In a developing democracy such as Indonesia, any move that is likely to reduce people’s access to popular art-forms such as (foreign) movies, from which viewers can gain insight into the culture of others and exposure to global issues and trends, is regressive.
While unspecific rumblings from Jakarta that excise duty and taxes on the importation of foreign films may be increased or restructured are doubtless another ill-conceived and under-researched bureaucratic stab at sucking more money into state coffers without actually producing anything or doing any work, it’s a proposal that might prohibit business for some importers or bring about movie-ticket price rises that would deprive many Indonesians of access to international films.
This amounts to indirect censorship and raises the important issue of freedom of information. If Islamic hardliners believe such outcomes will strengthen the commitment of Muslims to their religion, they are indeed pitifully misguided and ignorant of the potentially significant role Indonesia has to play in the global economy and events. To realise such potential, players – and that means the people of Indonesia – need to be informed. And they need to be aware of external procedures and practices that drive and otherwise influence world events.
People of all religions around the world manage with little effort or interference to maintain their faith while being fully aware of religious options and accepting of different cultures. History shows that closed societies breed insurgents who seek change through uprising or by rejecting their natural belief systems and even their nations.
Why would an Indonesian student of film on an international scholarship choose to return to a homeland in which material needed for career development and competitiveness was unavailable? Intolerance of diversity and limited access to the arts are common drivers of brain drains that periodically deprive societies of their most promising future leaders. Rather than driving these important human resources out of Indonesia we should be giving them every means to make their mark on the world from home.
In Bali, where forward-thinking individuals and organisations such as the Bali Film Center have worked hard to promote the island as a location for international movies, the situation would be ridiculous. Consider a re-run of the partial filming in Bali in 2009 and successful global release last year of Hollywood’s Eat Pray Love. The crew and cast would arrive and enrich islanders (in this case to the hefty tune of US$12.5 million) in location fees, jobs and transport, accommodation and equipment rentals. They’d eat, drink and shop. Perhaps they’d take tours and have spa treatments.
Their movie, which heavily promotes Bali, is then released around the world, but not in Indonesia. Those who participated in its production can’t see the results of their work. Neither can it be viewed by our own filmmakers and enthusiasts or those who want to spin off its popularity by incorporating it into their marketing campaigns and attracting more business to Bali.
It’s a preposterous prospect, and one that should never have arisen. What would happen to the Balinale International Film Festival, established in 2007, at which foreign filmmakers are invited to screen their movies while experiencing Indonesia’s culture and diverse film locations and are encouraged to develop script ideas?
Currently, the festival allows Indonesian filmmakers to present their work to a global audience and to network with their international colleagues. It gives Indonesian students and young filmmakers an opportunity to learn from local, national and international professionals. The festival is endorsed by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the Bali Governor’s Office and the Regency of Badung.
If necessary, these supporters and others as well as the Indonesian movie industry should take a grand stand to protect Balinale, other such events and their industry from nonsensical bureaucratic brain waves that threaten business, industry, leisure options and national reputation for the sake of a mindless snatch at few easy bucks.
Any accidental or disguised censorship of film will kill the developing local industry which potentially has much more to contribute to the national economy than the short-sighted money-grab flagged recently. Our finance gurus and lawmakers need to understand that healthy and ongoing business relations rely on win-win outcomes and will not survive knee-jerk impositions that create losers who then naturally take their trade and economic contributions elsewhere.
Bali and much of Indonesia are perfectly placed to attract more professionals making movies on the scale of Eat Pray Love. We’ve got islands, beaches, rivers, forests and mountains. We’ve got intensely rich cultures, cities and villages. We’ve got a generally accommodating population and relatively low operating and labour costs. We should be making the most of these assets rather than proposing to alienate and disadvantage our own filmmakers and the potentially lucrative global movie business.
Does anyone in government bother to do a feasibility study before mouthing off over the latest half-formed madcap idea that creates industry and consumer unrest and is obviously, at least to those who with a capacity to look to the future, doomed for disaster? Now that would be a smart idea.