OUT OF THE BLUE: DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING IN INDONESIA

When I started my first documentary project, I was spending such as US$1200. I was lucky because a non-governmental organization supported our documentary team with MiniDV Camera and editing computer with pirated editing software. It was like 2 years ago.

Last year, when I and my friend won Jakarta International Film Festival Short Documentary Script Competition, we really should start from the scratch. We don’t have equipment. Our camera was broken. We have no decent editing computer and no big budget. Even we won the prize, we just got US$2500 for the whole process of filmmaking, from researching, production till postproduction.

But in Indonesia, such amount is quite big budget for documentary. As any other part in the world, documentary in Indonesia is marginal discourse among film industry. Yet documentary filmmakers are abundant.

Statistic in 2002 stated that 32 documentaries were produced that year (In-Docs, 2002). The first documentary film festival in Yogyakarta received 35 entries from public, varied from professional to amateur documentary filmmakers. From the mapping made by In-Docs, there are 295 documentary films about Indonesia that have ever been made by Indonesians and foreign filmmakers during 1950-2002. Most of them (about 223) are about social culture, while the rest are about nature and flora fauna. There are also 159 documentaries made by university or film school student for their final task.

During the recent Konfiden festival (Indonesian Short Film Festival, 2006), there were 46 short documentaries submitted. The 46 short documentaries are produced during 2004-2006. Jakarta Slingshort Festival, a first South East Asia short film festival admitted many documentaries (around 30%) from total 300 films entries to the festival.

2006 Indonesia Documentary Film Festival as a venue for all Indonesia documentary films accepted at least 54 films. In 2006. Eagle Award, a documentary script competition hold by big television corporation called Metro TV, received 462 documentary proposal in 2005 and 369 proposal last year (2006).

This respond proved that there are enthusiasm among filmmakers, particularly young filmmakers to produce documentary. Previously, the lack of enthusiasm toward documentary was pushed by the fact that documentary doesn’t have economic value, comparing to fiction/feature films. As documentarian suffered from inferior complex in term of business, many documentary filmmakers are still lack of access to the production capital. In Indonesia, most of the documentary production are independent. Documentary filmmakers produce film in tight budget, even with their own money. Lack of access to capital is causing lack of technical value of the film. Most documentaries are shot in video. Sometimes they could get good video camera,but sometimes they use the old technology like single CCD. And it affect the quality of the screening.

Some filmmakers like Garin Nugroho have very strong capital basis and international network that enable them to have funding from foreign institutions.

Beside of that, many young filmmakers (beginner level) don’t come from film school. There is only one film school in Indonesia, so it’s too much to expect them to focus on documentary.

In recent years, the popularization of documentary is improving. As part of international impact, now documentary is having better position in term of its position among filmmaker, its position to business/market and its position in politic.

Audience now are more aware of documentary pushed by new phenomenon of popularization of documentary in the West. Documentary film like The Corporation, March of The Penguin, Fahrenheit 9/11 and any other films make positive impact on society that now they are really aware of this genre. Film like The Corporation and Inconvenient Truth are screened in the commercial theater during the festival. Some any other documentaries are screened in cultural centre and university. And it got better appreciation from the public.

Dating back to the New Order period (1966-1998) when Soeharto was in throne, the development of documentary scene is very very amazing. Not only in economic aspect and public appreciation, but also in its diverse of themes and way of storytelling.

According an interview with Garin Nugroho (Ishizaka Kenji, 2000), documentaries are distinctly divided into two types: propaganda films made by governments or those on the side of authority, and anti-authority documentaries made to counter such forces. Garin Nugroho said that ninety percent of documentary films in Indonesia are government propaganda.

History of Indonesian documentary film is closely related to Indonesian history, ie. history of colonialism. Despite claim that first documentary was brought by Christian missionaries in Nusatenggara, the history of documentary films in Indonesia tends to start with the Dutch colonial era, when documentary films were screened at night bazaars in Jakarta.

When the Dutch established plantations in Sumatra, documentary films were used as propaganda to entice Javanese peasants to migrate to the plantations. The same thing happened under Japanese rule, when the Japanese used film as propaganda to advance the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

During the New Order years of the Soeharto reign, documentary films followed two routes. First, documentaries used mainly for educational and informational purposes extolled the good results of the New Order’s national development. Second, a small fraction were ethnographic or environmental films made for general educational or scientific purposes.

Indonesian documentary film from the era of independence through the 1990s has had only two dimensions: development propaganda and scientific knowledge. Even the latter has been very limited in both approach and variety. Most scientific and enthographic films portray the life of primitive ethnic group in remote Papua or Borneo. These films always use narrator who tell what’s happening in the location. Pictures show exotic places, with its ‘uncivilized’indigenous people doing some major tribal ceremonies. Also, because so many documentaries are co-produced by local filmmaker and major foreign television companies, personally initiated documentary filmmaking has disappeared.

The situation up until the 1990s was exacerbated by the fact that Indonesia had only the one government television station, TVRI [Television Republik Indonesia]. Consequently, television documentaries feature the development successes of a village, complete with images of government officials cutting ribbons and so on. Comparing Indonesian documentaries with documentary film in the rest of the world, Indonesia films tend to be outdated in content, format, and approach.

Many documentaries were made by director under tight supervision of government (via department of information). According to Regulation No. 8/1992, all filmmakers should give their proposal and script before producing their films. To make a documentary film, filmmakers should have to secure permits, submit the screenplay for scrutiny, approve the title with the government, and report the names of all crew.

