2011: The Year Indonesia Forgot Movies
More than anything else, 2011 will be remembered as the year we nearly lost the movies.
Just as we were getting ready to see new releases from the US earlier this year, the government prevented local film importers, who have exclusive rights, from importing Hollywood blockbusters because of back tax issues. The otherwise obscure taxes, penalties and other film distribution-related matters came to the forefront, allowing people to understand for the first time how foreign films get to the theaters.
But for most moviegoers, this marked the beginning of a long dry season in terms of the films available.
Feb. 12, 2011, marked the last day major Hollywood film releases played in movie theaters (with a midnight screening of “127 Hours” and a press screening of “Black Swan”) before the blackout. To compensate, smaller distribution companies imported obscure movies which they dubbed “independent” films.
There was a belated catch up with Hollywood offerings like “Source Code,” “Rabbit Hole” and “Limitless.” But most moviegoers retreated to older films, many of them kept in warehouses for years, which only seemed to reinforce the notion that there were no good films in the theaters anyway.
Consequently, cinema attendance dropped to less than 40 percent, the lowest in years. Some cinemas cut the number of screenings to reduce operational costs due to low attendance.
Many thought the hiatus would not last long. Yet the dispute over taxes continued, leaving theaters dark through the summer blockbuster season.
As Hollywood showcased its summer mega-hits to audiences worldwide to the chiming of theater cashiers, Indonesians were mostly left in the dark. For those ardent movie fans who could afford it, making a movie trip to a neighboring country was the only way to get their fix of action heroes and sequels. Cinema chains in Singapore began noticing the trend and started offering packages for Indonesian travelers.
For the less well-off, bootleg DVDs and Blu-Rays were plentiful, offering temporary relief for film buffs. Relying on home entertainment, some people opted to upgrade their home entertainment systems, leading audiences further away from theaters.
Indonesian films suffered collateral damage, which was evident during the normally peak viewing period of the Lebaran holiday.
Five films were released, encompassing a variety of genres: Football, with “Tendangan dari Langit” (“Kick from the Sky”); children’s adventure, with “Lima Elang” (Five Eagles); drama, with “Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah” (“Under the Guidance of Ka’bah”) and comedy, with “Get Married 3” and “Kejarlah Jodoh Kau Kutangkap” (“Find Your Spouse Before I Catch You”).
But none of these films cracked the one million viewer mark, giving the Indonesian film industry its worst box-office receipts ever. The most successful local film of 2011 was the tearjerker “Surat Kecil Untuk Tuhan” (“A Letter to God”), which was seen by more than 750,000 moviegoers during its theatrical release in the middle of the year. In the previous three years, an audience of that size would have garnered only a second or fifth place for a local film.
The import ban was eventually lifted with the releases of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” during Ramadan. Moreover, the Hollywood blockbusters Indonesians missed out on during the blackout were released on DVD. The effort to bring people back to the theater has not been easy; people need to be convinced going to the movies is still a worthwhile experience.
Social media, particularly Twitter, may play a critical role in cinema’s comeback.
While people won’t necessarily see a film just because somebody tweets about it, social media does bring greater exposure to the film. “Catatan Harian si Boy” (“The Diary of Boy”), for example, got a lot of buzz because of tweeting, as did a number of other local short films.
Using Twitter, screenwriter Prima Rusdi came up with the hashtag #kamiskebioskop to encourage people to go to theaters on Thursday and to watch Indonesian films upon release.
The efforts have helped lure people back to movie screens. Prima and his friends started tweeting about “Sang Penari” (“The Dancer”) upon its release on Nov. 10. The film is still playing in theaters.
“Sang Penari” went on to win Best Picture at the Festival Film Indonesia, the local version of the Academy Awards, a decision that satisfied both filmgoers and critics alike. In addition, the film won awards for Best Actress (Prisia Nasution), Best Director (Ifa Isfansyah) and Best Supporting Actress (Dewi Irawan).
The festival, plagued by scandals in recent years, overhauled its assessment system by inviting professionals in the film industry to judge, resulting in a relatively satisfying outcome.
As people hope “Sang Penari” can experience similar success abroad, there are already several new Indonesian films ready to make big splashes overseas.
Among them is “The Raid,” an action-packed thriller from Gareth Evans (who also directed “Merantau”), which won raves at Toronto and other festivals before screening as the closing film at the Indonesia International Fantastic Film Festival to a rapturous standing ovation. The film will be released in US theaters in the spring, and remake deals have already been signed.
Another notable local film is “Postcard From the Zoo,” the second feature-length work from director Edwin after “Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly.” The film marks the first time in 50 years an Indonesian movie was selected for the Official Competition at Berlin International Film Festival, which will be held in February.
Additionally, “Lovely Man,” a drama by Teddy Soeriaatmadja about a transgender father and his daughter, opened the Q! Film Festival and will be released next year, as will Garin Nugroho’s “Mata Tertutup” (“Closed Eyes”), which will delve into terrorism.
While Indonesian moviegoers closed their eyes in 2011, 2012 is poised to be the year in which they waken to a new era of Indonesian cinema.