Indonesian Cinema as Part of The World Cultural Heritage

In his remarks on the film Lewat Djam Malam or After the Curfew (Director: Usmar Ismail, 1954), legendary director Martin Scorcese said that the film was “an eye opener”. Scorsese, as the founder of the World Cinema Foundation, became involved in the restoration of the film halfway through the laboratory process from August 2011 to early to 2012. World Cinema Foundation’s decision to help fund the restoration ofLewat Djam Malam marks the film as an important part of world cinema heritage.

Scorcese’s remarks have been shown prior to all international screenings of Lewat Djam Malam since March of 2012. What was implied in Scorsese’s remarks was that Usmar Ismail’s film surprised him because it was equal to other classic films of the world; from an aesthetic perspective to its thematic exploration. Lewat Djam Malam is an Indonesian film that speaks of the issues of humanity in general.

Usmar Ismail, with Asrul Sani’s script, tells the story of former independence war soldier Iskandar (A.N. Alcaff) who returned to civilian life a little later than his compatriots. He found that the post-war environment no longer needed his courage and soldiering skills. Despite being a master at wilderness guerilla warfare, he found only dead ends when it came to normal society. The world seemed to have changed around him, abandoning him.

Scorcese, with his honed sensitivity as a master director, could see how Usmar Ismail presented this simple drama with such craft into a powerful tale about the meaning of freedom and humanity. Asrul Sani’s part in this film also cannot be forgotten. As one of Indonesia’s greatest poets, writers, and essayists, Asrul wrote a screenplay that was rich in emotional turmoil and powerful symbolism.

The complex restoration of Lewat Djam Malam was an international undertaking from day one as a part of the restoration program conducted by the National Museum of Singapore (NMS). In 2010, NMS, through Phillip Cheah (film curator), contacted Lisabona Rahman, a curator and archivist of Indonesian Cinema, to convey NMS’ desire to restore an Indonesian film. Phillip and Lisa then reached out to senior Indonesian film critic JB Kristanto, to ask his opinion as to which film to restore.

Without much thought JB. Kristanto chose Lewat Djam Malam. After that, NMS worked with Konfiden Foundation and Sinematek Indonesia to begin the restoration process. They chose to restore the film at L'Immagine Ritrovata film laboratory in Bologna, Italy, which at the time was considered the best film restoration lab in the world. After the reels for Lewat Djam Malam were sent to the lab in Bologna in January of 2011, the restoration process began in August of 2011. Midway through the restoration process, World Cinema Foundation became involved. In February of 2012, the restored film was presented to NMS.

From March 28-31, 2012, the restored version of Lewat Djam Malam was shown for the first time in Singapore. The moment was showcased in a special NMS presentation called "Merdeka!: The Independence of Indonesian Cinema and Independent Film". A few other classic Indonesian films were shown alongside Lewat Djam Malam. After that, Lewat Djam Malam made the rounds at various international film festivals.

Most prominently, the film was shown at Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2012.  Lewat Djam Malam became the first film to be shown in the Cannes Classic program. Incepted in 2004, the program is designed to pay respects to cinematic classics from all over the world. Thus, Lewat Djam Malam, not only opened the eyes of Scorcese, but also those of cinephiles from around the world, who caught a glimpse of the wealth of Indonesian cinema.

The cultural exchange through the screenings of Indonesian cinema at international events has happened for a long time in conjunction with the growth of Indonesian cinema. If examined closely, the history of Indonesian cinema has long exhibited the characteristics of an international cultural dialog. This was particularly so, when Usmar Ismail (among other directors) showed a deep awareness of the need to include his films in international festivals as a narrative effort to highlight the emergence of new nations in the 20th century.

Although traces of Usmar Ismail are not readily traceable in most of the works of the new Indonesian generation of filmmakers currently competing in festivals all over Europe, America, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and elsewhere, his awareness of the need to secure a voice in international cinema forums has continued to evolve in a fascinating manner up to the second decade of the 2000s, with Indonesian filmmakers regularly performing on a global scale.

