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Creating healthier film ecosystem in Indonesia

Reza Mardian
Reza Mardian

Film enthusiast and a big fan of Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, and all films in the running for an Oscar or Festival Film Indonesia award

Jakarta  /  Fri, June 29, 2018  /  02:05 pm
Creating healthier film ecosystem in Indonesia

Filmmakers bear the burden to improve the quality of Indonesian-made movies. (Shutterstock/File)

The quality of Indonesian movies screened at theaters during the Idul Fitri holidays has disappointed many. Not only was this pointed out by Joko Anwar in a tweet, but local filmmakers also faced quite strong competition from Hollywood blockbusters—Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomOcean’s 8 and The Incredibles 2, to name a few.

Competing against them are Indonesian horror remake Kuntilanak, Raditya Dika’s redundant experiment Target that’s all too similar to his previous film, Hangout (2016), and Raffi Ahmad’s production Dimsum dan Martabak.

While Joko did not point fingers at any of those movies, the discussion sparked on Twitter was pretty revelatory. It revolved around the question of how filmmakers should maintain the trust of Indonesian moviegoers in the quality of local productions. If the films screened are poor, any trust that’s been established will be eroded.

Film, as a commodity of the entertainment industry boosting our creative economy, deserves a healthier ecosystem. But here’s the main problem with that statement: Who populates that ecosystem? 

By definition, an ecosystem is a relation among the population of organisms within a physical environment. If we’re talking about the film ecosystem in Indonesia, then the populations interacting with the industry could be categorized into four main stakeholders: the filmmakers, the private sector, the audience and the government.

To discuss what kind of ecosystem we need, we need to understand each of the stakeholders’ own tasks and contributions.

Let’s start with the filmmakers and the private sector, which funds movies (production houses, sponsors and the distributors), as it is usually they who come up what film should be maked. The ecosystem is unhealthy if the private sector focuses too much on the profit, thus resulting in unprepared scripts, a lack of talented filmmakers and even a poor cinematic experience. Simply put: They have every intention to make bad films.

This leads us to the next stakeholder: The audience.

The audience is the ultimate judge, and if we dissect the audience, we have the passive audience and the active audience, also known as reviewers or film critics. The latter are those who determine which movies are talked about.

Currently there are few critics whose judgment is considered in the industry, and most of them are journalists working at media companies that either have a partnership with the film or critics who are not incentivized enough, so they will only watch films they like or that they know will be good. Thus, the only one reviewing bad movies is usually an independent movie reviewer who are not paid and wish not to repeat past mistakes, hence they avoid films produced by certain production houses.

Sure, some of them might be content creators for YouTube, who have already earned money, but it is safe to say that those who make content for YouTube will only be watched by the masses if they produce content of high quality (including but not limited to clear audio, great visuals and well-crafted editing). 

Which is why the fourth stakeholder, our government, should play a greater role. Of course, they’ve been doing a great job in funding several Indonesian films to be screened to a wider audience at international festivals, but that’s not enough, because by doing so, the government will only support amazing art house films, while the market is left with poor-quality commercial films. There are many government institutions that could be involved in the film environment aside from the Indonesian Film Board (BPI) and the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) to enhance the government’s role within the industry. 

Knowing that we have an unhealthy film ecosystem, the question that should be raised next is this: How do we make a healthier film ecosystem?

They key is to have everyone understand the role they should play within the ecosystem. Filmmakers should only execute well-crafted films to pitch to the private sector, and the private sector should start learning what makes good films good. It is not enough to just package any film with a mysterious title, famous stars and excessive promotion.

The soul of a film is its script. A producer should know what constitutes good screenplay, and that includes the premise, the whole plot, the logic, the characters and dialogue. 

Of course, great screenplay is not enough, the next thing a producer should prioritize is the director, who will then appoint a great and talented crew, including the casting director, production designer, cinematographer, sound engineer and supporting crew.

And to make our film crews sustainable, a relevant program should also be initiated by our next stakeholder: the government.

There is no doubt that our government has funded scholarships for several film schools, or some filmmakers, like Angga Sasongko and Ernest Prakasa, who have initiated free workshops for aspiring filmmakers. However, that does not necessarily create sustainability for the film crew in the future. The government could start initiating an internship program to have aspiring filmmakers learn under talented and inspiring directors, screenwriters and other film crew.

Further, the government could also try to selectively facilitate film critics and movie reviewers. It is even safe to connect them to credible media, so that they have a real job in judging films more blatantly. This profession will then be the most authoritative voice on which films are good and which are bad.

Any filmmakers and producers who are crazy enough to produce bad films will have their works mocked and criticized. This will encourage healthier competition for making better films. 

Only with those steps will the passive moviegoer invest more trust and engagement in Indonesian film, and that is what will make for a healthier film ecosystem. (kes)


The writer is a film enthusiast who occasionally reviews Indonesian films. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.