press enter to search

Cinema and COVID-19: National Film Day overshadowed by pandemic

Josa Lukman

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, March 29, 2020  /  12:08 pm
Cinema and COVID-19: National Film Day overshadowed by pandemic

Stay away so they can spray: A staff member sprays disinfectant at a cinema as it prepares to reopen to the public after closing due to COVID-19 in Shenyang in China's northeastern Liaoning province on March 25. (AFP/STR)

March 30 marks National Film Day, which commemorates the start of filming for Indonesia’s first movie, Usmar Ismail’s Darah dan Doa (Blood and Prayer), released in 1950.

Seven decades later, celebrations seem to have been put aside as the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, which had infected over 890 people as of Friday.

At this point, everyone is well aware of the instruction to stay at home to prevent further transmission. Businesses and companies have closed up shop, forcing employees to work from home.

For the national film industry, the coronavirus has hit particularly hard.

Movie buff Amelia, for example, regularly checks the cinema schedules for new releases, but with the ongoing pandemic, she has found a new home in streaming services.

“Admittedly, streaming is much more convenient, but there’s just something about sitting in a cinema with a box of popcorn in your hands. However, I’ll gladly stay home if it means I’m safer,” the 24-year-old said.

Emptiness: The usually bustling CGV Cinemas at Grand Indonesia in Jakarta has been ghost silent in recent days in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The cinema chain followed the orders of the Jakarta provincial government to close entertainment venues from March 23 to April 5.Emptiness: The usually bustling CGV Cinemas at Grand Indonesia in Jakarta has been ghost silent in recent days in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The cinema chain followed the orders of the Jakarta provincial government to close entertainment venues from March 23 to April 5. (ANTARA/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Earlier this week, after cinema giants Cinema XXI and CGV temporarily closed their Jakarta theaters for two weeks, a number of to-be-launched titles suddenly found their release dates postponed.

Rapi Films’ romantic comedy Bucin, originally slated for a March 26 release, was postponed indefinitely. Director Chandra Liow, who will make his debut with the movie, said it was a “hard decision” that ultimately needed to be done.

“[It is] my first film. The decision to postpone the theatrical release is made with a heavy heart, but we must do this for the sake of Indonesia. I hope our friends can be patient and continue to support Indonesian cinema,” he said in a statement.

Visinema Pictures’ Generasi 90an: Melankolia (90s Generation: Melancholia), adapted from Marchella FP’s book Generasi 90an, has also been postponed indefinitely from its original release date of April 9.

These postponements are a marked change for the movie industry compared to the start of the year, when Visinema’s adaptation of Marchella’s Nanti Kita Cerita Tentang Hari Ini (One Day We’ll Talk About Today) managed to snag 118,000 viewers on opening day despite floods, ultimately bringing in more than 2.2 million viewers in total.

A Visinema spokesperson declined to comment on the issue, saying only that the production house was awaiting instructions from the government.

Film festivals, such as the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, have also been delayed.

In Indonesia, organizers of the Europe on Screen (EoS) film festival announced Thursday that the 20th edition of the event was postponed, with new dates to be announced in the coming weeks. 

Screenings at the pre-festival event “Road to Europe on Screen 2020” ran normally earlier this month, but the March 21 screenings at Erasmus Huis were cancelled.

EoS festival co-director Nauval Yazid declined to comment, saying that an official statement would be made shortly.

Film director Yosep Anggi Noen was disheartened by the pandemic’s effects on the national film industry, citing the many postponements of production and release dates, including for the theatrical release of his latest title Hiruk-Pikuk si Al-Kisah (The Science of Fictions).

“Even so, I’m proud of the collective decision by the industry to postpone many events for the sake of health and safety – 2020 National Film Day is a stepping stone for us to rethink healthcare rights and a comfortable working environment for the film industry. Films are made by humans for humans, so creating them must also be humane,” he told The Jakarta Post via email.

Anggi himself expressed uncertainty over how much the pandemic had affected the industry, as cinema closures and production halts were happening globally.

“To be honest, there is a big question on what direction the Indonesian film industry will move toward after the pandemic is over. What we can do now is keep our spirits high and stay optimistic.”

CEO of Wahana Kreator, Salman Aristo, told the Post that while National Film Day was indeed overshadowed by COVID-19, the same could be said with other events and industries globally.

“I myself see this as not necessarily negative, but rather that we are trying our best to contribute in this situation. It’s not about the cancellations and losses,” he said by phone.

Salman, a scriptwriter and director himself, said that Wahana Kreator employees had been working from home for the past two weeks.

“Everything starts with writing, and the workload is also done individually, so we’re currently going in that direction. As it also happens, we don’t have anything that needs to be produced immediately.”

Salman also noted he did not yet have the data on the losses, as the situation, as a force majeure, could not yet be classified as a loss.

As for Wahana Kreator itself, he said he could provide a figure if the filming process was halted, but the production house was not currently postponing any projects.

While national production houses are currently counting their losses, the impact on international productions has been much more apparent.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the postponed release of James Bond flick No Time To Die by seven months to November could cost studio MGM between US$30 million and $50 million.

In China, the pandemic has greatly affected the country’s film industry, particularly during the Lunar New Year holiday period. Losses from a drop in ticket sales alone could be as large as $2 billion or more, according to estimates by consulting firm Artisan Gateway.

Despite these trying times, Salman said he believed that entertainment and the arts could play a large role in the situation. Even if it came secondary to essentials like health care and food, he explained, entertainment could become a vessel for positive ideas and messages.

“You can be reminded to not be selfish through a story, a film or a series. A story can remind you to think critically. This is why we, the creative industry, are also reminded that we have a very powerful tool in our hands.”

Your premium period will expire in 0 day(s)

close x
Subscribe to get unlimited access Get 50% off now