Indonesian Cinema as a Cultural Dialog

Since the dawn of the 20th century, Indonesian cinema has become a field for the mingling of international cultures. Indonesian cinema itself has enough material to be a part of the world’s cultural wealth. The early history of Indonesian cinema itself is closely connected with the international mindset from the process of Indonesia forming itself as a nation, since the time of the Dutch Indies (the official name for the territory that was named Indonesia in 1945 and internationally recognized in 1949).

The first officially recorded film screening in Indonesia was on December 5, 1900. According to an advertisement placed in Bintang Betawi on December 5, 1900, the screening was dubbed "The First Big Show" and took place in Tanah Abang, Kebon Jahe, Batavia, beginning at 7p.m. People then began to call such screenings “Living Pictures”.

It is possible that there had been previous “small shows” of “living pictures” around Java and other parts of the Dutch Indies. What is clear is that this verifiable historical data from the end of 1900 indicates the rooting of a film-going culture in Indonesia. At those shows, the audience hierarchy in the Dutch Indies was highly visible. According to the, ticket prices were divided into three levels: 1st Class (for the Dutch and Europeans), 2nd Class (for the Chinese and Arabs), and 3rd Class (for the Natives).

The ticket hierarchy signifies a stabile social structure in the Dutch Indies as a fully running Modern State. By 1900, most of what eventually became Indonesia already had a clear central seat of power, a bureaucratic system that answered to the Dutch Kingdom with a clear system of law. In that first Modern State in the Nusantara Archipelago, came together the history of diversity in the region and the Indies cosmopolitan mindset.

The cosmopolitan mindset had strong roots the region’s culture. The coastal towns in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java had all experienced international interaction from India, Persia, Arabia, China, and various European nations. The large Hindu, Buddhist, and Moslem civilizations that emerged throughout the archipelago were a result of a fluid negotiation between local cultures and various global influences.

After the VOC fully established power in the 18th century, the government of the Dutch Indies carefully regulated this cultural diversity through bureaucratization, a system of law, and a socio-cultural hierarchy. This regulated structure became part of the character of the popular culture, including the performing arts in the East Indies, especially in cities like Medan, Surabaya, and Batavia.

The “living pictures” show in Tanah Abang on the night of December 5, 1900 screened documentation of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Hendrik at The Hague, scenes from the Boer war in Transvaal, and clips from an exhibition in Paris. All these images were accompanied by a live orchestra set behind the 3rd Class seats. After that, “living picture” shows would move around from rented buildings, fields, or crowded marketplaces, all with the same ticketing structure.Thus the film-going culture in the Indies was born, with international influence. A variety of films came in, and the American films that were considered so vulgar by the Europeans, slowly dominated the film scene in the East Indies.

From a film viewing culture slowly grew a filmmaking culture in Indonesia; in the 1930s, to be exact. On one side, the Dutch Indies government became worried about the influence of American films on the local audiences. The American films were believed to give the wrong impression of Caucasians, especially in their portrayal of American woman who seemed very prone to lust and romance.

According to Garin Nugroho and Dyna Herlina S. in their book Krisis dan Paradoks Film Indonesia (The Crisis and Paradox of Indonesian Cinema, FFTV-IKJ Press, 2013), the concern of the Dutch Indies government gave birth to two very important policies concerning cinema in the Dutch Indies. Thus came the first steps of the Indonesian film industry. The main objective was to neutralize the image the natives had of the Europeans.

Movies with native actors and similar themes as imported films, according to the Dutch Indies government, would convey the message that “the behaviors of the Europeans can actually be found in the daily lives of the natives.” (Garin Nugroho & Dyta Herlina S, 2013). 

Secondly, the Dutch Indies government issued their first film regulation in 1916, in the form of censor regulations in four cities: Medan, Batavia, Semarang, and Surabaya. Indirectly, these censor regulations played a part in forming the character of East Indies cinema, which was designed to be acceptable to European standards.

