Sinematek: Where Old Indonesian Movies Go to Die?

Posters of classic Indonesian movies at Sinematek Indonesia in South Jakarta on Tuesday (27/03). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

By : Dhania Sarahtika | on 3:48 PM April 05, 2018
Category : Life & Style, Movies

Jakarta. Usmar Ismail’s "Darah dan Doa," or "The Long March," is said to be the first movie produced and financed by Indonesians. Its first day of filming, March 30, 1950, is now commemorated as National Film Day. But did you know that it wasn’t the first movie produced in Indonesia?

That honor belonged to "Loetoeng Kasaroeng" by by L. Heuveldorp and G. Kruger, released in 1926, almost two decades before Indonesia’s independence.

When the movie was released, there was no "Indonesia," only the Dutch East Indies.

While a nicely preserved copy of Darah dan Doa is safely kept at Sinematek Indonesia in Jakarta – the first film archive in South East Asia and still the only one in Indonesia – Loetoeng Kasaroeng’s whereabouts are unknown.

The oldest movie that Sinematek has is The Teng Chun’s "Tie Pat Kai Kawin," released in 1935.

According to Indonesian Film Center Foundation (YPFI) manager Kiki Muchtar, before 2010 Indonesian films were mainly recorded on celluloid.

"Now movie theaters use DCP [digital cinema package]," Kiki said.

Part of what YPFI does is digitalizing celluloid films. That can be easy. Tracing the celluloids themselves often take them off the beaten path.

During the "Mana Film Indonesia?" ("Where Are the Indonesian Films?") discussion held at microcinema Kineforum in Central Jakarta on Saturday (24/03), Kiki presented the results of his research to map out where celluloid copies of Indonesian films are kept, based on data she compiles from filmindonesia.or.id.

Over 600 celluloid feature films are kept at Sinematek, 707 are kept by their original production houses and 77 are in the possession of a man called Muchlis who used to run a mobile cinema business.

The rest, which amounts to over 2,300 films, are in the private collection of a few companies and collectors, including 14 Entertainment, Be Cang Film, Inter Pratama Studio and the Indonesian Old Cinema Museum in Malang, East Java.

In some cases, old movies end up overseas, usually in the collections of museums, libraries or embassies.

The government has no official film archives center. Sinematek, established in 1975 by Misbach Yusa Biran and Usmar Ismail, is often mistaken as state-owned, when in fact it's owned by Yayasan Pusat Perfilman Haji Usmar Ismail, a private foundation that used to be called Yayasan Citra.

With a staff of only 11 people and limited funding, Sinematek does its best to preserve films.

The celluloid copies are kept in a climate-controlled vault with a temperature between 9 and 13 degrees Celcius.

The humidity level is supposed to be kept at 40-45 percent but since Indonesia is a tropical country, that rarely happens. Most of the time it can only be kept down to 63 percent.

Sinematek Indonesia head Adisurya Abdy said almost 300 titles in its collection have been digitalized.

Adisurya wants the government to show more commitment to preserve our cinematic legacy by helping to keep Sinematek running and improve its facilities.

"We need someone, the government, to help us pay for it, basically. We need real and continuous support from the government, not just sporadic ones, ones that we have to beg for," he told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.

Adisurya pointed out that short films and documentaries often suffer even worse fate than feature films when it comes to archiving and preservation.

Nevertheless, YPFI has archived and digitalized quite a few celluloid documentaries and short films that they sourced privately from the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ), Sonobudoyo Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesian Old Cinema Museum, PFN, Arsari Foundation, Bung Karno Foundation in Jakarta and Bandung and from private collectors.

Watch Vintage Films at Sinematek

Sinematek allows anyone to watch films in their viewing room, but you have to make an appointment in advance for a group of five or more people.

Budi Iswanto, a staff member at Sinematek, said the films are also not to be brought outside the center.

If you want to screen a film from Sinematek's collection for non-commercial purposes – ie, you're not charging money for tickets – you can send a letter to request the film, then Sinematek will decide if the copy of the film is in good enough condition to be screened.

