Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Who's Afraid of Democracy - The Politics of Freedom in Indonesia

Notes:  this is The extended version of my article that was previously published on Cinemaya (Asian Films Journal Quarterly), May 2007 edition.


After President Soeharto stepped down and the falling of his dictatorship known as the New Order Regime in 1998, the democracy movement in Indonesia has been experiencing a wind of change. Back in Suharto’s regime (1966-1998), nobody dares to voice their differences, let alone criticize the government, without having a fear to be silenced or disappeared without a cause. Nowadays, Indonesian people have more freedom to speak off their opinions although it may differ or even against the government.



So, here in Indonesia, we experience a political euphoria since 1998. Before 1998, people were very afraid to talk about and against the New Order. If they were doing so they would get pressured, kidnapped and killed mysteriously. Such as the cases of Tanjung Priok, Petisi 50, the attack of Indonesian Democratic Party in July 27th 1996 and Marsinah.



Since people got silence way too long, from 1998 they talked almost everything. New magazines and newspapers published wildly and rapidly, including porn magazines. Everybody seemed to be free to express their ideological thought, and political parties were founded with so many ideological background—nationalism, Islam, socialism, etc.



Filmmakers and New Order Regime

How about the filmmakers? They also got silenced by the New Order. The scissors of Lembaga Sensor Film (Film Censorship Institution) was very sharp and cold for the filmmakers. So, filmmakers made their film in very careful way. They had to be creative to put their critical ideas into the scenario. They spoke against government “quietly”. Some filmmakers would not make films with political issues, or hid political theme creatively and mostly chose comedy and drama genre to spoke up their voices. And most of filmmakers acted like businessman and just treated films as “merchant of dreams” projects, as economical goods or just valuable commodities—and those attitudes continue as “tradition” after the downfall of New Order Regime.



The censorships were very powerful to Indonesian film industry. Karl Heider wrote:



“The government film censorship board must approve the script f a film before shooting, and it must advise again during the editing stage. News items frequently appear in the press announcing titles of films which have been released by the censorship board.” (Indonesian Cinema: National Culture on Screen, 1991, p 22).



Marcelli Sumarno and Nan Triveni Achnas wrote:



"Until quite recently, film law in Indonesia was subject to red tape and stifling policies. The main objective was to regulate film as stipulated in the state guidelines as ‘ not only an entertainment vehicle but also as a medium for educational and cultural purpose". (In Two Worlds in Being and Becoming the Cinemas of Asia, p 156, 2002)



So, all filmmakers must submit their script for approval before production. Shooting permits for all forms of audiovisual recordings are the norm, with prior approval required of production companies, which have to be members of one of the government-sanctioned organizations of producers. No film can be screened before it is censored. All cast and crew must be members of unions. Each job description requires several levels of apprenticeship before members are allowed to work to work in their respective posts[1].



Max Havelaar, a film directed by Fons Rademaker based on 1859 bestseller novel by Multatuli (well-known in Indonesia as Saijah and Adinda) made in 1975, and it was held up by the censors for ten years before it was released. Set in the colonial period tells the story of an idealistic Dutch administrator, who has to confront not only his own government but also a corrupt local leader to uphold justice.



Krisis X (Crisis X, Turino Djunaidy, 1975), was threatened with a ban by the censor because it portrayed excessive moral degradation, but was passed after a major revision of the story.



Yang Muda yang Bercinta (The Youngster in Love, Sjumandjaja, 1977), written by acclaimed culture-thinker Umar Kayam and starred by a rebel poet WS Rendra and contained some critical though and poem by Rendra , was banned and got screened 16 years later, in September 1993. The film tells about young people in search of personal identity through political demonstrations. In 1977, this film was passed after cuts about 18 minutes on April 15th 1978, but later on May 1978, the censor banned it because “the film’s propaganda might affravate and incite young generation. But, believe it or not, this film won Citra Award at Indonesian Film Festival 1978 for the Leading Actress, Nani Widjaya).



