Indonesian Film Censorship

As the largest Muslim country (80% of the population are practicing Islam) and carrying diverse varieties of ethnicity and cultural significances, these values are highly regarded and are incorporated in the production codes of film censorship policy as a method of protection by government to the population.

Though things have been modified to conform to new ideologies since the resignation of Soeharto in 1998, however, some rules and policies remained the same, and one of them was the film censorship policy. It was last reviewed in 1992, and filmmakers are left with the old, out-dated, inoperable policy as it is still submissive to the not-so-new New Order ideologies.

Prohibited

  • Criticism against the supremacy of government
  • Ethics, racial, religions, class contradictions
  • Sexual scenes and nudity
  • Colonialism, imperialism, fascism, communism, Marxism, socialism

Consequences

  • Imprisonment of 5 years (maximum)
  • Fines of approximately AU$5600 (maximum)

The History of Film Industry

Indonesia presented its first film in 1926, and along with it Film Censorship Board was established. During New Order’s power circa 1965-1998, film had become a propaganda apparatus or a control device, which through its organization of content and production-distribution-exhibition process, attempted to create an obedient public. After a much successful history of producing hundreds of films from 1940 to 1980s, Indonesia’s film industry has gone through a rough time with its number of production plummeted from approximately 75-100 films every year in early 1990 to as low as 32 films in 1994. Apart from the changes in audience’s preferences, the reason behind this occurrence was that filmmakers were smothered by the heavy censorship regulations controlled by Soeharto’s regime. With little room for creativity, and tight competition with imported foreign films (mostly Hong Kong martial art and gangster films as well as Hollywood films), filmmakers had no choice but to find alternatives.

Filmmakers switched their target from films to television programs, opening a whole new era in television business when finally a private television station was established in 1988 to cater this need. With only one state television channel (TVRI), which only deliver news, ideological family dramas and contents that are basically government propaganda, drama series brought new image to entertainment industry. About five new private television stations were established in 2000, and the number's kept adding up following less restrained new regulations on the setting up of media licensing.

Soeharto’s resignation in 1998 changed the world of media industry. Freedom of press was gained, and censorship bar was lifted although only for a bit. Seeing this as a breakthrough, filmmakers started to release new projects. Firstly was Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (What's Up with Love, 2001), by Rudy Soedjarwo, a film about a group of young people with their egos and emotions on a journey of understanding love and the coming of age. The film hit a success commercially as well as contributed as a stepping-stone for fellow filmmakers to produce commercial teenage movies. The number of films produced slowly increased, from 5 films only in 2001 to 15 films the following year.

LSF: The Indonesian Film Censorship Board

Translated from the official website, the mission of the board are:

  • To protect the society from the distribution, presentation and/or screening of film and trailer of those which do not conform to the ideology, aim and vision of Indonesian film industry
  • To preserve moral and cultural values of the nation in the film industry
  • To monitor the appreciation of society towards the distributed, presented and screened film and trailer and to analyze the outcome as a reference for coming projects. The outcome will also be presented to Minister of Information as a base to the expansion of Indonesian film industry

From these points, censorship board functions as a protection by the government over its people and as a boundary for film industry to be able to create art without infringing the moral of the nation as an act of responsibility toward the nation. The board consists of 10-20 people, each are representations of different political parties, regional officers and social/religious groups.

The process of producing films consists of different stages, which all are regulated by the board. Producer(s) are obliged to submit the script of the film to be approved before proceeding to production. Another revision is performed on the editing stage. Professor Arif Budiman, former Head of Indonesian Program in Melbourne University, Victoria, Australia was previously involved in Film Censorship Board circa 1960s, and he explained that each revisions are to be carried by 5 representatives of the whole board. The decision outcome regarding the reviewed film should be unison or at least 4:1. When a unison outcome cannot be reached, the plenum will deliver a vote. This is the main reason of the inconsistency and inefficiency of the outcome, where no clear and descriptive benchmarks are provided as a guideline. Some films might pass the board with limited sex scenes, and for other films the particular issue might be completely banned, depending on the on-duty board members' principles. Added to the fact that it is the board that does the cutting of the films, and not the filmmakers, the policy becomes a huge restrain for filmmakers.

Regarding globalization, Titie Said as the managing director of LSF states in the online guideline that as a consequence of Indonesian media’s involvement in international communication, it would be seen as appropriate that foreign cultures will influence the nation through films, both foreign films themselves and Indonesian films containing foreign ingredients. Strangely, in reality, censorship is more concerned on monitoring and restricting local contents than censoring imported films. This is essentially reasonable by which only local contents would exercise criticism over government and tackling controversial issues such as polygamy and racial discrimination between natives and Chinese-Indonesian. Regarding foreign contents and its influences on local productions, violence-themed movies are much preferred than sex-themed, as much religious groups would show stronger antipathy towards this issue. The paternal control over the growing industry resulted in the tendency of filmmakers to produce commercial movies without any educational values as a form of self-censorship. Films in horror, comedy and teenage romance genres are the most popular amongst all and the most reproduced.