It could be said that those standards were mostly moral standards, but the impact resulted in a cinema aesthetic that was very European; a hybrid of European aesthetics and visual techniques married with the ever changing values of the natives.

In 1926, the first feature film produced in the Indies was made. Loetoeng Kasaroeng was directed by the Dutch filmmakers G. Kruger and L. Heuverdorp. This film was produced by Jawa NV, a film company based in Bandung, and funded by the then Regent of Bandung, Wiranatakusumah, who was obsessed with developing and promoting Sundanese culture. (Misbach Jusa Biran, 2009)

Garin and Dyta remarked on this obsession as part of the concern that local culture and traditions might fade away in the face of modern culture. Garin and Dyta call this a paradox of Indonesian filmed entertainment that presently remains a concern. In Loetoeng Kasaroeng, the Regent’s method of halting the slow deletion of local culture was actually executed by Western filmmakers using Western production methods – a paradox. A paradox that was also essentially a dialog: an exchange of influence among global cultures.

In the 1930s, when the world Economic Crisis was affecting socio-economic life in the Dutch Indies, the film industry began to grow. According to Garin and Dyta, the Dutch Indies film Industry “became part of a constant ‘internationalization’ that continued to color the growth of local cinema.” (Nugroho & Herlina S., 2013)

This pattern of internationalization came to function as a production mechanism, which included putting together stories and materials to be filmed. Even when those “materials” meant the local landscape, people, and cultures, the camera was pointed from a European point of view. This is visible from the existence of “a visual concept of Indonesia” which Garin theorized was influenced by the presence of Walter Spies, who lived in Bali in the 1930s.

Of course it would be more accurate if we revised Garin’s term to “a visual concept of the Dutch Indies”. Not just for the sake of temporal accuracy, keeping in mind that in the Spies era, “Indonesia” had not been officially established yet. But the term “Indies” is also related to the Colonial perspective towards the native landscape and people.

Spies was highly influential in the forming of the mooi indie aesthetic in cinema, especially due to his role in creating the culture of tourism that was burgeoning in the 1930s. Spies created a creative habitat in Bali that drew the interest of figures like filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and film producer Victor von Plessen, all of whom came to Bali to visit Walter Spies and document the Indies.

The visual concept of the Indies in the view of foreign tourists consisted of exoticism and lush green landscapes. Socio-economically it showed an eastern land that was stabilized, sans turmoil, and completely under the rule of a government centered in Europe.  

However, the cultural dialog in Indies cinema continued to open various international possibilities. After the Dutch Filmmakers made their film in Bandung, the Wong brothers came from Shanghai to develop a filmmaking enterprise in the promise-filled Dutch Indies. Nelson Wong made the film Lily van Java (1928) for the South Sea Film Co.

Then, his brothers Joshua and Otniel Wong arrived and together they established Halimoen Film. Their ambition was to achieve success in commercial filmmaking. Feature films with romantic themes became their go-to product. Other than Wong, there was also The Teng Chun who directed Bunga Roos dari Tjikembang (The Rose of Tjikembang, 1931). After The Teng Chun, Wong made Indonesia’s first talkie with Halimoen Film called Indonesie Malaise (1931).

It must be said that highly important landmark films emerged in Indies cinema in this era; among these were two films by Albert Balink, Pareh and Terang Boelan (1934). Balink was a Dutch journalist who had never studied filmmaking other than from books he had read. He asked the Wong Brothers to invite Dutch documentary filmmaker, Manus Franken, to come make Pareh, which showcased the natural beauty of the Indies, in part because of Franken’s background as a documentarian.

But the audience was not interested by that kind of film. The lush landscape was something that they were used to, why waste money to buy tickets to see that? Balink did not give up. Still with the Wong Brothers, he asked a local journalist, Saeroen, to write the film Terang Boelan, which became a major hit. This was the first locally successful film to tell a local story. The commercial formula of the film consisted of a love story with handsome and beautiful local talents.

