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Indonesian film industry in stasis, but for the better

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, January 7, 2021  /  02:50 pm
Indonesian film industry in stasis, but for the better

Change of plans: Many production houses rescheduled new productions or releases, waiting for better days to see investment flows, while others ventured to embrace streaming. (Courtesy of Shutterstock/nampix)

The rising number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in the first three months of lockdown in Jakarta put a kibosh on the city administration’s plan to relax the restrictions in July – which started with the reopening of shopping malls, tourist destinations, places of worship and lastly, movie theaters.

Even months later when major movie theater chains were ready to open their doors abiding by the protocols set up by the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry together with the Education and Cultural Ministry, it was still hard to tell that things would go well for them.

Not many people would take the risk of traveling to a movie theater, which are mostly situated in shopping malls. And even if the number of attendees reached full capacity, it would only bring a fraction of their usual revenue. 

So, it is understandable that the large chains offered their studios for private film screenings as a birthday treat or as a venue for conferences to survive.

One obvious solution was to release a blockbuster movie in theaters to revive the whole film industry, but the uncertainty brought by the prolonged health crisis evoked the wait-and-see attitude among production houses. 

Homecoming: The production team for 'The Science of Fictions' greets filmgoers at a Cinema XXI theater in Jakarta. The critically acclaimed film was released in Indonesia on Dec. 10. Homecoming: The production team for 'The Science of Fictions' greets filmgoers at a Cinema XXI theater in Jakarta. The critically acclaimed film was released in Indonesia on Dec. 10. (Courtesy of Poplicist ID/-)

That’s just how it is. The current business model of the Indonesian film industry was built around theaters, where the money is. Movie theaters were at the center of the film industry’s growth in the past five years, which ran at an exponential rate and became a robust market for the global industry.

In 2014, 106 films were released and watched by 16 million people a little over 200 theaters or around 900 screens. The number of viewers was based on ticket sales.

In 2019, those numbers multiplied to 230 films, 52 million viewers, over 300 theaters with nearly 2,000 screens. But in mid-March, the entire industry had to take a sudden break. 

Many production houses rescheduled new productions or releases, waiting for better days to see investment flows, while others ventured to embrace streaming.

“Movie theaters are not the only exhibition venues, but the absence of competition made it seem as if they were the biggest gatekeeper for filmmakers. But the trend has been shifting in the past five years,” Salman Aristo, CEO of Jakarta-based content creator Wahana Kreator Nusantara, said during a discussion on Indonesian Films in the Digital Jungle held by the Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ) in October. 

“The streaming platform is not as profitable as theaters, but it has its own business model. We just need to adjust our production budget.”

 

INDONESIAN TITLES

Local streamer Klik Film, now in its eighth year of operation, has seen growing demand for Indonesian films. It has around 450 local films, many of them classics, out of the 1,861 titles in its catalog.

“The number of viewers for Indonesian films, however, exceeded that of foreign films. Viewers chose films from the classic library over new releases, and it seems that each genre has its own loyal fans,” said Klik Film director Frederica, who was also a speaker at the discussion.

Beyond entertainment: Garin Nugroho's 'Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku' (Memories of My Body, 2018) and Ravi L. Bharwani's 2019 film '27 Steps of May' tackle gender and sexuality issues that are considered taboo in Indonesian society. Both films are available on Disney+ Hotstar Indonesia.Beyond entertainment: Garin Nugroho's 'Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku' (Memories of My Body, 2018) and Ravi L. Bharwani's 2019 film '27 Steps of May' tackle gender and sexuality issues that are considered taboo in Indonesian society. Both films are available on Disney+ Hotstar Indonesia. (Courtesy of Fourcolours Films/-)

Separately, Disney+ Hotstar Indonesia senior manager for content acquisition Alexander Siregar said Indonesian titles Memories of My Body and 27 Steps of May had beaten out Aladdin, Cinderella, Lion King and Marvel’s The Avengers: Infinity War on the platform’s top streaming list after starting its service in August.

