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Trailblazers Why Indonesian Cinema Is Suddenly In The Spotlight

Why Indonesian Cinema Is Suddenly In The Spotlight

Why Indonesian Cinema Is Suddenly In The Spotlight
A scene from Gen.T honouree Mouly Surya's 2017 film Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
By Melissa Twigg
January 21, 2020
We speak to award-winning film-maker Mouly Surya about film in her home country, the future of the creative arts and why hard work is more important than talent

We are witnessing a dazzling new Golden Age of cinema—but it’s not happening in Hollywood, Bollywood or even Nollywood. With a population of 260 million, Indonesia is fast becoming one of Asia’s biggest film markets.

International and local films are taking in huge revenues. Avengers: Infinity War grossed more than US$25m earlier this year and The Nun opened on US$7m. Domestic production is also booming. Falcon Pictures’ romantic drama Dilan 1990 grossed an estimated US$16.6m, while Joko Anwar’s horror Satan’s Slaves, co-produced by Rapi Films and South Korea’s CJ E&M, took around US$11m.

However, there are still also only 1,600 screens in Indonesia, or just 0.4 screens per 100,000 people. That compares with 14 screens per 100,000 people in the US and 1.8 in China. As a result, only 13 percent  of Indonesians have cinemas in their neighbourhood, meaning it is much more difficult for them to watch a new release than for almost any other nation in Asia.

A scene from Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
A scene from Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

But not for much longer. Investors are flooding in to capitalise on this potential and building cinemas around the country. For the first time since its heyday in the 1980s, Indonesia is turning into a film-making hub in its own right. This is largely down to government support. Determined to grow Indonesia's film industry, President Joko Widodo's government has relaxed restrictions on international investment in cinemas and in local films.

As a result, the Cine­maxx brand, which currently has 45 locations with 226 screens, is aiming to quadruple that number to 1,000 screens within five years. Last month, Mexican exhibition giant Cinepolis announced it had acquired a minority stake in Cinemaxx, which should help it with this ambitious project.

Along with government aid, the rising wealth in the country is a factor. Average monthly wages rose about 3 percent to US$200 last year, while inflation and joblessness are near the lowest levels in decades. Indonesians with spare cash are flocking to malls —and they expect to see a shiny new cinema inside.

“There have been huge changes in Indonesian society and therefore in film recently,” says Clairice Halim, Gen.T's Indonesia editor. “The open franchise system allows for more cross-country and cross-culture influence in the local movie world, thanks to the government lifting the ban on foreign investment four years ago. Since then, new players who are willing to spend money on better quality films have joined in. The rise of technology and social media also allows Indonesia's millennial generation to learn and to emulate global forces in the movie industry, making them more willing to support and to contribute to the local industry."

Mouly Surya
Mouly Surya

As a result, there has been a push by major film studios and distributors to make more domestic content. The numbers reflect this growth. In 2015, Indonesia sold 16 million cinema tickets—by 2017, that number had jumped to 43 million. And the vast proportion were for customers seeing home-grown films.

“Just the fact of having more films can be described as a really positive vibe for the industry and with time, quantity will become quality and great Indonesian cinema will follow,” says Gen.T honouree Mouly Surya, an Indonesian film-maker based in Jakarta. She has won numerous awards, beginning with her debut film Fiski, which was released in 2008. Her film Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and received a number of awards, before being chosen as the Indonesian entry for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards, although it was later not nominated. She also directed 2013’s What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love and teaches students how to direct films and make screenplays in Jakarta.

Talent is not enough. Money and investment is really good if you want to accelerate the industry, but hard work is the most important thing. Hard work beats talent in this industry in my opinion

Mouly Surya

“Talent is not enough,” says Surya. “Money and investment is really good if you want to accelerate the industry, but hard work is the most important thing. Hard work beats talent in this industry in my opinion. Another aspect of the film industry that needs to be built up in Indonesia is human resources development—this applies to every sector in the film industry—so people can get the support they need.”

A scene from What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love
A scene from What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love

Indonesian arthouse films are also appearing regularly on the festival circuit, with Garin Nugroho’s Memories Of My Body premiering at the Venice Film Festival, following the success of Surya’s Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts and Kamila Andini’s The Seen And Unseen, which premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and Toronto respectively last year.

“What is amazing is that Indonesian movies are breaking into the global market and being shown at international film festivals, making unexpected stars of local actors and addressing challenging topics,” says Halim. “I love to see the film business thriving, and open investment is encouraging foreign investors to help grow Indonesia's creative sector."


See more honourees from The Arts category of the Gen.T List 2019.

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Trailblazers indonesia talent cinema mouly surya creative arts

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