There was a film about the Padri Wars in West Sumatra in early 19th century, was never permitted to get beyond the script stage.



Bung Kecil (Little Brother, Sophan Sophian, 1978) was on LSF table for five years before passed the censor in 1983. It is a sharp social critique of feudalism and the loss of idealism in those who fought for the country’s Independence. Another Sophan Sophian film, Suami (Husband, 1988) had to change the title of his film for five times. The previous titles were Duta Besar (Ambassador), Hapuslah Air Matamu (Wash Away Your Tears), Kemesraan (Romance), and Suamiku Duta Besar (My Husband is an Ambassador).



However, there were some good films talked about social and political problems. Such as Si Mamad (Sjumanjaya, 1973) who tells the story about Mamad, the honest employee who do some little corruption, and when he wants to make confessions, nobody cares. And he died drowned by his own guilt.





After May 1998

Since Gerakan Reformasi (Reform Movement) in 1998 was succeed to step Soeharto down, so filmmakers now can make their films without being frightened and bring the opponent voices to the silver screen freely.



However, that’s 'das sollen', the ideal situation, not das sein “the reality”. Then since 1998 Indonesia is lack of critical and political films. There are only view films with straight political statements.



Some of them are: Marsinah (Cry Justice, Slamet Rahardjo Djarot, 2000), Gie (Riri Riza, 2005), Puisi Tak Terkuburkan (The Poet, 1999), Aku Ingin Menciummu Sekali Saja (Bird-ManTale, 2002) (both by Garin Nugroho) and some documentary films by Lexy Junior Rambadeta and Aryo Danusiri.



Marsinah talked about the woman labor that leaded the demonstration against her office policies, was kidnapped and killed. We don’t know about the killer until now. And Slamet showed us not only about Marsinah mysterious death, but also about police’s violence treatment to the suspects.

Puisi and Aku Ingin told us about the forbidden issues, the Indonesian Communist Party in Aceh and Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement) in Papua. And both of them showed us about political violence done by police and—especially—government: the killing without trial, the kidnapping and torturing, and other inhumanity treatments. Both of them are very poetic movies, done with great cinematography, but the stories are very political.



Gie is a legendary student activist in the 1960s who leaded the movement against President Soekarno in 1966 which ended up with the step-down of Soekarno. In this film, Riri showed Soe Hok Gie (the movie main character) as a youngster who had tremendous ideas about how to live a democratic life in a nation rich of differences. Riri portrayed Gie not only as a student with a restless mind, but most of all as a human being. Gie born as an Indonesian Chinese, a minority ethnic that often stereotype as a tribe of merchants not politicians. But young Gie went to Universitas Indonesia, a prominent state university which dubbed as ‘School for the Ministers’ since most of political elites in Indonesia were educated here. He wrote everything that came up to his mind. And that made Riri’s job easier. Riri went through Gie’s articles and his journals, critized both Soekarno and Soeharto and brought the most forbidden issue in Indonesia, Indonesian Communist Party, including the forbidden song called Genjer Genjer,into screen--and so different with Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Traitor of G30S/PKI) directed by Arifin C Noer, the movie that many people claimed as propaganda movie.



Lexy J. Rambadeta and Aryo Danusiri are young documentary filmmakers. They concern of political and social problems in Indonesia such as Aceh, corruption, and the controversial issues of Indonesian Communist Party.



Lexy made, such as, Bade Tan Reuda (Aceh’s Never-ending Tragedy, 2003), Mass Grave (about PKI member’s mass grave, 2001), Upeti untuk Punggawa, Nasi Basi untuk Kawula (About the corruption in Indonesia, 2002). And he became associate producer and camera to film Garuda Deadly’s Upgrade (2005). The last movie is very interesting, about Munir Said Thalib, Indonesia’s bravest and hardest working human rights campaigner. Munir repeatedly spoke out against Indonesia’s generals, accusing them of “killing people and hiding behind those in power.”—and he got killed mysteriously with arsenic poison when he traveled to Holland in Garuda Indonesia Airways to continue his study.