“Indonesian films have more variety in them. They include some social issues; [they’re] not only entertainment. [So], more subscribers are attracted to Indonesian films,” he said in a Maximum Exposure discussion series in October.

Organized by film pitching forum Akatara, the Indonesian Film Producers’ Association (Aprofi), Motion Picture Association (MPA) Asia-Pacific and the Indonesian Film Board (BPI), the discussion also presented speakers from global streaming platforms Netflix and Disney.

BASE Entertainment chief executive Shanty Harmayn, who has released Guru-Guru Gokil (Crazy Awesome Teachers) on Netflix and partnered for animation Tresse, echoed the notion that demand for Indonesian films still existed and remained strong.

“We need, therefore, to return to the theaters as soon as possible, with streaming platforms as the complementary. But it’s going to take time and a lot of courage from all the stakeholders to rebuild the industry,” she said.

In the meantime, she added, film people could use the break to prepare themselves before making a leap.

“We need to scale up our human resources and capacity building to be able to continuously and consistently produce good stories whatever the size and scale is.”

 

STREAMING

Optimizing the use of digital platforms or streaming services as the only working outlet for filmmakers during this uncertain time turned out to be beneficial for film people, and financial gain was not the only thing on their minds.

Norman Lockhart, Netflix’s production director manager for its Singapore headquarters, said in each partnership, Netflix injected its culture of professionalism to develop the capacity of local filmmaking talents and by doing so, is investing in the local production ecosystem.

“Short of crew up and below the line is a global challenge. How we can build that base of the crew quickly and efficiently is by giving them the opportunity to work on the job,” he said.

“As more productions come to Indonesia from companies like Netflix and Disney+, there are opportunities for new people to enter the industry that they can learn the ropes quickly.” 

Frontline: A poster of the action-packed The Night Comes for Us. The 2018 film by the Mo Brothers was the first Indonesian film screened on Netflix.Frontline: A poster of the action-packed The Night Comes for Us. The 2018 film by the Mo Brothers was the first Indonesian film screened on Netflix. (Courtesy of Netflix/-)

Earlier in August, Netflix signed two Indonesian original films with Starvision and Kalyana Shira Films, which were slated for release next year, signaling its long-term investment in Indonesia.

The films will be directed by Nia Dinata, whose works tackle gender and sexuality issues, and Hadrah Daeng Ratu, whose latest horror film Makmum: The Movie (Follower, 2019) performed well at the box office in neighboring countries.

To attract more international productions in Indonesia, Disney’s Alexander said screen stories that would resonate with the audiences online should be a crossover between the uniqueness of Indonesia, universal values that are locally relevant and advanced enough to be appealing internationally.

“We tried to put in the traditional sinetron [soap opera], but it doesn’t really work for online audiences. A [drama] series is equivalent to a sinetron, but the mindset needs to shift because a series is a different ball game. But the potential is really there,” he said.

 

TELLING STORIES

Lockhart said Netflix would prefer less-known local stories that reflected different lives and backgrounds.

“We want to tell stories to people locally and to the global audience. So, it is about finding that unique voice, and that is what people are looking for on streaming platforms.”

BPI executive Alex Sihar said the Education and Culture Ministry had made a deal with Netflix to hold workshops for Indonesian filmmakers prior to the pandemic.

In November, there had been online workshops for post-production and scriptwriting for dozens of budding filmmakers.

“We hope to endorse more in the near future. We have also talked with Disney to hold similar workshops in Indonesia to boost the capacity of our filmmakers,” he said.

Aprofi executive Linda Gozali, daughter of legendary Indonesian film producer Hendrick Gozali, said the presence of streaming platforms presented a tremendous opportunity for Indonesian filmmakers that could only be seized through collaborative efforts.

“My father reminded me that there is no Superman in this industry, but collaboratively, by the time they got together, they made a Superman movie,” she said. 

“Through the transfer of knowledge in joint productions, not only will we have more than enough crew members, but also more than enough people that are actually being recognized overseas. We need to keep this going.” (ste)

 

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