Different Strokes

Moviegoers turned off by the maudlin melodrama, cheap slapstick, sleaze and gore that dominate the local scene are finding what they need in alternative fare. Bhimanto Suwastoyo reports. There are no trigger-happy cops, blood-splattered ghosts or leaping Gong Fu fighters to be found on the bill at Kineforum, a small movie theater that screens non-mainstream and classic films.

Its October schedule features several Indonesian classics, a rerun of a selection of the participants in the 2006 Clermont-Ferrand international short film festival, a French comedy, an Italian comedy drama, a Japanese coming-of-age tale, a German satire and a documentary on Aceh. "It is continually growing," says program manager Lisabonar Rahman about the public interest in alternative films.

The 130-seat Kinoforum screens films at least three times daily and gets a good turnout, she says. She also notes the attendance at several recent film festivals where no blockbusters were to be seen. "There is space opening up for non-mainstream films," she says, adding that several  private TV stations were occasionally broadcasting "heavier" movies and private cinemas were cooperating with members of the film community to organize film festivals.

Foreign cultural centers, run by embassies in the capital and in several major cities, also play an important role by holding regular film festivals on particular themes several times a year. "The interest is there and really huge, but it is just not maintained," says Dimas Jayasrana, who has 19 films and videos to his credit and is the director of Filmalternative, a website providing information on film and videos.

Proof of the public enthusiasm, he says, is that the Jakarta Film Festival, which offers mainly non-mainstream movies, draws about 60,000 spectators annually, while the much shorter running Konfiden alternative film festival garners about 5,500 visitors. "Even screenings of alternative films by film communities in small [Javanese] regional towns such as Banyumas, Purbalingga and Purwokerto always draw packed houses."

Film festivals aside, public access to alternative films remains very limited. "It is just not enough and there does not appear to be a general goodwill, especially from commercial movie houses, to help improve the situation," he says. "I am not even talking of private television. I am just cynical and sarcastic when it concerns them," he says, adding that he believes their main consideration in selecting films is not quality but low screening fees.

The lack of accessibility also results from the absence of a coherent and planned distribution system for non-mainstream movies, he contends. "But then, even the distribution system of commercial films is a mess, what can you expect in the non-commercial sector?"

Onny Kresnawan, the program director of Soi File Documentary, a company producing documentary films, says interest in non-mainstream movies stems from the poor quality commercial films that are available.

"Just looking at films nowadays, especially Indonesian ones and including those shown on TV, they are mostly just abhorrent, strange and irrational, or their storyline goes off in every direction." Even those in the mainstream film industry are beginning to long for films with plots that are closer to reality, Onny adds.

Dimas describes those who are interested in non-mainstream movies as coming from all walks of life, but their unifying characteristic is their access to the Internet that provides greater knowledge of cinematic choices. Architect Luwi Bonar is a movie buff with a penchant for serious European films, although he still takes in the studio releases at movie theaters.

"I go to see what mistakes people can make or what clever things they are capable of," he says. The 32-year-old is a regular at a DVD rental store at a mall in South Jakarta that offers a wide selection. He can also put orders for titles that are not available. But he also trawls for gems at pirated movie vendors. "I do buy pirated copies.  If I like the film, then I will look for an original copy." Lisabonar Rahman also admits that pirated works are sometimes the only way to go. "Even now, working in the field of film exhibitions, pirated copies have become references for me."

A woman operating a busy stall selling original as well as pirated audio and audiovisual DVDs in the Mangga Dua retail center in Central Jakarta said blockbusters were not the only good sells. She noted that films bearing the logos of international film festivals or awards featured on their covers also attracted buyers. "I just take whatever my suppliers offer me," she says.

Padly Dery Pramanda, the director of MMTC Film Forum in Yogyakarta, says the Internet provides him with necessary points of reference and previews to choose films he wants to watch. He is able to find a good selection of non-mainstream films at two commercial video and DVD rentals in town. "But if the films are really hard to find, then pirated ones become acceptable," he says with a chuckle.

(Darma Lubis, Freelance Journalist, Live in Medan City - North Sumatra)