This pattern of international production continued up to the arrival of the Japanese colonists that turned the stabile world of the Indies upside down. But that pattern became an essential breeding ground for Indonesia’s premiere filmmakers once the new land was born with the departure of the Japanese. These filmmakers included the legendary Usmar Ismail.

On the other side, the Japanese colonization played a huge role in creating the awareness of the function of cinema as a tool for nationalist propaganda. Of course Indonesian Nationalism during the Japanese occupation, 1942-1945, was under the thumb of Japan as the Older Brother of Asia, which had to be obeyed by Indonesia. Despite all that, many Indonesian artists and filmmakers became more aware of the function of film as a national narrative.

National Narrative among the Marketplace and Festivals  

The researcher Thomas Barker spotlighted the birth of the term “national cinema” in Indonesia with the making of Darah & Doa (Long March) by Usmar Ismail in 1950. To this day, the first day of filming for Darah & Doa is commemorated as National Film Day.

To Barker, "National Cinema" of Indonesia is intertwined with Indonesia’s Independence. With the 1945 proclamation of Indonesia, as well international recognition of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945, the artists and authors became the spokespeople and representatives of a new nation and the birth of a new culture. Within that context, film emerged somewhat behind the other mediums being used for the purpose of Nationalization. 

Usmar Ismail, who actually made films prior to 1950 with international production methods (Harta Karunand Tjitra), described Darah & Doa (Long March) as the first Indonesian film. Usmar’s reason for this was that the film was completely made by Indonesians (completely funded by Indonesians) and told the story of everyday Indonesians.

That reason is very susceptible to argument, but stands strong in terms of the emergence of identity politics and the project of “narrating the nation” (a term coined by Homi K. Bhabba when discussing post-colonial literature). Film was no longer deemed to be just entertainment, or a way to escape from the harsh economic realities of daily life in the 1930s.

By doing so, Usmar Ismail began a tradition of Indonesian filmmaking propelled by ideas. Film still kept its function as entertainment, but it would be trivializing its role to perceive it only in that light.  And the spirit of the age made the concept of idea-driven cinema possible. By using cinema as a venue for nationalist ideas, “Indonesian Cinema” was constructed as independent creations that could enter international markets as a unique cultural product with a clear identity.

In practice, the nationalist function of Indonesian Cinema gave birth to the dichotomy of “commercial film” versus “idealist film”. This is still visible in the differentiation in the choice of circulation for Indonesian cinema at home and internationally. The films meant for prestigious festivals set forth ideas and aesthetic achievement as their main purpose. And there are the films that are meant for profit, made to fit what the market wants.  

Looking outward, this differentiation actually helped orient Indonesian cinema in its attempts to place its films at the same level as films from other nations.  If Indonesian cinema were merely market-oriented, Indonesia would have fight for a niche in the global market controlled by Hollywood, Bollywood, and Hong Kong. Whereas, with films that focus on ideas and offered Indonesian narratives, Indonesian cinema can expect to find a place in the international market.

This is a fairly thin distinction. The films that compete in festivals to be the best are actually playing in a special market of world cinema. The prestigious festivals like Cannes and Berlinale actually have very commercial film marketing programs. But that distinction is still used as a guide for many Indonesian filmmakers, until now. What is clear is that Indonesian cinema has on more than one occasion proved that aiming for festivals can bring success.

In 1962, for instance, female Indonesian film director Sofia WD’s film Badai Selatan was chosen to compete in the 12th Berlinale with the best international films all aiming for the Golden Bear. Badai Selatan was in competition with the works of Yasujiro Ozu (The End of Summer) and Ingmar Bergman (Through a Glass, Darkly). The winner that year was A Kind of Loving by John Schlesinger.

