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Jakarta Post

'€˜Bioskop mesum'€™ Grindhouse cinemas and the slow death of movies in Aceh

  • Mifta Sugesty and Windu W. Jusuf

    The Jakarta Post

Banda Aceh   /   Sun, August 24, 2014   /  10:34 am
'€˜Bioskop mesum'€™ Grindhouse cinemas and the slow death of movies in Aceh Once proud: Banda Aceh’s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Ian Photoworks)" border="0" height="294" width="493">Once proud: Banda Aceh’s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Ian Photoworks)

In Aceh capital Banda Aceh, movie theaters closed after the western Indonesian city was struck by a tsunami in 2004.

The province has since been rebuilt and gained autonomy from the central government, as well as ended a decades-long separatist insurgency and introduced sharia, which led to movie screens going dark in Aceh for the last decade.

While no permits to reopen movie theaters have been issued, officials remain quiet and have not officially banned theaters either.

As Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal says: “We are not in the position to decide. It’s up to the MPU (Ulema Consultative Assembly)”.

Meanwhile, Karim Syeikh, the head of the Banda Aceh chapter of the MPU, said he never heard of the several petitions to reopen Aceh’s cinemas.

“Local movie theaters stopped operation some time prior to the introduction of Sharia. But people have now their own television sets at home — they don’t need any kind of public theaters,” he says.

“Any enterprise that hinders the implementation of sharia would not be authorized.”

Once proud: Banda Aceh’s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)Once proud: Banda Aceh’s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)
Banda Aceh Sharia agency chief Syahrizal Abbas expressed a different opinion to members of the Indonesian Censorship Board on June 19, claiming the local government has never opposed the business.

“Investors might have different concerns — they are not confident enough,” Syahrizal said. “If cinema can contribute to national character-building, there is thus no reason for the Acehnese government to oppose movie theaters.”

Part of the hesitance about reopening movie theaters in Banda Aceh stems from memories of now-defunct bioskop mesum, literally dirty cinemas.

Once locally owned and operated first-run cinemas, the theaters turned into grindhouses, showing grade-B action movies and sexploitation films as well as old Hong Kong martial arts films from the 1980s or 1970s.

Also on the marquee were softcore erotic films, some made in Indonesia, known locally as esek-esek.

The theaters were often not air conditioned, featured unpadded seats and screened decades-old 35mm film prints that were full of splices and emulsion lines.

Ticket prices rarely exceeded Rp 5,000 (43 US cents), attracting a humble audience of wong cilik (common people), teenagers on dates and children with nothing to do after school.

“Roughly 70 percent were international films, mostly old American and a number of esek-esek [semi-pornographic] films; the rest, 30 percent were Indonesian productions,” said Ferry Gelluny, recalling the movies at Banda Aceh’s now-defunct grindhouse Gadjah XXI, which illicitly appropriated the name of the nation’s largest theater chain.

“Indian films were another attraction. Even without theaters, Indian films proved to sell better than any other in pirated DVD kiosks,” he added.

Raisa Kamila recalled her memories as a junior high school student in 2004. “The last surviving theater was the Gadjah XXI. There was another one in Beurawe shopping center that closed in 2003, the Djelita Theater. I never went there, but they used to put out raunchy posters.”

“There were bioskop named Pas XXI or Gajah XXI, but in no way were they part of 21 Cineplex Group,” said Raisa. Bioskop Pas XXI had long stopped operating their studios, after a big fire in 2001. “They just borrowed the name.”

Grindhouses were not unique to Aceh: The still-operational Grand and Mulia Agung theaters, which sit next to Plaza Atrium shopping mall in Senen, Central Jakarta, are bioskop mesum.

In recent years, however, different towns in Java have witnessed threats or even physical attacks against the theaters. A local FPI chapter, for instance, threatened to shut down a bioskop mesum, the Borobudur Cinema in Pekalongan, Central Java, during Ramadhan in 2013.

The decline of the theaters into grindhouses parallels the rise of the 21 Cineplex network, the nation’s largest film exhibitor.

According to a report compiled by Film Indonesia in 2012, hundreds of independent movie theaters throughout the nation rely on low-cost independent distributors, whose supplies of film prints are limited, according to researcher Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu.

(Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)

Once proud: Banda Aceh'€™s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Ian Photoworks)

In Aceh capital Banda Aceh, movie theaters closed after the western Indonesian city was struck by a tsunami in 2004.

The province has since been rebuilt and gained autonomy from the central government, as well as ended a decades-long separatist insurgency and introduced sharia, which led to movie screens going dark in Aceh for the last decade.

While no permits to reopen movie theaters have been issued, officials remain quiet and have not officially banned theaters either.

As Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa'€™aduddin Djamal says: '€œWe are not in the position to decide. It'€™s up to the MPU (Ulema Consultative Assembly)'€.

Meanwhile, Karim Syeikh, the head of the Banda Aceh chapter of the MPU, said he never heard of the several petitions to reopen Aceh'€™s cinemas.