Aryo Danusiri made some film about human right violations in Aceh in Kambing Kampung Kena Pukul (Village Goat Got Beaten) and Abracadabra!

This is time to Indonesia for celebrating the freedom of _expression. But, still,

Indonesia is lack of film that is full of critical and political statements. Most of the filmmakers don’t use this opportunity, the air of democracy, to make such kind of film.

As a matter of fact that most filmmakers don’t assume film as a media to express their feeling and thought, or media to bring the message. They prefer to make love stories, or horrors, or something that invite more people to come to the cinemas and earn much money. They are blinded by film industry.

However, we don't know yet. Our film industry is still young since their resurrection in 2001 by Jelangkung (Jose Purnomo and Rizal Mantovani) and Ada Apa dengan Cinta (What’s Up with Love, Riri Riza). So, let the time answers.



Nation In Waiting

Since we feel the air of freedom, technically speaking there is no reason for filmmakers for not to make political or protest films. If LSF is the obstacle, it just stops the distribution to regular cinema. But, there are so many public spaces in Indonesia, not to mention international film festivals.



But, why don’t they create ones?



The first answer from them, my prediction, is: “Why should I?”. I find some reasons.

1. The directors, producers, and scriptwriters are being agnostic for participating in politics, and become apolitical attitude. And they were (and are) busy earning money for themselves to support for their life and family. The New Order Regime, for more than 30 years, are succeed to spread a brain-washed program with Penataran P4 (the teaching of our nation ideology, the Five Pillars/Pancasila) and other project. And that made people either chose government politic party, or being skeptical about politics and avoid it. So, the majority of people are a floating mass, instead of having one straight political statement or world-view. The Developmentalism-Economy approach also made the society busy to fulfill their own basic needs without thinking other interests. And this phenomenon continues.
2. Filmmakers still tread film industry as one of economic goods. Films are for making money. Most of them don’t realize, or being skeptical and even cynical, about the concept of film as art and media of expressions. So, they think about the benefits and the advantages (economically) of filmmaking. And films of politics are not one of them.
3. For many of them, films as media of ideas and though—in this case, films of politics--are not so important to make. And economically speaking, this kind of films is watched by limited spectators, or no movie-goers at all.
4. There is barely any demand from the spectators. The movie-buffs don’t support filmmakers. And some of them, according to senior film critics Salim Said, are picture illiterate.



Salim Said adds some reasons. He wrote email to me that the freedom of expression that people got from Reformasi Movement on 1998 is not automatically earning films of politics. This situation happened to ex communist countries that were free because of the downfall of Berlin Wall. Salim, now he is Indonesian Ambassador in Praha, said that maybe there are no urgency and importance for the recent political issues to express in films.



Second, a very limited fund—they were used to be helped by their government. In Indonesian case, there were nearly no tradition or art of protest in literature history. This tradition was tried by Sutan Takdir Alisyahbana with “Literature with tendencies”, and also with LEKRA (Lembaga Kesenian Rakyat, People Art Organization as the underbow of Indonesian Communist Party in 1950s and 1960s). But according to Said, both of them were not succeed.



Other reason is the spectators who see films as merchant of dreams. Most of movie-goers are from the lower social class. They escape from their poverty and daily problems when come into cinemas. So, they need “pure entertainment” and don’t want to be burdened with “difficult films”. Said said that we need to build film culture, for example to develop and spread cine club all over campuses and big cities.



For me, one more action “to educate” the spectators is to make good and sharp film critics. Film critics play important role to enrich the meaning of the films, to help people “how to read films”.



[1] In 1996, those laws were broken by Mira Lesmana, Nan Achnas, Rizal Mantovani, and Riri Riza when they made the legendary omnibus project called Kuldesak (screened in 1998). The film became inspirations of many young filmmakers to make film, especially short films, and became snowball effect to the uprising of New Indonesian Film Generation after May 1998