|the international federation of film critics|
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Indonesian Local Film Festivals
|Harap tenang, ada ujian! (Be Quiet, Exam Is in Progress!; 2006), a short film by Ifa Isfansyah, won an Audience Award at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival and Best Short Film at both the Konfiden Short Film Festival and the Indonesian Film Festival|
Perhaps the history of Indonesian film festivals started in 1955 when the annual Festival Film Indonesia (FFI) began. The Indonesian government appointed and funded a committee to run the festival regularly. The festival itself was more of an awarding night to honor Indonesian filmmakers than a festival that screens films. During the blooming of the Indonesian television industry and the establishment of the Cineplex network in the 1990s, the amount of Indonesian film produced declined drastically. The decline led to the shutdown of FFI in 1992. Meanwhile, the vacuum within the film industry forced film professionals to turn from producing films to producing "sinetron" (television series). The government responded to the sinetron boom with an annual Festival Sinetron that lasted from 1994 to 1998.
The Indonesian economic crisis in 1997 and the Indonesian political reform saw the birth of a new wave of filmmakers including both professionals and non-professionals with "do-it-yourself" attitudes. In 1998, a group of young filmmakers (Riri Riza, Nan Achnas, Rizal Mantovani, Mira Lesmana) produced Kuldesak, which espoused the spirit of "film Independen." In the same year, a youth-based pop-culture community in Jakarta held a film workshop for junior and senior high-school students. One year later, Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) and Festival Film-Video Independen Indonesia (FFVII) started. Both festivals were privately run by non-governmental organizations with sponsorship and foreign funding as their funding resources.
JiFFest and FFVII opened public access to alternative films, barely seen in Indonesian cinema theaters, which were dominated by Hollywood films. JiFFest focused its program on international films, while FFVII dedicated its program to local independent films (which were mostly shorter in duration) from various cities throughout Java. The main difference between the festivals was their ticketing: JiFFest put prices on their tickets, while FFVII didn't. All films in the JiFFest program were required to go through censorship by the state censorship institution, Lembaga Sensor Film. On the other hand, FFVII, with its free screenings, was able to pass this restraining process. For a while, JiFFest was the only annual Indonesian film festival, a status it enjoyed until 2004, when FFI reformed (with the same format as before). FFVII lasted for four years (1999-2002) and reformed in 2006 under the new name Festival Film Pendek Konfiden.
JiFFest and FFVII inspired other local festivals, less consistent and on a smaller scale. In 2000, the Festival Film Pelajar dan Mahasiswa (High-School and University Film Festival) was held by Universitas Muhammadiyah Jogjakarta's cine-club. The local-scale festival became a meeting point for local filmmakers around Java, either directly or through film screenings, providing a chance for filmmakers to form wider networks. This led to another phenomenon of the film independen movement: komunitas film, or film communities. Later, various mailing lists emerged, becoming an information-exchange place for film communities throughout Indonesia, as the Internet become increasingly popular in the country.
In 2002 Komunitas Dokumenter Yogyakarta started the Festival Film Dokumenter (FFD). The festival has hosted documentary-film competitions from the high-school to the professional level, non-competition screenings, masterclasses, and discussion. Today, the festival has become a film festival on a national scale.
Several television stations hosted their own "film festivals" as a part of their on-air programming. This was television's attempt to capture the growing trend of independent film or what was popularized as the "film indie." Despite the short living span of these festivals, they quickly ignited a boom in independent film production. Most of the films made were short films intended for the prize money offered by these festivals. Meanwhile, foreign cultural institution also became active in hosting film festivals that promote their national films. These film festivals screen Indonesian films (both short and feature) as a part of their program list and have managed to attract the emerging audience of festivalgoers that has formed since the first JiFFest.
The growth of these various film festivals in Indonesia has created an atmosphere that supports komunitas film and their main activities, with an emphasis on film production and film screenings. Some komunitas film even host local film festivals. Unfortunately, both film festivals and komunitas film have problems maintaining their existence.
Meanwhile, alternative screening spaces have sprouted throughout Java. Some live a short life, such as Teater Utan Kayu and Kine 28. On the other hand, alternative cinemas such as Kineforum Jakarta and Kinoki Yogyakarta have succeeded in opening a space for alternative films that don't get to Indonesian theaters. Both Kineforum and Kinoki are private institutions that receive funding from the local government. Due to the limited existence of the alternative cinema, which is centered on the bigger cities, film festivals play an important role for Indonesian film communities and organizations, most crucially in serving as a meeting point.
|Peronika by Bowo Leksono (2004)|
The Character of Local Film Festivals
Local film festivals usually raise their funding from private sponsors, donors and even their own pockets. There have been exceptions, such as Festival Film Pendek Bandung, which was funded by the West Java Culture and Tourism Board, and Parade Film Pendek, which was part of Pesta Seni Surabaya (Surabaya Art Festival), the annual event of Dewan Kesenian Surabaya (Surabaya Arts Council). Sadly, both festivals didn't last. The funding source is important because it determines the level of freedom the organizers have in enabling a festival to fulfill its function as a meeting point.
Another characteristic of local film festivals is that screenings are free, as are program books and promotion materials. Some local film festivals depend on the audience to help run their programs. Usually audiences are invited to participate in the festival through discussion panels and forums or through voting for the best film in the festival. The encouragement of audience participation has helped festivals attain full houses for screenings and put festivals on the local cultural map.
A third characteristic is the large quantity of short films (mostly up to 30 minutes in duration) that fill screening slots. Some festivals focus only on short films, and some host special screenings for films produced by junior-high-school students.
Local film festivals are open to film communities and other cultural institutions and organizations. This is apparent in the numerous collaborations among these different groups — collaborations that have resulted in a wider distribution network for local films in the form of post-festival roadshows, in other non-festival events, and even in distribution to various international film festivals.
Local film festivals have long created a positive stimulus within the local community while at the same time enriching the diversity of Indonesian films and helping the emergence of new filmmakers. This has been apparent in my experience in attending Pesta Sinema Indonesia at Purwokerto. In 2004, there were only four local films among the total of 36 films that were screened. The rate increased to 25 local films among a total of 78 films in 2005 — with almost all of the 25 made by emerging local filmmakers.
Local film festivals provide a space for local filmmakers to express themselves in their own language and perspective, adding to the richness of forms, styles, and language of Indonesian films. A perfect example is the short film Peronika by Bowo Leksono from Purbalingga, which was part of a selection of twelve short films at the Festival Film Indonesia 2004. The short film portrays the technological gap between those who live in the countryside and the one that lives in the city. The dialogue is entirely in Banyumas dialect.
|Kuldesak (Riri Riza, Mira Lesmana, Nan Achnas and Rizal Mantovani, 1998), the first independent film to make it into the big-chain cinema Studio 21; an inspiration for do-it-yourself filmmaking in Indonesia.|
A last note on the positive stimulus created by local film festivals: they have the ability to create public appreciation on the local level, which is the baby step toward creating a prospective Indonesian film market. The chain of cinema theaters is bound to the big cities. Most local independent filmmakers are young unknowns working on a small budget, whose films are exhibited only in local film festivals. Since it is very difficult for Indonesian directors to build any critical reputation, making films will continue to be a struggle for them.
So local film festivals have a very important role to play in introducing and connecting filmmakers to the grassroots audience. Local film festivals are the places where the general audience can see alternative cinema, which is different from the kind of audio-visual reference they have from television.
Even though most local film festivals are under the radar of national publications, I have no doubt that local film festivals have a big role in the Indonesian archipelago.