In 1970, the film Apa Jang Kau Tjari, Palupi? by Asrul Sani became the best film at the Asia-Pacific film Festival. The idea behind that film made in 1969 was no longer bound by a grand nationalist narrative. The focus was on the problems of an individual facing the new realities of modern society. Palupi is a young woman drowned in the tension between fantasy and reality as she becomes a famous movie star. The promise of prosperity and fame was portrayed as changing Palupi’s values to the point of destroying love and family. Was there any semblance of a “nationalist narrative” in that film?

The film was made in the beginning of the New Order era in Indonesia that was no longer concerned with ideological debates. People in the time of Usmar Ismail were faced with the reality of a new nation, different from the individuals represented by Palupi and the other characters in Apa Jang Kau Tjari, Palupi? Palupi is a representation of an individual doubt in the face of the dream of prosperity that was becoming a reality at the time.

Therefore, in its own way, the film narrated the problems of the nation at the time. World War II was far away, there were only small wars that stemmed from the Cold War, so the problems were different.

During that time, whether it was intentional or not, Indonesian films with idea-driven sensitivity were starting to be more inward looking. Up until the late 1980s, there weren’t very many Indonesian films that made it into international film festivals. The level of growth in Indonesia at the time was at an all time high with more “commercial films” dominating.  The themes that were prominent in the “ideological films” of the time were not much different than those in the commercial films at the time: stories of how individuals had trouble facing modernization, which destroyed a lot of the old values.

Yet, the development of Indonesian commercial films actually opened a new road toward internationalization through exploitation of genres like horror, martial arts, and action with more than a touch of sex. Those films found their own market. In America, they would be called B movies marked by low budget production, haphazard filmmaking, and targeted for an unsophisticated audience.

Senior Indonesian Journalist, Rosihan Anwar, once reported on how those films were marketed at Marché du Film (film market) in Cannes in 1982. At that time, Jaka Sembung, which was adapted by the director Sisworo Gautama Putra from the martial arts comic book by Djair, became the bestselling Indonesian film in Cannes.  Distributors from India, Pakistan, Belgium, West Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, France, and Spain purchased the film, with transactions totaling US $ 67,000.

In total there were 29 transactions for nine Indonesian films, all of the action genre, with total revenue of US $ 14,000 according to Anwar. Since then, two producers of Indonesian exploitative cinema, Raam Punjabi and Gope Samtani, have visited the Cannes film market every year to sell Indonesian films of that kind.

This had two possible effects: First, an international audience slowly but surely grew for Indonesian exploitative cinema. The audience consists of cult film lovers from various international markets such as Italy, Hong Kong, and Japan; all countries active in the cult cinema discourse. In the 2000s, the cult film crowd was cemented with the existence of transnational distributor Mondo Macabro.

Mondo Macabro, which specializes in cult films, bought and distributed many Indonesian exploitation films from the 1970s to the 1980s in DVD form. The most interesting thing about them is their seriousness in designing the packaging for these “cheap” films. Digitally restored, with a special booklet, these films even come with a short documentary about the genre.

Secondly, some American B movie producers became interested in co-producing films with Indonesian action film producers. The formula was simple: First, use American B movie stars like Frank Zagarino, Cynthia Rothrock, or Chris Noth before he became famous (he played in Peluru dan Wanita with Indonesian screen legend, Frans Tumbuan, in1987), among others, and match them up with an Indonesian star.

Then, Indonesian directors and crew in Indonesia, to keep costs low, would shoot the films. Once completed, the films would be marketed in Indonesia and in America and Asia through B-movie distribution channels. This production mode was limited in its international character, because they merely repeated the co-production schemes of Indonesian cinema of the 1930s.

In that period, a channel for independents also opened up. One could say, this channel pretty much depended on the works of Gotot Prakosa, who, from the 1970s to the 2000s, actively worked in experimental cinema, shorts and animation. The National Film Archive, of Canberra, Australia, has preserved about 30 shorts by Gotot Prakosa since 1991. The preservation was meant as material for study at Monash University.