It enabled government to supervise the content or material of the film. This policy makes it’s very difficult to produce film during New Order. At that time, documentary were available in official television (TVRI) and documentary permitted to be screen on TV should be documentary about animal, plant, indigenous people, and traveling.

But it’s just first exam. If the filmmaker passed the first exam, they should pass the second exam, ie. Cencorship Board. In 1992, New Order tried to deregulate film industry but yet Indonesia is still keeping its Censorship Board. Censorship Board functions to decide whether certain film is avalaible for public or not.

Cencorship Board functions as supra-body who could ban and censor the films. Either it can cut the film, it also could not release the film. Members of cencorship board are coming from intelligent agency, police department, military, department of education, and religious leaders. Many documentaries are suffered from being banned by that body, particularly political documentary. Authoritarian regime didn’t allow filmmakers to make political film. Recently Indonesian Censorship Board banned film Promised Paradise (2006) by Leonard Retel Helmrich, Black Road (2005) by William Nessen, Passabe (2005) by James Leong and Lynn Lee, Timor Loro Sae (2003) directed by Vitor Lopes and Tales of Crocodile (2003) directed by Jan van den Berg. Aforementioned films are portraying political issues that are sensitive to Indonesia, like terrorism, East Timor and Aceh.

During the New Order period, we could hardly find any independent documentarian. If they live, they produced and distributed it underground. And it’s quite difficult to compile statistic about them.

In term of aesthetic values, Indonesian documentary in New Order era seem getting impasse. Film students and some filmmakers knew numerous varieties of documentary, everything from poetic to social approaches to much more but it’s just getting well soil to grow after the new order outthrown. Previously very thick in propaganda, now Indonesian documentaries are varied in style and approach and addressed the social and political issues.

Some new approachs are introduced to filmmaker, like verite and or direct cinema. Different from ethnographic documentaries that tends to portray the indigenous people, now filmmakers make their own life as a documentary. Film is becoming about an everyday life open to anything at all. It can explore far ahead into the future, or dig deep into the past.

The 1990s brought a trend toward more openness in television news broadcasting. There are now ten private television channels that open channel for documentary. Film like Children of a Thousand Islands (“Anak Seribu Pulau”) was made by Garin Nugroho. Although still using some old pattern of documentary, this film made remarkable change on the documentary filmmaking.

Since 1999, Indonesia was shifting to a new political regime. It is during particularly chaotic times like that, when the system has yet to stabilize, that many filmmakers ought to dare to be revolutionary, to advance subjects with sensitive themes like religion, communism, or sex. The 1990s have been the era of private television stations, but they were still dominated by politics, precisely anarchic ones. As the news shows, documentary film emerged when economic matters forced politics aside. Previously, only the government set the agenda through news broadcasts on the government monopoly station. Then the private stations were established, each with their own news shows. And from these a new basis for documentary films emerged.

What typifies the past 8 years has been increasing attention to theoretical and approach issues in documentary as opposed to the practical, everyday problems of filmmaking.

In Indonesia, it’s essential to discuss about the form and aspect of story telling of documentary and above all, the political aspect of documentary filmmaking. These aspects have been changing since New Order outstated from power.

The young filmmakers are learning and finding the effective and interesting way to tell their stories in documentary. Some are good at it, some are bad. Without any prior knowledge of production, they are trying to tell their own stories. And it’s interesting process.

Taking advantage of the relatively cheap and flexible medium of television, numerous filmmakers entered the scene and began to mass-produce documentaries for airing on Indonesian television. Nonetheless, filmmakers continue to make documentaries, and use various means to get films seen. Some filmmakers travel with their films and show them wherever facilities exist, others route them through the country’s large film society circuit.

Now many [young] documentary filmmaker challenged the old rule. They started to make political documentary based their own experience as New Order’s victims. Lexy Junior Rambadetta with his Offstream produced ..which covered PKI issues, titled Mass Grave (2000) . PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) was active in Indonesia politic in 1950-1960. Soeharto gained its power by killing at least 3 million peoples suspected to be communist.

This massacre is frequently called “G-30-S” and was the black history for Indonesia. During New Order era, there was nobody brave enough to challenge the regime. And if it’s any, Soeharto regime would organize extrajudicial killing, like what they did to the PKI followers in 1965. In 2002, film titled Student Movement by Tino Saroengallo became the first Indonesian documentary screened in commercial theater (21 chains). This film conveyed the 1998 student movement. The emerging of political documentary is very important breakthrough in documentary discourse.

Documentaries have come a long way from the boring newsreels shown before main features in cinemas. With changes in technology amplifying the potential for production and broadcasting, the day of the documentary may finally dawn.

This chain of events has provided a launching pad for the coming era of documentary filmmaking, as long as we are determined to keep developing it. Filmmakers must commit to a new openness and produce documentaries that are open to a whole range of issues. At the same time, filmmakers must be increasingly vigilant against new problems forcibly advanced by anarchic forces, for example the spread of hate based on ethnicity, religion, and so on. The recent year promises to be a most potent era for documentary film if, and only if, filmmakers are daring enough to seize the opportunity presented.***



Reference

Kenji, Ishizaka, Interview with Garin Nugroho, http://www.yidff.jp/docbox/14/box14-2-1-e.html

In-Docs Newsletter, 2002

Prakosa, Gotot, Film Pinggiran, Jakarta : FFTV-IKJ in cooperation with YLP, 1997.

Rosenthal, Alan and John Corner, New Challenges for Documentary, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.

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Satu Tanggapan

  1. its interesting tough, to look indonesia many decades ago that democratic nation thrive and success with lots of ideology such communist,nationalist and religion all in one state.

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