Case Studies

Masyarakat Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film Society)

Masyarakat Film Indonesia is an organization consists of filmmakers, curators, artists, journalists, film and journalism critics, film communities and organizations and people who have the same concern; the reformation to the better of Indonesian film industry.
The organization was established in 2006 as a reaction of the lack of conduciveness in the industry, ignited by the decision of Indonesian Film Festival board of judges to award Ekskul as Best Film 2006 despite the film allegedly breached soundtrack copyright by using tracks from foreign films such as Munich (2005). The members of MFI returned their Film Festival winning trophies in 2006 as an act of protest to intensify their disappointment over film regulation as a whole, and conducting legal act aiming the change on film censorship policy.

In November 2007, MFI also proposes a film classification system substituting the 'incompetent' censorship policy as a way of democratizing the audience. Through an interview, Seno Gumira Adjidarma (2008), a prominent Indonesian writer, a former journalist and an expert witness of MFI, opinionated that though the classification system would trigger many infringements, it is a form of democratic system to educate audience to be their own 'policemen'. He also does not believe that an organization can actually regulate moral parameter for a whole population. The Constitutional Court rejected the proposal in March 2008 for the fear that the system would increase the curiosity of under-age audience to watch films that are publicly categorizes as adult films. The same view was supported by Iwan Suhadi, a creative team of one of prominent Indonesian private television stations, who believed that censorship is a useful tool, but it will be better for the society when classification system is included for a more concrete and communicative explanation. Classifications allow audience to locate the elements that are classified for children shows and those classified for different groups.

Various reactions were triggered in regards to the dispute between the official censorship board and MFI. Those who are against the idea of censorship policy abolishment believe that the protestation by MFI was a form of left-cultural, western ideologies that would endanger the ideologies of the nation. For instance, several films that were censored in 2007 contained too-explicit sexual scenes and they couldn't imagine what would happen if film censorship board was not functioned to protect young generations. "Those films could give an idea to Indonesian young people or even kids that having sex with your boyfriends or girlfriends is cool, or worse it is normal. Because you love them" says one of them.

List of Banned Films in Indonesia

Local Films:

Produced by Nia DiNata, one of MFI's members, it was a film about 2002 Bali Bombing. This film was completely banned in Bali, as I Gusti Ngurah Gede, head of the island’s film censorship board feared that the film would open old wound and trigger conflict among certain groups in Bali. The film was screened everywhere else in Indonesia and also screened around the world through international film festivals.

The art film was talking about poverty and violence, carrying a pattern of indirectness in expressing sensitive ideas to criticize government. It was not commercially successful in local market as it adopted unusual themes (a single mother and her beautiful daughter living in a dessert, child sexual abuse, short dialogs) and was done in slow pace, nevertheless it scored several significant prizes from international film festivals.

  • Buruan Cium Gue (Kiss Me Quick) (2004)

Adapted from a smashing television drama, this film had successfully passed censorship cutting process and was screened around Indonesia before it was forced to be withdrawn following a claim from prominent Muslim clerics that the title 'encourages adultery'. The producer changed the title into One Smooch before releasing it back into cinemas.

Produced by cold-handed Mira Lesmana and directed by Riri Riza, this is a comedy-drama road movie about a couple of cousins driving from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. Along the way, they learn about themselves and each other, and one thing leads to another before everything is changed because of that three-day journey. The film received eight cuts by LSF for explicit sexual scenes.

  • ML: Mau Lagi ? (Want More ?) (2007)

The film was dubbed as Indonesian version of American Pie. Contains heavy sexual referenced scenes and theme, the film was completely banned from screening in the country.

International Films:

A documentary about the battle of the province of Aceh to gain independence from Indonesia. The film was shot entirely in Aceh for four years by American journalist, William Nessen and it was produced for SBS Australia. Along the shooting process, he was imprisoned for 40 days, was accused of espionage and faced a death penalty. He was then deported to Singapore and was banned from entering Indonesia, a ban that has been renewed since 2004. The film was banned by the Indonesian Film Censorship Board from screening. It was screened on film festivals around the world and won several prizes.

Conclusion

The information gathered on film censorship policy and the history of it will be beneficial for content producers. They will have the knowledge on what can and cannot be included in the stories should they want to have their films released in Indonesia. Through this research I also have come to the conclusion that to have my works to be released in Indonesia, the options are to conform to the 'current' regulations by self-censoring the works or finding alternative ways to distribute the work by releasing it outside Indonesia.

Bibliography

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