'€œLocal movie theaters stopped operation some time prior to the introduction of Sharia. But people have now their own television sets at home '€” they don'€™t need any kind of public theaters,'€ he says.

'€œAny enterprise that hinders the implementation of sharia would not be authorized.'€

Once proud: Banda Aceh'€™s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)Once proud: Banda Aceh'€™s Garuda Theater on Jl. Imam Bonjol, shown before the 2004 tsunami forced its closure. The building has since reopened, although not as a movie theater. (Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)
Banda Aceh Sharia agency chief Syahrizal Abbas expressed a different opinion to members of the Indonesian Censorship Board on June 19, claiming the local government has never opposed the business.

'€œInvestors might have different concerns '€” they are not confident enough,'€ Syahrizal said. '€œIf cinema can contribute to national character-building, there is thus no reason for the Acehnese government to oppose movie theaters.'€

Part of the hesitance about reopening movie theaters in Banda Aceh stems from memories of now-defunct bioskop mesum, literally dirty cinemas.

Once locally owned and operated first-run cinemas, the theaters turned into grindhouses, showing grade-B action movies and sexploitation films as well as old Hong Kong martial arts films from the 1980s or 1970s.

Also on the marquee were softcore erotic films, some made in Indonesia, known locally as esek-esek.

The theaters were often not air conditioned, featured unpadded seats and screened decades-old 35mm film prints that were full of splices and emulsion lines.

Ticket prices rarely exceeded Rp 5,000 (43 US cents), attracting a humble audience of wong cilik (common people), teenagers on dates and children with nothing to do after school.

'€œRoughly 70 percent were international films, mostly old American and a number of esek-esek [semi-pornographic] films; the rest, 30 percent were Indonesian productions,'€ said Ferry Gelluny, recalling the movies at Banda Aceh'€™s now-defunct grindhouse Gadjah XXI, which illicitly appropriated the name of the nation'€™s largest theater chain.

'€œIndian films were another attraction. Even without theaters, Indian films proved to sell better than any other in pirated DVD kiosks,'€ he added.

Raisa Kamila recalled her memories as a junior high school student in 2004. '€œThe last surviving theater was the Gadjah XXI. There was another one in Beurawe shopping center that closed in 2003, the Djelita Theater. I never went there, but they used to put out raunchy posters.'€

'€œThere were bioskop named Pas XXI or Gajah XXI, but in no way were they part of 21 Cineplex Group,'€ said Raisa. Bioskop Pas XXI had long stopped operating their studios, after a big fire in 2001. '€œThey just borrowed the name.'€

Grindhouses were not unique to Aceh: The still-operational Grand and Mulia Agung theaters, which sit next to Plaza Atrium shopping mall in Senen, Central Jakarta, are bioskop mesum.

In recent years, however, different towns in Java have witnessed threats or even physical attacks against the theaters. A local FPI chapter, for instance, threatened to shut down a bioskop mesum, the Borobudur Cinema in Pekalongan, Central Java, during Ramadhan in 2013.

The decline of the theaters into grindhouses parallels the rise of the 21 Cineplex network, the nation'€™s largest film exhibitor.

According to a report compiled by Film Indonesia in 2012, hundreds of independent movie theaters throughout the nation rely on low-cost independent distributors, whose supplies of film prints are limited, according to researcher Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu.

(Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)(Courtesy of Harun Keuchik Leumik)

'€œSince its entry to the distribution business in early 1990s, the 21 Cineplex group has possessed powerful control over access to the latest films, more than any regular national distributor. In practice, they sell the films, buy the films, and in so doing tear down their competitors,'€ Pasaribu said.

Independent theaters within 50 kilometers of a 21 Cineplex chain theater cannot license current Hollywood releases films from local distributors that do business with 21 Cineplex, prompting owners to buy the rights to the only films they can: ancient action and sexploitation films, according to Pasaribu.

Viewers stayed home and watched DVDs, leading to dwindling tickets sales and owners who could not afford to upgrade facilities or obtain in-demand movies '€” leading to more closures and worse conditions.

The result was consolidation '€” and isolation.

While more than 800 movies screens in the nation are owned by the 21 Cineplex group and its main competitor, Blitz Megaplex, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry says that there are theaters in only 55 of the nation'€™s 538 cities and regencies.

Nine provinces have no cinemas whatsoever: Central Sulawesi, West Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, Aceh, Gorontalo, Bangka Belintung, North Maluku and West Papua.

21 Cineplex spokeswoman Catherine Keng, however, remains upbeat. '€œ21 Cineplex plans to expand its theaters to Java, but also to eastern parts of Indonesia, Kalimantan and Sumatra. Aceh is part of this.'€

However, when asked if 21 Cineplex has established contact with local authorities, Catherine answered: '€œNot yet'€.

Before the tsunami, young couples would often see movies at the grindhouses in Banda Aceh. However, now some consider sitting in a dark room un-Islamic, focusing on what appears on screen as opposed to the distribution system that has led to the demise of the silver screen in Aceh.

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