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Indonesian filmmakers find silver lining in pandemic

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, August 28, 2020  /  11:07 am
Indonesian filmmakers find silver lining in pandemic

A still from 'Guru-guru Gokil'. The filmmakers skipped a cinema release and took the film straight to streaming service Netflix. (Courtesy of/Netflix)

Environmental documentary Semes7a (Universe) by Tanakhir Films was screened in a limited number of theaters earlier this year. Following the screening, producer Mandy Marahimin planned to take the documentary to other cities. 

“Then the pandemic hit,” said Mandy during a virtual discussion hosted by giant streaming platform Netflix in August.

Similar to other industries, the local film industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. Numerous new releases by major studios were postponed indefinitely, while cinema giants Cinema XXI and CGV have temporarily closed down since April.

However, amid the uncertainties, filmmakers have found a silver lining in digital platforms.

The pandemic has helped increase the popularity of video on demand (VOD) services. Netflix alone reported a US$709 million profit from $5.8 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year, while the number of paid subscribers grew by 15.7 million from the previous quarter to total nearly 183 million.

Film studio BASE Entertainment producer Shanty Harmayn said that when people were stuck at home, they wanted to find something new.

“We want to watch [films] as it is one form of entertainment we can enjoy at home,” she said.

VOD services seem to be the best option for both filmmakers and audiences during the pandemic.

The makers of Indonesian films Humba Dreams and Guru-Guru Gokil (Crazy Awesome Teachers) had to scrap their plans for cinema premiers this year and choose to go straight to Netflix instead.  

Humba Dreams’ director-slash-scriptwriter Riri Riza said the previous year had actually been a good year for the local film industry financially, especially for cinemas. However, the pandemic has forced filmmakers to rethink their strategies.

Riri said that in recent years, cinemas had come to be dominated by films from Hollywood and big studios in Indonesia. With VOD services, Riri said there was a platform for stories that had been alienated from cinemas.

He added that VOD also allowed viewers across age groups to have access to local films.  

Meanwhile, Mandy saw the pandemic as an opportunity to learn.

She said many film festivals had gone totally online, providing an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to learn and watch a variety of films from the comfort of their homes.

However, despite the increasing popularity of streaming services, Shanty and Mandy are certain they will not replace cinemas.

Mandy predicted people would still go to cinemas after the pandemic, although attendance would not be as robust as the pre-coronavirus days.

“We need to celebrate the new habit of accessing film through VOD as not all films have access to cinemas,” she said.

Meanwhile, Shanty reasoned that movie theaters offered a different experience from streaming services, saying the two platforms would complement one another. (kes)

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