when the celluloid is decomposing and lets off a strong vinegar smell.'
According to Edwin, film preservation involves restoration and also the reuse of images in new productions, as he has done for his found footage film Hortus, which uses archival film from the EYE Filmmuseum in The Netherlands. Film can even be recycled.
'An artist who is involved in the community has even concocted a solution to rewash the used celluloid so it can be reused for photographs,' Edwin said.
However, there is still hope that more films can be restored, like Usmar Ismail's Lewat Djam Malam (After Curfew), whose restoration was sponsored in part by the National Museum of Singapore and the World Cinema Foundation (WCF), established by Martin Scorsese.
Adrian said his choice of films to be restored would include Tie Pat Kai Kawin (The Wedding of Tie Pat Kai), directed by Chinese-Indonesian The Teng Chun in 1935. 'It would change the social politics of the country nowadays, seeing how it was at that time that Indonesians of Chinese and Indian descent who produced Indonesian-language films.'
Kristanto, meanwhile, has Tengkorak Hidup (Living Skull, 1941), directed by Tan Tjoei Hock, in mind. 'We have film representing all eras but the early 1940s,' he said.
Samtani suggested Titian Serambut Dibelah Tujuh (The Narrow Bridge), a masterpiece of Asrul Sani in the 1950s which had a remake directed by Chaerul Umam in 1982. 'I'm amazed that Asrul Sani could write so intriguing a plot at that time, while nowadays we could only view horror movies.'
'But if you check on YouTube, there are postings of Indonesian old movies whose copyrights we have obtained with millions of hits. It's more homework for the authorities: piracy.'
Watch - and make - movies
Round off your celebration of Indonesian Film Day by watching six short films directed by young Indonesian directors on line at viddsee.com. Shorts from Andri Cung, Ray Farandy Pakpahan, William Chandra and Edward Gunawan have been added to the Southeast Asian art film streaming website's line up.
Meanwhile, the John Darling Fellowship is looking for two young Indonesian documentary filmmakers. The fellowship offers an intensive post-graduate course in visual anthropology at the Australian National University in Canberra in August, as well as a chance to attend seminars in film marketing, distribution and archiving. More information is available at artsonline.monash.edu.au and people can submit applications online at roninfilms.com.au before April 13. ' JP
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