His films have also won a bunch of international awards like the experimental works awards from the Art Houses Association (Canada), and the International Film Forum in Germany. What was important in Gotot’s work was the avant-garde mentality that was new for Indonesia’s cinematic landscape at that time. Most importantly, Gotot totally practiced the independent spirit in Indonesian cinema.

With that independent spirit, short and experimental films become the logical vehicles to open new roads for Indonesian cinema. This can also add to how Indonesian cinema interacts globally.

Meanwhile in the 1990s, another alternative for international interaction appeared. Garin Nugroho appeared as a feature and documentary film director with very strong ideas. Garin confidently placed his films as cultural statements.

By doing so, Garin also placed himself as part of the new wave of Asian cinema of the 1990s, with Southeast Asian filmmakers of that era (like Tranh Anh Hung of Vietnam), fifth generation Chinese filmmakers (like Zhang Yimou), as well as the Iranian filmmakers that were capturing European audiences at the time. Garin’s advantage has always been his ability to mix local Indonesian backdrops with a contemporary global awareness.

The cinematic image of Indonesia built out of those two varying backgrounds is the unique trademark that Garin brings to world cinema. Garin also consciously targeted international film festivals in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere throughout the 1990s. Slowly but surely, Garin has built a reputation as Indonesia’s most internationally known director.

Through his first feature, Cinta Dalam Sepotong Roti (1991), Garin won the Best New Director Award at Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Seoul in 1992. His second film, Surat Untuk Bidadari, won the best film at Taormina Film Festival and Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) in1994. And in 1998, Daun Di Atas Bantalrepeated the same success at TIFF. Meanwhile in Europe, even though he’s never won main competitions there, Garin’s films always manage to steal the attentions of world cinema lovers.

In 2006, Garin made Opera Jawa. This film was a work commissioned by the Peter Sellars Foundation for the 2006 New Crowned Hope Festival to celebrate the 250th birthday of Mozart. Garin was one of a few international filmmakers chosen to make a film for that celebration. Many International film critics hailed it as Garin’s best film, and as a standout film in the history of world cinema. Nathan Lee of the Village Voicepraised it "a radiant folk fantasia". Jeannette Catsoulis wrote in The New York Times, "A colorful and confounding head-trip". Jay Weissberg of Variety called it "a beautifully mounted musical epic…bold and innovative."

At the same time, Gotot Prakosa was also finishing his masterpiece: Kantata Takwa. A film whose production began in 1990 with director Eros Djarot (fresh off directing Tjoet Njak Dhien; one of the best films in Indonesian cinema history). In 2008, Gotot finally finished the film after 18 years. Like Opera Jawa, Gotot and Eros’ film was an epic musical. The difference was that Kantata Takwa was centered on the progressive rock music Kantata Takwa, intertwined with the theatrical performance of iconic Indonesian poet and playwright Rendra.

Kantata Takwa didn’t capture the attention of international critics the way Opera Jawa did. But it was nominated for best film at the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards, Hawaii International Film Festival, and Asian Cine Fan di New Delhi. For Indonesia, those two musicals contained highly critical ideas on the concept of power and successfully summed up the first decade of the 2000s.

New Generation, New Reality

If we examine the map of Indonesian cinema post 1998 Reform and place it on the map of world cinema, we’ll see names that represent the spirit of independent cinema. Names that became stronger in the second decade of the 2000s. 

For example: Edwin, director of Postcard from the Zoo, which was in competition at Berlinale 2012. The film was produced in a guerilla manner throughout several years with a communal work method. Also Mouly Surya, who made What They Don't Talk about When They Talk about Love, which was the first Indonesian film to be in competition at Sundance Film Festival, the most prestigious Indie film festival in America.

Also worth mentioning is Aryo Danusiri, a documentarian that studies at Harvard. Since his film about state-sanctioned violence in Aceh, Kambing Kampung Kena Pukul, was selected at the Amnesty International Film Festival in Amsterdam in 1999, he has continued to work independently.

