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Walls and Binoculars: Cinema of My Surroundings

There are many potential films made in Indonesia, but there is no one there to write about them and to later capture and place them into some frame in our history. This is where I wish I could do my task.


Makbul Mubarak

Indonesia is a country with endless generations of filmmakers. But on the other hand, we have almost no regeneration of film critics. There are three notable causes. First, when a film critic has gained some acclaim, they turn to filmmaking. Second, there wasn't a Film Studies major in any university in Indonesia for a very long time. Binus University just opened one several years ago, and it is the only one. Third, film criticism is not a financially promising job.

I wasn’t aware of those calamities when I started writing about films on my tiny blog which turn out to have thousands of readers. My sole motivation was that “a massive tradition of filmmaking is logically blind without a balanced response of film appreciations.” There are many potential films made in Indonesia, but there is no one there to write about them and to later capture and place them into some frame in our history. This is where I wish I could do my task.

The scene of film criticism in Indonesia has been fading in and out for many decades. Andjar Asmara, the oldest known Indonesian film critic started his magazine before facing bankruptcy in the late 1940s. Heretofore, there is no media that specializes in film criticism. Articles on films are usually written on small and unimportant columns in cultural magazines and newspapers. This era was marked by two of the most-remembered Indonesian film critics, Armijn Pane and Rosihan Anwar.

That “hitchhiking tradition” continues until the early 2000s when a magazine called “F” started to publish reviews focusing on cinema. Unfortunately, “F” had to close not so long after its initiation. Today, Indonesian film criticism is dominated by catalogue-like film magazines that are mainly used to promote the upcoming Hollywood movies aimed at popcorn eaters and loitering couples.

Something changed when blogging became a trend. Blogs with their costless feature provide possibilities for people to write what they want freely. That trend led me and my colleague to an idea of making a weblog on cinema. Alongside us, there are more than 200 active film blogs in Indonesia. The sad thing is, most of these blogs are not critical hence not influential to the audiences and film goers. This becomes my biggest disquietude. Most of these blogs don't go beyond showing which part is pleasing and displeasing before their eyes, in many cases leaving holes which they suppose to fill with plausible insights. There has been a change in modes of film criticism in Indonesia, but it’s only on the form and not the content.

I always learn to avoid the writings that merely commend and condemn films, especially films from a manifold cultural ambience like Indonesia. The majority of Indonesian films nowadays are repealed from the social story that they speak about yet serve just as amusement for the audiences before they go back to their hard life. This is where my wish lies, I wish to keep spreading thoughts to people that (Indonesian) films are actually (could be) a binocular to observe their own reality, not a dark wall that stands between them and their reality.



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