Dissecting the Indonesian Film Industry
People in the world of filmmaking, be they industry professionals, scholars or eager fans, have had copious and meaningful dialogue about the industry, ranging from the gossipy to the academic. But never have these discussions been dissected and organized into a concise record. While several books have been written about the Indonesian film industry, the analysis often fails to examine the multitude of problems faced by Indonesian filmmakers.
But a new book, “Menjegal Film Indonesia: Pemetaan Ekonomi Politik Industri Film Indonesia” (“Trampling Down Indonesian Films: Mapping the Political Economy of the Indonesian Film Industry”) offers a systematic study of the industry. The four authors call the “tramplers” the various government institutions that have their fingers in the industry, such as the ministries, the censorship board and tax office, as well as film investors (producers and financiers) involved in the business. “Menjegal Film Indonesia” maps the history of Indonesian film versus Hollywood, the local production process, financing, distribution issues, film exhibitions and sexuality.
In the 1980s, sex in film was not just a cultural issue, but also exposed shortcomings in the country’s censors, especially when they collided with economics, or profit. In 1986, “Ketika Musim Semi Tiba” (“When the Spring Comes”) starring ’80s bomb shell Meriam Belina inspired protests from film critics and filmmakers, questioning if the Board of Film Censorship (BSF) had neglected their duties, and let some inappropriate scenes go uncensored.
Film producer Gope T. Samtani admitted that the sex scenes became an important element to attract viewers, saying his production house featured sexual content in at least 10 percent of the scenes in the controversial film.
Rumors circulated about how the film’s producer reportedly bribed some members of the BSF. In its defense, the board (now known as the Film Censorship Body or LSF), conceded that they made “compromises” because they valued the investments made in the film. In fact, the Board claimed that they wanted to support and foster the Indonesian film industry.
“Menjegal Film Indonesia” quotes the late and prominent director Nyak Abbas Akup, who said that sex and sadistic scenes often defined the success of a film. The director, who passed away in 1991, was largely known for working with Indonesia comedy stars and bombshell actresses for his films such as “Inem Pelayan Sexy” (“Inem the Sexy Housemaid”) “Bing Slamet” “Boneka Dari Indiana” (“A Doll from Indiana”) and “Cintaku Di Rumah Susun” (“My Love at the Apartment”).
Of course, sex scenes have become a common recipe, and are sprinkled into most genres, from horror to comedy. But there are exceptions to the rules as well, and many filmmakers have proven that they do not need to show flesh or employ petty romances to make their films watchable.
The book also meticulously documents how heavy taxes levied by the government on aspiring filmmakers have made it difficult for local filmmakers to produce quality films because of the layers of costs associated with them. For instance, to shoot in a public space, there is tax to be paid.
Consequently, imported films from Hollywood, Bollywood and the Mandarin market always outnumber locally made films.
The book’s four authors are prominent figures in cinema and are all researchers at Rumah Film, a non-profit group that primarily working on film and cultural issues.
Co-writer Eric Sasono is a communications consultant , and secretary at Masyarakat Mandiri Film which organizes the Jakarta International Film Festival (Jiffest). Eric is also an honorary member of the Hong Kong-based Asia Film Award, and has been a judge in some international film festivals as well.
Ekky Imanjaya, holds two master’s degrees, one in philosophy from the University of Indonesia, and one in film studies from Universitet Van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Ekky teaches at Bina Nusantara University’s film school, and wrote several books including “A to Z About Indonesian Film,” and “The Backdoors of Jakarta: Jakarta and Its Social Issue in Post-Reform Indonesia Cinema.” Recently, Ekky has completed a documentary on musicians Tielman Brothers.
Author Hikmat Darmawan is no stranger to comic lovers and pop culture enthusiasts, and is an important critic in both these media branches. He was a fellow at the Asian Public Intellectual, and has researched the thriving comedy subculture in Indonesia, Japan and Thailand.
Author Ifan Adriansyah Ismail is a script writer for Wahana Penulis, a syndicate for television drama scripts.
The authors said it took them eight months to write the 370-page book. “Menjegal Film Indonesia” is filled with graphics and tables but has no photos of actors or scenes from movies, a curious choice given that the subject matters are films, movie stars and producers from a bygone era. The no frills appearance of the book gives it the feel of an academic research paper.
However, the book does not use scholarly language that would put it on an academic pedestal. “Menjegal Film Indonesia” is accessible to the layman, and reads easily.
For those who work in the industry or are simply fans of the movies, “Menjegal Film Indonesia” is a must-read that reveals what has happened to the industry, and how “invisible” hands control and eventually “trample” on it, creating barriers for Indonesia’s brightest filmmakers.
Menjegal Film Indonesia: Pemetaan Ekonomi Politik Industri Film Indonesia
Eric Sasono et. al.
Jointly published by Rumah Film & Tifa Foundation
Jl. Puskesmas No 99,Setu Cipayung, East Jakarta
The book is in Indonesian, and available only by request to the publisher.