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Seeking a global stage

Actor Rio Dewanto in a scene from Modus Anomali. The film was among several globally recognised Indonesian films discussed at The Asian Screen Initiative Meeting (ASIM) in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan recently. Courtesy of Life Like Pictures

Publication Date : 14-03-2013


The Asian Screen Initiative Meeting discussed the growing presence of Asian films in the international scene and the strengthening of mutual support


The Asian Screen Initiative Meeting (ASIM), discussing the latest developments of the film industry in Asia, took place in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, on February 22-24. It was attended by government and non-government delegates from Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea, Bhutan and Jordan, with the aim of promoting coproduction, co-education and co-distribution relations between Asian countries.

The Asian film industry is strengthening its position and earning global recognition, both in prestigious global film festivals and in terms of box office ratings. As an illustration, last year South Korean film Pieta won a Golden Lion award in Venice, Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was awarded the Palm D’Or in Cannes, 2011, The Grandmaster from China opened the 2013 Berlinale Film Festival, and the Jordanian film May in the Summer kicked off the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Several Indonesian films have also been globally recognised. The Raid: Redemption, directed by Gareth Evans and bought and distributed by Sony Pictures Classic, was a US box office hit. Postcard from the Zoo, directed by Edwin, Indonesia’s first entry in the main competition of the Berlinale Film Festival 2012, is to be the first to launch a synchronised Video on Demand (VoD) sale in seven European countries.

Modus Anomali, directed by Joko Anwar, with its world premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2012, was sold to several countries like France, the Benelux states, Germany, the UK, Turkey, the US and Canada. What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love, directed by Mouly Surya was the first film from Indonesia to join the Sundance Film Festival 2013. Killers directed by The Mo Brothers, an Indonesian, US and Japanese co-production that is still underway, has already been pre-sold to Germany, France, Turkey and Hong Kong.

A study by the management-consulting firm Ernst & Young predicts that China will replace the position of North America as the largest film market in 2020. Apart from China, South Korea and Russia are also gaining stronger positions in the global film market.

It was Asia’s growing importance in the world film industry that gave rise to the ASIM in Sapporo, where several Asian nations now share their programs to consolidate their position not only in coproduction and co-distribution, but also in co-education.

This is expected to further encourage the Asian film industry to go beyond national boundaries. By maintaining regional and national identities, Asian films can find a place on the global film map.

The struggle of those involved in the movie industry won’t be satisfied without the support and programs of their governments. For instance, Malaysia at the end of February launched a 30 per cent cash rebate production program for local and international production and for post production in Malaysia. This is meant to stimulate local film production and make Malaysia a film production centre as well as shooting location. Vietnam also sees big co-production opportunities, with its government offering splendid locations and pre-production and production facilities.

Taiwan Film Council director Jennifer Jao said 80 per cent of the council’s fund was derived from the government and the rest from private funding. This fund is for the development of Taiwan’s talented indie filmmakers.

Movies that are included in the Taiwan Film Council’s categories will get full support in distribution and promotion costs. The council is also a one-stop service when there’s an international film production in Taiwan. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, for instance, was 75 per cent produced in Taiwan. His best director award at the 2013 Oscars contributes to promoting Taiwan as a shooting location as well as somewhere that has tourist appeal.

The other part of the meeting in Sapporo emphasised co-education in filmmaking. It indicated the great importance of training and education programs in the development of quality films in Asian countries. This is a topic particuarly relevant to Indonesia, which only has one film college: the Jakarta Arts Institute.

Asian film commissions as partners of ASIM are undertaking a program called Asian Moving Filmschool, which is designed and organised by the Busan Film Commission and the Film Development Council of the Philippines. It will hopefully turn out competent filmmakers from Asia. The Jordan Royal Film Commission, with its educational and training programs, also ensures high-quality films although that country annually produces less than 10 pictures.

George David, director of the Jordan Royal Film Commission, referred to some training programs realised in cooperation with Sundance, which gave birth to Rawi (Radius of Arab American Writers), an Arab edition of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab - an annual workshop. A producing workshop is also held, collaborating with the Producer’s Guild of America. Its most notable training program is the Educational Feature Film Program, which has produced successful independent and commercial films.

Co-distribution is also an important part of the development of a country’s film industry. Indonesia belongs to the “under-screened” category for a mature film market, because it has only 696 screens for over 242 million people. By comparison, Taiwan, with a population of about 22 million has the same number of screens. And with a total annual production of around 86 titles (based on 2012 data), the chances of survival for local film productions here are very slim.

Coupled with the fact that production companies in Indonesia today have to distribute directly to movie theatres, the cost burden not only lies on production but also on distribution and promotion. The small domestic market inevitably prompts companies to explore markets in other countries. Co-distribution therefore becomes a solution, with coproduced films from several countries promising a bigger market for survival.

The Indonesian film industry still has potential for further growth. The country’s filmmaking talent and beautiful locations have not yet been fully exposed on a global scale and production costs are relatively lower here than in other Asian countries.

A study conducted by Oxford Economics, 2010, revealed the Indonesian film and television industry supported 491,800 workers or 0.45 per cent of national employment, and contributed tax revenues worth US$310.3 million - 0.39 percent of total revenue.

The figures prove that this industry is worthy of promotion and still offers good prospects for development. However, steps need to be taken before this can happen. Amid ongoing globalisation, integrated government programs and policies are required to encourage filmmakers, for one. A national film institution is also needed to outline a clear blueprint and strategy for the development of the national film industry. The presence of movie professionals with profound knowledge, passion and integrity is also important for the progress of this industry.

In this way, and by meeting all the requisites regarding production, education and distribution, the national film industry could finally headway and keep abreast of other Asian nations that are ready to compete in the global movie arena.


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