We complete this contemporary image by mentioning Yosep Anggi Noen who has repeatedly won international awards for his short films. His first feature film, Peculiar Vacation and Other Illnesses was selected for competition at the Locarno Film Festival, the third oldest festival in Europe after Cannes and Venice.

In this quick overview of the cinematic map, we can see the distinctive marks of this new generation of filmmakers – a generation that grew and developed after the reform of 1998.

The first distinctive mark: they deftly articulate their ideas cinematically in manners away from the mainstream. Their cinematic approaches are richer because the independent production route that they have chosen frees them from the aesthetic cage, which looks to Hollywood or to the whims of big producers. Edwin is the perfect example of the tenacity required. Postcard from the Zoo, like his first feature,Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly, was made with funds patched together from various sources.

The second distinctive mark: the new generation of Indonesian cinema is part of a new reality – a fragmented post-nationalist reality.  The effects vary on these young filmmakers. Edwin leans toward questioning existing reality through almost dreamlike surrealist visuals. Mouly shows us her own world of magic by her ability to choose a particular segment of society often dismissed from society. For example: the daily life at a school for special needs students.

Aryo Danusiri, on the other extreme: through his ethnographic approach, is obsessed with entering into reality in as intimate manner as possible. Observational documentary is the field that he chooses to play in.  In Aryo’s hands, the camera becomes part of the world of the subject he observes.  That can only occur if the filmmaker intimately buries himself in the reality of the subject he’s filming about.

The third distinctive mark: this new generation of filmmakers fully understands the global landscape of cinema and keeps it in mind when making their films. Paradoxically, this global understanding is what makes them confident in strongly portraying their local world.

This is incredibly apparent in the short films of the various young filmmakers from various cities in Java (BW Purbanegara, for example, in his films Bermula Dari A and Say Hello To Yellow), to Makassar and Palu (for example, Yusuf Radjamuda with his film, Halaman Belakang). Their works clearly contain an awareness of world cinema. But their subjects are incredibly local.

The short films of Sidi Saleh also contain the same awareness, but it enters more abstract territory: religious pluralism in Indonesia. Fitri (2013) that won at Claremont-Ferrand International Film Festival, tells the story of a sex worker who feel guilt about working the night before an Islamic Holy Day. Maryam (2014) that won at Venice Film Festival, tells the story of a hijab wearing housemaid that loyally looks after the needs of her employer, even if it meant accompanying him to a church mass.

The awareness of the need for constant dialogue between the world and local roots is now, interestingly enough, becoming apparent in mainstream Indonesian films. But this is occurring in the works of mainstream filmmakers that have independent roots at the start of their careers. For example, Riri Riza in his films Eliana, Eliana (2002), Atambua 32° (2012) and Sokola Rimba (2013) strongly presents that local pleasure. Riri Riza, with Mira Lesmana, who always produces Riri’s films through her Miles Film banner, is an alumnus of a very important independent film Kuldesak (1998). This film has become a sort of blueprint for how mainstream films are produced in the 2000s.

In fact, this character of a global dialogue is also apparent in the film The Raid (and its sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal). Here is one Indonesian film that successfully captured the Hollywood market. The Director, Gareth Evans, who is from Wales, worked very closely with local martial artists Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian; a pattern of collaboration that began on their first film together Merantau. This resulted in an action film internationally regarded as original.

The Raid seems like a step back to the international production mindset of the 1930s, and to the 1980s in the B film market. A step back that was also was immensely progressive. The results were Indonesian films that were able to compete with Hollywood. In other words, after The Raid and The Raid 2, Hollywood has seriously looked our way when it comes to making action films.

So it can be said that in the 2000s, Indonesian cinema has stepped even further ahead to carve a niche on the landscape of world cinema. Whether through market-friendly or more aesthetically inclined channels, Indonesian cinema along with its filmmakers, has put together a new series of cultural dialogs on an international level.

Hikmat Darmawan is a Critics, Culture Analyst, Asian Public Intellectual Nippon Foundation 2010 and Creative Director of Pabrikultur which concerns on media and cultural activities.