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Jakarta Post

Taking cinema to the streets of Banda Aceh

  • Mifta Sugesty and Windu W. Jusuf

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Sun, August 24, 2014   /  10:44 am
Taking cinema to the streets of Banda Aceh On screen: A recent screening of the Europe on Screen film festival in Banda Aceh. Alternative venues such as the festival, which showed films at the XXX, are the only way for local residents to watch movies together rin public. (Courtesy of Komunitas Tikar pandan)" border="0" height="400" width="600">On screen: A recent screening of the Europe on Screen film festival in Banda Aceh. Alternative venues such as the festival, which showed films at the XXX, are the only way for local residents to watch movies together rin public. (Courtesy of Komunitas Tikar pandan)

The Kotak Hitam Banda Aceh, or “Banda Aceh Black Box”, community held several days of public film screenings last week to commemorate the signing of the Helsinki peace accords nine years ago.

“This is a statement on what role cinema can take to maintain peace and coexistence in the community,” said Fairuziana Humam, a spokeswoman for Kotak Hitam Banda Aceh, a week before the screening.

“We are going to do this in a public park, introducing a smaller-scale bioskop [theater] in a public space to prove that having a larger and more proper bioskop is completely acceptable.”

One of the speakers at a post-screening discussion, Nur Djuli, a senior Acehnese journalist, expressed a similar sentiment.

“In war, nobody would admit who started the fire. But that’s not the main point. The question is, how are we to learn to manage conflicts without resorting to violence?” Nur, who also represented the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) at the Helsinki peace talks, said.

“It’s crucial that we organize these public screenings to reflect on the long history of violent conflict in Aceh — from the colonial era to [the period of conflict] between GAM and the central government.”

On the first day, 115 people flocked to the cinema. On the last day, partly thanks to the premiere of Cahaya Dari Timur (The Light from the East), audience numbers reached 160.

 The event offered a retrospective screening of Eros Djarot’s classic 1988 film about Tjoet Nja’ Dhien, the famous Achenese freedom fighter against the Dutch, on its second day. “We screened Tjoet Nja’ Dhien on the second day, and we were lucky enough to have the producer come to the event,” said Raisa.

The film, released when the central government started to impose a brutal military policy in the province that lasted for 10 years, is well-remembered by the Acehnese — showing how film can reflect history, memory and identity.

The aftermath of the tsunami and the decades-long violent separatist insurgency have given way for local indie filmmakers to flourish, both in terms of the number of films they have produced and the content of the films.

Watching those movies, however, is difficult, given that there are no movie theaters in the province.

“We need public theaters, both commercial and non-commercial,” said RA Karamullah, the Acehnese director whose documentary Pulo Aceh: Surga yang Terabaikan (Pulo Aceh, An Abandoned Paradise) won the audience award at the SBM Golden Lens Documentary Film Festival in 2012.

On the road: A bioskop keliling, or mobile movie theater, is one way that the government brings movies to the masses in the more than 90 percent of local governments that lack cinemas. Inside the truck are the projectors, seats and screens needed to show movies. (Courtesy of Education and Culture Ministry)

On screen: A recent screening of the Europe on Screen film festival in Banda Aceh. Alternative venues such as the festival, which showed films at the XXX, are the only way for local residents to watch movies together rin public. (Courtesy of Komunitas Tikar pandan)

The Kotak Hitam Banda Aceh, or '€œBanda Aceh Black Box'€, community held several days of public film screenings last week to commemorate the signing of the Helsinki peace accords nine years ago.

'€œThis is a statement on what role cinema can take to maintain peace and coexistence in the community,'€ said Fairuziana Humam, a spokeswoman for Kotak Hitam Banda Aceh, a week before the screening.

'€œWe are going to do this in a public park, introducing a smaller-scale bioskop [theater] in a public space to prove that having a larger and more proper bioskop is completely acceptable.'€

One of the speakers at a post-screening discussion, Nur Djuli, a senior Acehnese journalist, expressed a similar sentiment.

