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No Happy Ending for Indonesian Movie Makers

May 5, 1993

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Thanks to Hollywood, the script seems to call for an unhappy ending for the film industry in the world’s fourth most populous country.

The great popularity of American imports among Indonesians is pushing local film production toward extinction.

Only 36 Indonesian movies made it to the screen last year, compared to 61 in 1991 and 112 in 1990, government figures show. And recent cinema listings in one popular Jakarta newspaper showed how foreign films predominate - 62 of 74 theaters offered foreign films, most of them American.

In explaining the decline of an important element of cultural life in a nation of 182 million people with a rich artistic heritage, some say that Hollywood films enjoy greater artistic freedom or simply offer better entertainment value. ″In American films horizontal love scenes are permitted. American police are also allowed to be portrayed as the bad guys. In Indonesian films, we are not permitted to do this,″ said director Garin Nugroho. ″Of course the public is going to want to see films which are more open and free.″

Salim Said, chairman of the Jakarta Arts Council, said: ″The public is not to be blamed for preferring imported films to domestic ones because the imports are superior in quality.″

Red tape, censorship and other restrictions were also cited.

″It takes 27 letters just to get permission to make a film. And then once you have this permission the film is still subject to change and manipulation,″ said director Labbes Widar.

Satellite television is increasingly popular and other forms of entertainment compete for the moviegoer’s attention.

″Laser discs and videos have kept people from the cinemas,″ Information Minister Harmoko said during last year’s Citra awards (the Indonesian equivalent of an Academy Awards).

Chaerul Umam, who won the 1992 Citra as best director, said the film industry could be revived with more official support.

″Films are cultural products and therefore the government should further its role in national film development,″ Chaerul said.

Others blame unfair distribution, with only one company effectively deciding what will be screened, and preference usually given to action films from the United States and Hong Kong.

And although textiles seem unrelated to the film industry, the U.S. movies shown in Indonesia are linked to this country’s flourishing textile exports to the United States.

The Motion Picture Export Association of America campaigned for years for its member studios to open offices in Jakarta so they could promote and distribute their movies directly to the 2,500 cinemas.

The association complained of unfair trading practices and demanded satisfaction from the U.S. trade representative’s office.

Jakarta refused to abolish a law which bars foreign firms from the retail sector, including the film industry, but last year agreed to allow more foreign film importers to act as local partners for studios overseas.

The tradeoff was a 35 percent increase in Indonesia’s textile quota for shipments to the United States, worth at least $900 million last year. The number of imported U.S. and European films increased from 80 to 88 per year as part of the deal.

To protect the fading local film industry, the total number of foreign imports is limited to 170 each year. Besides American-European, the other import categories are Mandarin and Asia-non-Mandarin.

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