Indonesia Film Industry Celebrates Renaissance at Busan



The Indonesian film industry is poised to spread its wings globally as the country’s filmmaking boom is the subject of a focus at the Busan International Film Festival.

Films from the country now routinely get selected and win prizes at major international festivals. The local market in Indonesia, which has the fourth-largest population in the world with 277 million, is rapidly expanding with homegrown productions accounting for a significant share. Indonesia is also bolstering its cultural policies that include an annual $13 million international co-production grant. Featured at Busan this year are 15 features, shorts and series. 

The festival has been inviting Indonesian films since 1996. In 2004, the late Kim Ji-seok, after whom one of the festival’s top awards is named now, curated a program titled ‘Garin [Nugroho] and the Next Generation: New Possibility of Indonesian Cinema.’ “I realized that the next generation is already visible, but overlooked,” festival programmer Park Sungho told Variety.

“Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the news that the Indonesian box office not only recovered from the pandemic, but also reached a point where the domestic market share was over 50%. The strong resilience and the waves of new directors, as well as the ever-growing number of screens and audiences naturally reminded me of the renaissance of Korean Cinema from the late 1990s. It’s about time for the world to witness and enjoy it,” Park added.

This year, there is a 50-strong Indonesian delegation at Busan, which includes filmmakers, committee members, government and media. Many are at the festival thanks to a travel grant from the government. Director of film, music and media at Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture, Ahmad Mahendra, said, “This will ensure a wide impact upon Indonesian cinema, such as the promotion of film as well as opening up opportunities for networking and co-production.’

Indonesia had a healthy 126 local releases in 2022 and, with more than 54 million admissions, the year surpassed pre-pandemic 2019 levels. “The opportunities are there because it’s important for Indonesia to go beyond being a big market to being a big player. The challenge is how to turn this momentum into something longer lasting,” Makbul Mubarak, told Variety. His Venice winner “Autobiography” played Busan last year and is Indonesia’s entry to the Oscars this year.

Producer Yulia Evina Bhara’s “24 Hours with Gaspar,” directed by Yosep Anggi Noen, is in the festival’s Jiseok competition and “Watch it Burn” by Mubarak at the Asian Project Market. Bhara hails the synergy that exists between stakeholders in the Indonesian film industry, with more filmmakers making interesting projects, the government playing an active role, a growing international interest in Indonesian cinema, and committed local audiences all contributing to the growth of Indonesian cinema.

“There has been an enthusiasm among Indonesian filmmakers to get international recognition by putting more efforts in craftsmanship,” independent cinema doyen Joko Anwar, whose 2019 title “Impetigore” is screening at Busan as part of the Indonesia focus, said. “There’s a renewed spirit among independent filmmakers to create films, aiming for not only international exposure through film festivals, but also an expanding local audience,” Noen added.

It has been a remarkable renaissance for a country whose film industry was all but moribund during the period of time known as the New Order (1966-1998). “Indonesia had a dead film era during the New Order especially during the late 1980s-90s, only Garin Nugroho and a few directors were making films at that time. Creativity was restricted. Then things begin to change after the reformation,” said filmmaker Kamila Andini, who is Nugroho’s daughter and who alongside husband Ifa Isfansyah directed Netflix series “Cigarette Girl,” episodes of which were shown at Busan. “We are sort of new as an industry, but there are doors that have been opened by my previous generation to make me at least think that I could speak and create of my mind today.”

“Cigarette Girl”

“We have a local dish in Indonesia with the name of ‘gado-gado.’ It’s basically a salad served in peanut butter sauce and the phrase literally means ‘mix-mix,’ which is appropriate for this versatile dish that can be made with any mix of vegetables, raw or cooked. That’s exactly what you’d expect from our films right now,” filmmaker Mouly Surya whose 2013 film “What They Don′t Talk About When They Talk About Love” is getting play in Busan’s Indonesia focus, added. “Most of our filmmakers are self-taught, their creative sensibility rooted in other form of arts, hence sometimes our film can feel a little raw, all over the place with many different tastes, less sophisticated and made with lesser money. But I think that’s one of the charms of it. Post reformation, our voices are also becoming bolder – especially the younger filmmakers. There are still a lot of possibilities in our industry.”

There are challenges as well, but these are being gradually addressed. The country lacks an independent distribution network meaning that producers go directly to multiplexes and put up their own P&A. Despite rapid building, the number of cinema screens remains low, at only 2,300. However, with foreign direct investment in the sector opening up, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The other lacuna is in the film education sector. “Right now the whole ecosystem is not yet complete. We need to improve the whole sector of education, development, production, and especially distribution,” Andini said. Surya added, “The biggest challenge is our support system. The lack of film schools and training programs resulting in very few human resources to fulfil the demands of more productions.” Echoing his compatriots, Anwar said, “Access to film education is still very limited in Indonesia.” 

This is also being addressed. Indonesia has an education endowment fund of $8 billion and some of this is used to provide scholarships for degree and non-degree programs internationally, and also to enhance the film education infrastructure locally.

“We have overhauled several of our fundamental aspects in order to elevate the quality of the film ecosystem,” said Indonesia’s Minister of Education, Culture, Research and Technology, Nadiem Anwar Makarim.


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