The Jakarta Post
Around 2009, Raisa Kamila and Ferry Gelluny were teenagers traveling all the way from Aceh capital Banda Aceh to Medan in North Sumatra just to see the latest films. It was, and still is, a 12-hour drive by car.
On Dec. 26, 2004, a quake-triggered tsunami put an end to once-established film culture in the town.
The apocalyptic film The Day After Tomorrow, the last film screened at Banda Aceh's Gajah Theater, coincided with the disaster, Raisa recalls.
'It was just two weeks prior to the quake,' said Raisa, now a student in Yogyakarta. 'They sold tickets for Rp 7,500 or so ' way cheaper than spending hundreds of thousand rupiah or even a million to see a film in Medan, which we practically had to do after the tsunami.'
Post-tsunami reconstruction, the Helsinki peace accords, implementation of regional autonomy and sharia law have since reshaped Aceh over the last decade.
It's common to speak of cinema as part of collective memories, taking individual films and recalling shared experiences of going to old movie theaters.
In Aceh, such talk leads to politically-charged topics, such as whether films are too sexy ' and about sharia law, rants against the authorities which undermine public space and of the province's decades-long separatist insurgency.
Today, it's hard to find posters, remains of movie theaters tickets or old (tempo doeloe) pictures of movie theaters in Banda Aceh. This loss of memory goes hand in hand with moral and religious arguments against movie theaters.
'Right after the tsunami, everybody spoke of repentance, as if we Acehnese were lost, sinful Muslims deserving a deadly punishment,' said Oryza Keumala, a student activist who frequents Tikar Pandan, an alternative cultural center.
'Through this talk of repenance, sharia stepped right up to your door and then no movie theaters, no public space where men and women used to normally see each other, even so far as they once proposed to separate women students from their male compatriots.'
Efforts to reopen movie theaters have been met with challenges from religious groups, such as the MPU, a local ulema council; and local authorities, who feel that movie theaters are opposed to the spirit of sharia which stipulates that men and women should not sit side by side.
However, what is foreign to Aceh is not movie theaters; instead, its their absence, Ferry says. 'Movie theaters had been around in Aceh since the colonial era. Between the 1920s and 1940s, there were two movie theaters in Banda Aceh alone: the Rex Bioscope and the Deli Bioscope,' he said, referring to the Indonesian word for movie theaters.
'The Deli Bioscope was later renamed the Garuda Theater and became famous since (first president) Sukarno delivered a speech there during a visit to Aceh. The Rex has now been turned into a foodcourt. Nobody said [the theaters] were opposed to religious values.'
There's a desire to watch films in Aceh. Pirated DVDs are selling, such as in one well-known three-story store in Peunayong that sells an exhaustive catalog of films from Hollywood, India and virtually every festival in Asia and Europe.
Episentrum Uleekareng, a small studio run by Tikar Pandan, has organized several film festivals ' including an Arab film festival and the Europe on Screen festival ' and is encouraging filmmakers outside Aceh to come and screen their work.
In 2010, Rahmad Hasan Basri, a local standup comedian and film buff fond of public theater, released an online survey asking whether or not the Acehnese need movie theaters.
The survey went viral and became a hot topic among local netizens, who overwhelmingly answered yes.
Last year, Fauzan Febriansyah, a young politician, launched an online petition, asking the MPU to support the government to give permission to reopen movie theaters. There has been no further response.
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