If you plan to charge people for tickets then you'll need to get permission from the film's producer.

"Here we don’t only keep films but we also keep posters and printed stills, and books about filmmaking," Budi said.

Sinematek also keeps newer films in DVD, VCD and VHS.

The original celluloids for the restored versions of Usmar Ismail’s "Lewat Djam Malam" (After the Curfew), "Tiga Dara" (Three Maidens), Darah dan Doa and Asrul Sani’s "Pagar Kawat Berduri" (Barbed Wire Fence) all came from Sinematek.

Old Movie Trend

The restored version of Lewat Djam Malam was screened in cinemas in 2012, then Tiga Dara followed in 2016.

The restored Darah dan Doa and Pagar Kawat Berduri had no commercial releases since the restoration was government-funded.

So if you hear that a film is being restored, don’t get your hopes up just yet.

Commercial cinemas rarely screen old movies, but CGV kicked off its "Vintage Film Festival" last Thursday with the original "Pengabdi Setan" (Satan’s Slave), made in 1980 by Sisworo Gautama Putra.

The festival is held in 10 cities where there is a CGV cinema and runs until April 29. Some of the titles being screened include classics like "Mat Dower" (Big Lips) (1969), "Ratu Ilmu Hitam" (Queen of Black Magic) (1981), and the "Catatan Harian Si Boy" (Boy's Diaries) series (1987-1991).

Micro cinemas Kineforum and Kinosaurus often screen vintage movies as part of their monthly programs.

Just recently Kineforum screened "Gadis Penakluk" (Girl Conqueror) (1980) and the 1982 version of "Titian Serambut Dibelah Tujuh" (The Narrow Bridge).

Outside cinemas and micro cinemas, old Indonesian films are now also available on streaming services.

Indihome, Telkom Indonesia's pay TV service, has a channel called FLiK TV showing Indonesian films from the 1970s and recent releases.

You can also watch classic Indonesian movies on streaming platforms Iflix, Viu, Mox, Catchplay and HOOQ.

HOOQ boasts an extensive collection of around 1500 local titles. HOOQ head of content Dellawati Wijaya said they contribute to 55-60 percent of total traffic on the platform.

Recently releases, such as "Galih & Ratna" and "Dear Nathan," both released in 2017, are more popular. The remastered version of the 2000 teen romance "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?" (What’s Up With Love) is also a favorite.

"But some films that disappeared quickly from the cinemas have turned out to be big hits on our platform," Della said.

HOOQ also has a selection of vintage movies, including Alam Surawidjaja’s 1979 war flick "Janur Kuning" (Yellow Coconut Leaf), Mourtadha Risyaf’s "Naga Bonar" and comedies starring Benyamin Sueb and the ever-popular Warkop trio.

Della said there are still many Indonesian films available for viewing on illegal streaming websites.

"We have to kill around 20 links per day. When we released 'Surga Yang Tak Dirindukan 2' [Unwanted Bliss 2], we had to kill 90 links," Della said.

Power of Community

Facebook group Komunitas Pecinta Film Indonesia Jadul (Old Movie Lovers of Indonesia) was formed in 2010 and has nearly 9,000 members so far. They host public screenings of classic Indonesian films at least twice a year, usually in coffee shops.

One of the members, Rendy Dwika Chandra, told the Jakarta Globe the group defines old films as those released between 1927 and 1992.

The members’ combined collections consist of over 1,000 films in VCD, DVD, VHS/Betamax and laser discs.

"We have classic films released between 1956 and 1992. Older than that, it's much harder to get," Rendy said.

Members are allowed to borrow or trade their collections, but not every film since some are in very delicate condition.

"We take extreme care of our rare collections," Rendy said.

Though it's still an uphill climb for both watching and preserving vintage movies in Indonesia, YPFI is making progress with its plan to launch a website with a complete archival data on Indonesian films.

"Our new website will be a one-stop information center about Indonesian films. You can find out everything about them, from where you can get access to a copy to where you can watch them with your friends," Kiki said.

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