Mourning the Passage of Indonesia’s Film Bill


Jakarta Globe, September 8, 2009

Like scenes spliced together in a movie, while lawmakers were preparing on Monday afternoon to push the controversial film bill through the House of Representatives, a coalition of activists were firing off e-mails and making phone calls to help organize a protest rally.

The Koalisi Masyarakat Perfilman (Coalition of Film People) sprang up in opposition to the bill, which was endorsed by a House of Representatives plenary session on Tuesday, and comprises people at the creative center of the film world.

“The old law is actually more reform-minded compared to this bill,” said Chand Parwez Servia, a coalition member and film producer, referring to the 1982 Law on Film.

“The bill has the potential to make us film people feel like filmmaking is nothing to be proud of. Worse still, it makes us feel like we have to ready ourselves for jail,” Chand said.

Heri Akhmadi from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) had said a day earlier that a number of articles in the bill were flawed.

“Those articles will eventually hinder the creativity of individuals [in the film world],” said Heri, who is also the deputy chairman of House Commission X, which oversees art and culture and which had recommended the House endorse the bill.

“There are even articles that overlap with other laws,” Heri said.

Lisabona Rahman, a film critic and the program manger of Kineforum, the film society of the Jakarta Arts Council, offered an analysis of the film bill in an online interview on Monday.

“We have been presenting a plan of action for the development of the film world since 2007,” said Lisabona, who was also a driving force in organizing the coalition.

“So we were surprised to read this pitiful excuse for a film bill.”

Lisabona identified the main principles the coalition objected to, including what she said was the fundamental principle of the bill: to control the film industry.

“Second to controlling it, let’s create a bureaucracy,” she said, mimicking the lawmakers.

The third principle, according to Lisabona, is that people in the film industry can only participate in the development of the industry through the Indonesian Film Body. The fourth principle is that filmmakers are only in it for the money, “so a series of punishments must be arranged,” and the fifth, that the “Indonesian film industry is so weak that moviegoers must be forced to watch Indonesian films.”

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“Finally, filmmakers and film audiences must be so stupid,” she said, sarcastically, “that the ministry [of culture and tourism] must prevent the possibility of two films with the same story ideas and titles being made.”

“There is nothing [in the bill] on the protection of copyrights, there is nothing on the protection of freedom of expression, and it doesn’t contain a strategy for the development of the film industry.”

Nia Dinata, a prominent director and producer, said that Lisabona’s fifth principle, which derives from an article in the new film law introducing a 60 percent quota system to encourage local production, was the most pertinent.

Nia said the real issue in the film industry was the lack of educational and training facilities for aspiring filmmakers.

“There is no film school in any other region of Indonesia but Jakarta,” she said. “So are we going to let films displaying bad taste fill up that 60 percent quota?”

“Article 6 and Chapter 6 are two other examples of how carelessly made this bill is,” Nia said. “The first talks about what should not be included in a film. In other words, it should be part of chapter six, the chapter on censorship.”

Lisabona’s final principle refers to the first clause of Article 18, which requires filmmakers to inform the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the title, story idea and production plan of any future works.

Chand said the law would hurt the film industry just as it was experiencing new growth.

“Go to regions outside Jakarta and you will find that teenagers who love films have formed indie film communities. A new law would only throw these teenagers into the complexities of bureaucracy every time they wanted to make a film,” said Chand, whose passion for movies developed from the age of 8, when he used to help his brother, a movie theater owner, hand out film pamphlets. By junior high school, Chand was already managing a theatrer in Tasikmalaya, West Java.

“They don’t pay attention to things like that. So, we must ask, must they pass the bill in such haste? Who is forcing them? Whose interest is served by the bill?” Chand said.

Across town on Monday, Deddy Mizwar, who has been in the film industry for almost 30 years, sounded shocked and confused. Instead of answering the question of how a new film law might affect him as an actor and a director, he kept mumbling: “This country is doomed, this country is doomed!”

But he mustered up the spirit to say, with his trademark wit, “I think the bill should be issued under the Ministry of Trade. What it talks about is mostly commercial rather than cultural.”

Answering the initial question, Deddy said: “The old film law was bad enough, but the film industry could actually grow. Now, with worse rules, the industry will die.”

Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik begged to differ on Thursday.

Speaking at the premiere of five documentary films at Erasmus Huis, he promoted the bill as an instrument that would make life easier for filmmakers and film businesspeople alike.

“Therefore there will be more films, and Indonesia will finally become the host of its own home,” Jero said, adding that local films would be better received.

While the industry had no say in the process of passing the film bill into law, some found Jero’s words hard to swallow.

“Indonesia was the host of its own home before he [the minister] even realized it,” Lisabona said. “And since 1998, there has never been any governmental support for Indonesian films.”

Director Riri Riza said: “If articles six and 18 were fully implemented, I can’t even begin to imagine how [bad] Indonesia’s film world is going to be.”

“With rules that are set to control both the creative thinkers and businesspeople of the film world, this is the kind of bill that can only be found in socialist and fascist countries,” Chand said.

Finally, Deddy repeated: “This country is doomed!”

Some Crucial Articles

Article 6: Qualitatively prohibits the use of a number of things in movies, such as drugs, pornography and provocations, without clear parameters.

Article 7, Clause 3: Prohibits the screening of films intended for audiences over 21 years of age in non-theater halls or in open spaces, subsequently preventing these movies from being screened at many film festivals, film appreciation forums and forums intended for education or research.

Article 18, Clause 1: Obliges all filmmakers to send a form informing the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the title, story idea and production plan of any films they intend to shoot.

Article 32: Obliges those in the film screening business, ie theater owners, to apportion 60 percent of their total screen time to Indonesian films, regardless of the quality.

Article 53: Stipulates that the government, without the necessity of consulting the Indonesian Film Body, may compile, endorse and coordinate the implementation of policies and strategies intended for the development of the national film industry.

Article 61: Does not allow for a regular assessment regarding the need to change the criteria for film censorship — namely returning films with themes, images, scenes, sounds and subtitles that do not conform to the guidelines of film censorship to the filmmakers to make their own changes until their work meets requirements.

Additional reporting by Lisa Siregar & Nurfika Osman.

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