Jakarta Globe | Insight

Film Community Dreams of Censorship Reform

Jakarta. During a recent press event, director Edwin said he believes his latest film “Posesif” (“Possessive”) will not suffer the same fate as his 2008 movie “Babi Buta Yang Ingin Terbang” (“Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly”), which failed to hit cinemas nationwide due to heavy censorship.

Slated for release on Oct. 26, “Posesif” is a drama about teenage first love. It stars Adipati Dolken and Putri Marino as Yudhi and Lala, who fall in love with each other and start dating in high school. Their relationship becomes a little complicated when Yudhi finds it difficult to allow Lala her own space and time.

“I’m not limiting myself; we were all out when filming, but I am making this movie for a different segment. This is a teenage movie. I don’t think there’s anything to cut,” Edwin said.

The storyline is very different to “Babi Buta,” which was social and political satire about anti-Chinese prejudice that caused the May 1998 riot in Jakarta. The Film Censorship Board (LSF) asked him to cut 70 percent of the movie, which left him no choice but withdraw the plan to screen “Babi Buta” in Indonesian cinemas. Over the past decade, Edwin occasionally screened “Babi Buta” in small, independent theaters where censorship is not required.

Edwin’s struggle to get a pass from the LSF for “Babi Buta” is depicted in “Potongan” (“The Cut”), a 70-minute documentary by Chairun Nissa. The film premiered during the one-day Film Musik Makan event at the Goethe-Institut in Jakarta in April last year.

After post-production, the LSF is the final stop for every filmmaker who wants to screen their work in Indonesian cinemas. Without a pass from the censorship board as the highest authority on movie releases, films are not eligible for public screenings in Indonesia. This rule is prescribed by the 2009 Indonesian Film Law and Government Regulation No. 18 of 2014.

With an astonishing box office record of more than 34 million viewers for local movies in 2016, the Indonesian film business is thriving, but the relationship between the country’s filmmakers and the LSF remains problematic. The local film community is very outspoken in stating its disapproval about the existence of the censorship board, which was established by the Dutch colonial government on March 18, 1916.

Many are calling for a reform of the 101-year-old institution.

“There shouldn’t be a film censorship body, but there should be an age classification body. Our audiences are now mature enough [for more diverse movies] because they have access to YouTube,” director Joko Anwar said.

Producer Meiske Taurisia, who produced “Babi Buta” and “Posesif,” said the world is changing and it is impossible to expect the LSF to be responsible for the good morals of all citizens in an entire nation.

“What is possible is for the LSF to take the audience’s emotional maturity into account. And how do you decide who’s ready for which content? Usually, age is a good criterion,” she said.

Age classification has long been part of censorship by the LSF, but the criteria only became clear after the release of the 2014 government regulation. The LSF previously only used three categories: All Ages; Teenagers; and Adults, without a specific age range for each. Since the 2014 regulation was issued, every movie that passes the censorship board will be categorized as one of the following: All Ages; 13 years and above (13+), 17 years and above (17+) and 21 years and above (21+).

Unfortunately, according to LSF head Ahmad Yani Basuki, the regulation does not prescribe any penalties for exhibitors who sell tickets to underage viewers. For this reason, the LSF cannot be responsible for keeping an eye on how exhibitors sell their tickets. In other words, the age classification only works on paper and it is mostly only visible to moviegoers right before a movie starts in cinemas.

“Our laws, government regulations, or ministerial regulations are yet to prescribe any form of sanctions [against exhibitors]. So, we are only capable of advising cinemas not to sell tickets to underage viewers,” he said.

Since Ahmad was appointed LSF head in 2015, he has been determined to establish an Indonesian society capable of self-censorship. The LSF launched a self-censorship campaign at schools and universities, where it conducted seminars and focus group discussions. He also opened a branch office in Surabaya, East Java, in June.

When asked what he means by self-censorship, Ahmad said he is trying to raise awareness among audience members, especially young people and parents, to only watch content suitable for their age. The LSF still occasionally receives complaints from people who feel that parts of some films are not suitable for their underage children, despite these being classified 13+, 17+ or even 21+.

“At the moment, there is no awareness about watching films based on age criteria, so we are trying to build the culture. We are asking parents about their concerns. Many parents are still unaware of adult content, not only pornography but violence and sadism also. And children should have the awareness too, and keep themselves away from adult content,” he said.

In August, the LSF launched an essay, poster and video competition about self-censorship as part of the campaign. Prizes include Rp 22,5 million ($1,670) in cash for each category, in addition to publishing rights. The competition closed on Monday (25/09) and the awards ceremony will take place at Balai Kartini in Kuningan, South Jakarta, on Oct. 28.

While age classification is a possible alternative to censorship, director Nia Dinata thinks members of the LSF board should also be more open-minded when it comes to new values that filmmakers want to present in their movies. A year ago, Nia expressed her regrets about the LSF during a public discussion on film censorship. At that time, she was about to release her film, “Ini Kisah Tiga Dara” (“The Story of Three Sisters”), which received a 21+ classification over concern that the ladies in the film seemed too aggressive.

“After 16 years of working in the film industry, the LSF is becoming more terrible. Two female members of the board are quite progressive; they thought [the film] was O.K. for 17+, but they were outvoted by three other members, all of them male and more conservative,” Nia said, as quoted by Media Indonesia.

In the House of Representatives, there is an overlap between Commission I and Commission X in oversight of the LSF. The Film Law states that the LSF resorts under the Ministry of Education and Culture, which is overseen by House Commission X. However, in practice, the LSF is also governed by House Commission I, which oversees defense, intelligence, foreign affairs and information.

Commission I is also responsible for selecting LSF board members, while according to Ahmad, the censorship board receives its operational budget from the Ministry of Education and Culture.

With such an overlap, a real and applicable solution may take a long time to arrive.

Producer Meiske said censorship should put religious and or political interests aside because essentially, filmmakers want to tell facts through fictional storytelling.

“There is censorship in other countries as well, but they focus on the psychological impact of a movie. Members of the board include school teachers, parents and psychologists. That’s what censorship should be. Film censorship should not be about politics or religious matters,” she said.

Meiske added that she wishes the LSF would no longer charge a movie cutting fee because since filmmakers began using the new digital cinema package format, the task of cutting a movie now belongs to filmmakers. The LSF is only responsible for advising which scenes to cut.

Fauzan Zidni, head of the Indonesian Film Producers Association (Aprofi), said age classification is difficult to apply right now because there is no clear standard of procedure for exhibitors to keep underage viewers away from movies suitable for older audiences.

As a film producer, Fauzan was involved in several discussions between filmmakers and government officials in 2016 regarding ministerial regulations on films.

“In one of the meetings, the government proposed the idea for exhibitors to check identity documents [prior to ticket purchases]. So, exhibitors are asking the government to provide human resources to make sure audience members comply with the age classification,” he said.

“I think what the LSF and exhibitors can do right now is to launch a public service campaign about [people] watching movies based on their ages,” Fauzan said.