Indonesian Cinema: A Year in Review
Feature by: Paul Agusta
Indonesian cinema saw an eventful year in 2005, with more than fifty titles either being released or produced this year, making it the most prolific year in Indonesia's film history in almost a decade.
2005's spate of film releases began in February with the premieres of Jatayu Films' Panggung Pinggir Kali ("Stage by The River"), a musical directed by veteran filmmaker Ucik Supra that tells the rags-to-riches story of a dangdut singer, and SinemArt's Tentang Dia ("About Her") from popular director Rudy Soedjarwo, a tale of friendship between two women brought together by trauma and heartbreak. Panggung Pinggir Kali had a rather unfortunate blink-and-you'll-miss-it run in large theaters but was able to maintain a somewhat steady run in the cheaper, smaller theaters within and outside of Jakarta. Tentang Dia, on the other hand, proved to be quite a box office draw, as well as a merchandising coup, with a very popular soundtrack album by singer Melly Goeslaw and a short story collection also by Goeslaw, featuring the story that the film was based on.
March saw the release of five films that varied in type and appeal. Bobby Sandy's postcolonial melodrama Anne van Jogja; Pingkan Utari's Me vs. High Heels, a successful adaptation of a highly popular teen novel; Hanung Bramantyo's Catatan Akhir Sekolah ("Notes from the End of School"), about three best friends who are labeled as outcasts at their school; Fantasi ("Fantasy"), a musical starring the contestants of the Akademi Fantasi Indosiar talent show produced by the TV station Indosiar; and Salto Films' Banyu Biru a surrealistic drama directed by Teddy Soeriaatmadja, possibly the bravest and most original release of the month, if not the year.
April welcomed the highly successful directorial debut of Arisan co-screenwriter Joko Anwar, Janji Joni ("Joni's Promise"), a story of a film reel delivery boy on a very bad day. Janji Joni also featured a popular soundtrack album that featured some of the best artists in Jakarta's indie music scene. This month also saw the re-packaging and re-release of last year's controversial teen comedy from Multivision Plus Pictures Buruan Cium Gue! ("Kiss Me Quick!") into a tamer version entitled Satu Kecupan ("Just One Kiss").
May saw an important milestone set by short filmmaker Edwin, whose short film Kara, Anak Sebatang Pohon ("Kara, The Daughter of a Tree"), had the honor of being the first Indonesian short film to be included in the Directors' Fortnight at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France.
The two films released theatrically this month were Lovely Luna, the feature film debut of music video director Lasja Fauzia that was based on yet another popular teen novel, and Inikah Rasanya Cinta? ("Is This How Love Feels?"), an adaptation of a popular teen TV drama directed for the screen by Ai Manaf.
June is marked with an uplifting achievement for the Indonesian film scene. Director Ravi Bharwani¹s Impian Kemarau ("The Rainmaker") was selected as the Best Film for the Asian New Talent Award at the 8th Shanghai Film Festival. Impian Kemarau is a very exotic depiction of a community dealing with drought and the nation's politics, very much reminiscent of Hindu aspects of Javanese culture. The Indonesian film scene also witnessed the debut of director Rako Prijanto with the feature film Ungu Violet, a tearjerker set in present day Jakarta with adorable picture and appealing character development.
In July, director Riri Riza's released Gie, the biopic of Indonesian-Chinese student activist Soe Hok Gie. The film was received with great anticipation from audiences of all ages. Costing about seven billion Indonesian rupiahs, Gie is one of the most expensive Indonesian contemporary films ever produced since 1998. Despite public enthusiasm, critics have split opinions about the result, creating a lively debate about the representation of the most mysterious period in modern Indonesian history, namely the alleged slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians accused of being Communists.
Amidst the unholy trinity of love, teenage romance and horror, the most predominant themes of this year's releases, another film by Riri Riza Untuk Rena ("For Rena") was released in time for the Muslim holiday season, Ramadhan and Idul Fitri in late October. This is a continuity from last year, wherein Garin Nugroho did a similar move with Of Love and Eggs, which could well be the genesis of a Ramadhan film genre in the years to come. Another theme being raised quite often on the silver screen is drug trafficking, one of which is director Nanang Istiabudi's Detik Terakhir, a story combining insights into the lives of drug addicts with lesbian love.
One of the most anticipated films right now is director Garin Nugroho's Javanese opera-film Shinta Obong (an episode from the Ramayana epic), which started production after an invitation from US opera director Peter Sellars to commemorate Mozart's 250th-year anniversary in Vienna. Though still in the middle of production, the film has already triggered reaction from a Hindu organization claiming the adapted story to be misleading.
Finally, the highlight of the year: the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI 2005) chose Gie as best picture and Hanung Bramantyo (Brownies) as best director. The festival jury is quoted as saying that Gie was awarded best film on grounds quite irrelevant to film aesthetics because the film proves that the young generation of Indonesian film is brave enough to raise political issues. It is very suprising that Gie was chosen to be the year's best film, and not Janji Joni, which has more interesting things to offer namely unique characters and better storytelling.
Another important year-end event was the highly successful 7th year of the Jakarta International Film Festival or JiFFest. This year's JiFFest shifted its focus from feature films towards documentaries and the holding of technical workshops by film and television professionals from all over the world. Another interesting part of this year's JiFFest was the complete lack of Indonesian feature films showing at the festival, a decision that caused some grumbling amongst industry folk. JiFFest asserts that one of its functions as a festival is to premiere films that have not been or could not be theatrically released in Jakarta, however all of this year's local productions were released prior to JiFFest and could not be included.
2005 will go down as an important year in the history of the re-genesis of Indonesian cinema, due to the quantity of films made and released this year. However the question to ask at this point in time is whether an increase in quantity alone is enough. There were indeed a lot of films made, however the matter of the quality has not yet been fully addressed. Hopefully next year will bring a stronger focus on quality along with sustained productivity.
(Original version of this article first appeared in The Jakarta Post on December 27, 2005)