'€œIn war, nobody would admit who started the fire. But that'€™s not the main point. The question is, how are we to learn to manage conflicts without resorting to violence?'€ Nur, who also represented the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) at the Helsinki peace talks, said.

'€œIt'€™s crucial that we organize these public screenings to reflect on the long history of violent conflict in Aceh '€” from the colonial era to [the period of conflict] between GAM and the central government.'€

On the first day, 115 people flocked to the cinema. On the last day, partly thanks to the premiere of Cahaya Dari Timur (The Light from the East), audience numbers reached 160.

 The event offered a retrospective screening of Eros Djarot'€™s classic 1988 film about Tjoet Nja'€™ Dhien, the famous Achenese freedom fighter against the Dutch, on its second day. '€œWe screened Tjoet Nja'€™ Dhien on the second day, and we were lucky enough to have the producer come to the event,'€ said Raisa.

The film, released when the central government started to impose a brutal military policy in the province that lasted for 10 years, is well-remembered by the Acehnese '€” showing how film can reflect history, memory and identity.

The aftermath of the tsunami and the decades-long violent separatist insurgency have given way for local indie filmmakers to flourish, both in terms of the number of films they have produced and the content of the films.

Watching those movies, however, is difficult, given that there are no movie theaters in the province.

'€œWe need public theaters, both commercial and non-commercial,'€ said RA Karamullah, the Acehnese director whose documentary Pulo Aceh: Surga yang Terabaikan (Pulo Aceh, An Abandoned Paradise) won the audience award at the SBM Golden Lens Documentary Film Festival in 2012.

On the road: A bioskop keliling, or mobile movie theater, is one way that the government brings movies to the masses in the more than 90 percent of local governments that lack cinemas. Inside the truck are the projectors, seats and screens needed to show movies. (Courtesy of Education and Culture Ministry)On the road: A bioskop keliling, or mobile movie theater, is one way that the government brings movies to the masses in the more than 90 percent of local governments that lack cinemas. Inside the truck are the projectors, seats and screens needed to show movies. (Courtesy of Education and Culture Ministry)

'€œWhile commercial theaters are needed for popular entertainment, I think it will be a great support for us local filmmakers if we have non-commercial theaters to make our work more accessible to general public.'€

Nurjannah, a member of the Aceh Documentary Competition Committee, echoed Karamullah. '€œA number of movies made by Acehnese at home have won national competitions and are screened of national film festivals but are not appreciated at home.

'€œWe have no idea how to distribute them properly,'€ she says. '€œA huge public screening costs too much - we can only do that on special occasions. There are no such public auditoriums or theaters to screen movies without spending too much on renting the room, the projector and the sound.'€

The implementation of sharia has encouraged many to become more aware of the importance of public spaces for the well-being of communities. The campaign for cinemas is one of several activities to reclaim public space.

Others, such as Saiful Mahdi, a lecturer from Syiah Kuala University, think that cinemas would provide more jobs. '€œCinemas are one thing that Helsinki fails to deliver. We can'€™t deny the fact that cinemas are part of the larger public sphere, which also potentially caters to the need for jobs.'€

Ticket prices are also a concern, Fauzan Santa, film production lecturer from Indonesian Islamic University of Ar-Raniry said.

'€œI have no problem with the idea of sophisticated, private-run theaters in Banda Aceh. The problem is that they will only mobilize people who can afford to buy the tickets,'€ he says.

'€œThe existing movie-going culture in alternative, coffee shop-based screenings has to be maintained in order to oppose potential commercialization and to secure public access to cinema. That'€™s why, despite the government response, the significance of the petition lies in its potential to create public audience, shaping their moral and social responsibility on this issue.'€

While some still ask whether or not movie theaters are sharia-friendly, others debate whether the province needs commercial or art house theaters.

In such an environment, Kotak Hitam Perdamaian Aceh is a success story for taking action.

However, huge tasks await, from lobbying the city government of Banda Aceh and the MPU to improving film literacy at the grassroots level.

If nothing more is done, cinema lovers in Aceh will have no choice but to take the 12-hour bus ride to Medan, North Sumatra, to see the latest theatrical releases.

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