Feb 19, 2011

Cinema and Me

Cinema & Me

I am writing this note as a boy, a man and a person whose love for cinema remains undying. Until now.

As far as I can recall, my earliest childhood memory always revolves around films and cinema.
I remember my parents often took me to watch latest films of comedy troop Warkop DKI and we had to wait until the "Film Utama" neon sign switched on because I was afraid of the dark! You can read the similar story here.
Back then, we knew whether the film we were about to watch had already been screened inside the cinema or not while we waited outside, thanks to three neon signs that said "Akan Datang" (Coming Soon), "Segera" (Soon), and the aforementioned "Film Utama (The Main Film). Never knew what's the difference between the first two, but then I always thought that the first one was for the films that would play in further weeks than the the second sign.
Of course, as we age, we knew that such assumption did not always prove to be right.

The upgrade from fear to excitement began when the 10 year-old boy daringly braced the age restriction and did not sneak, mind you, but bought ticket to watch Music Box and watched the film alone. All by myself, with companion of snack that I was sneaking into, I stood alone mesmerized by Jessica Lange uncovering the crime her father did during World War II. My mind kept thinking about the film when I strolled along big roads to find "mikrolet" (public transportation) to bring me home.
A year later, the similar experience happened when, again, sitting on a front row, I watched Dead Poets Society alone, struck a conversation with a stranger and we engrossed in talks about the film. Sometime after that, I kept dreaming and wishing of entering all-boy school, which luckily by destiny, it never happened.

Those two, along with many other similar cinematic populists that marked the cusp of my transformation from a boy to a teenager, ushered in many more memorable experiences that had many things to do with cinema:
• watched Dying Young, Mrs. Doubtfire and many other films in fasting month, instead of going to mosque;
• against parents' order of age restriction, I watched The Bodyguard on Valentine's Day, with a date of course;
• watched Forrest Gump with half of classmates the first time. The second time, it was pure coincidence: after defeated from an English contest, me and my fellow team members went home and we said to each other, "let's have some rest." Little did we know that instead of resting, we went to one of the cinemas in town to watch Forrest Gump, and we realized that we all had just watched the same film when we met one another after the film ended!
• always marked my birthday in teenage years by going to cinema. Mobsters, Dangerous Minds, etc.;
• genuinely terrified by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein where Robert De Niro took the heart of Helena Bonham Carter, literally;
• after a day of busy extra curricular activities at school, watched forgettable films like Up Close and Personal and Love Affair that put me to sleep;
and so many others that unfortunately went to haze memory as the book that had the ticket stubs of those films went missing, along with some other bags a few years ago.

Time went by, I moved to a foreign shore for a few years, only to be brought back home with a rejuvenated passion for cinema. As I became more involved in the field, I gained more knowledge, all of which only fueled my belief that I absolutely know nothing about film and cinema, thus make me dying to learn.
God knows how many DVDs I bought, how many films I had in digital format, how many screeners I saw in a year, how many film books I bought, but none can compare the majestic view of cinema. Actually, my Excel database knows the exact amount, but then, who can beat God anyway?

Being a public place, cinema allows us to experience social activities of going out, meet other people or even if we go alone, we see other people. We interact with ticket attendants, concession counter staff, annoying sales people offering products, seeing posters that leave us wondering sometimes with odd photo-editing, and of course, seeing larger-than-life image with collective response.

Only last week I was lucky enough to catch a midnight screening of 127 Hours, and I could hear collective grasp of seeing what James Franco has to do in order to survive living. The collective grasp, which I only heard because I was too busy shrieking and closing my eyes, gave me a sense of excitement because everybody reacted to what they see. The communal activity of screaming or laughing, unexpectedly I encountered in many Katherine Heigl's comedies seen on big screen, have unconsciously driven me to cinema over and over again: to experience the togetherness.

For sure I can always boast that I watched many Criterion titles at the comfort of home, but then, it's only me and my dolls. Nothing beats the joy of seeing how people react together of what they see on big screen. Notice how I repeat the sentence? I can't control it. Google my film reviews, there are numerous attempts of writing "in a darkened cinema hall", because I believe on the power of films being seen on big screen. Again.
Otherwise, I won't be doing what I am doing right now, career-wise. Hard work in months are eased by people clapping at the end of films, or booing, which led to complains and discussions that I still embrace with open arms.

Time has changed, digital means start taking over. We are brought together now by RTs, Like buttons in several online sites, and films became more of a challenge to sit through without temptations of checking how many people reply or forward our opinions.
Yet, in a city with very limited means of affordable public entertainment, cinema remains a popular option. In fact, I can say with little pride, some cinemas in town have gone all the way in giving comfort and technical specifications for audience to enjoy.

Thus, imagine the shock, anguish and surprise (not necessarily in that order) of receiving the news that there will be no more new imported films in local cinema. Each imported film will have to obey new tax rules, i.e. increment of 23.75% of every film brought in the country, in addition to other taxes that have been applied to companies and cinemas.
This is the so-called attempt to revive declining interest in national film development, because cinemas now have to be filled with local films to attract audiences to go.


As I said, I am writing this as a filmgoer, a common audience who feels deprived of choices. You cannot take the rights of choosing, because people who are not free to choose are people who are imprisoned for the rest of their lives.
Films, regardless of nationalities, are worth watching for being a good on their own, not defined by the languages nor the countries they are made in or by.
As someone who is still believe by living a social and communal life, the dearth of cinema leads to living a life less culturally, especially in a city where, again, there are already limited options of mass entertainment. I don't count texting during traffic jam an entertainment, thank you.

With an exhausted disappointment, I shall end this note in a confusion. A slight of hope in me is still believing that perhaps negotiations between related parties to solve the case is still underway, as cinema chains, especially the one with hundreds of sites, face the threat of closure and leaving many out of jobs in this hard time.
The domino effect is at the brink of happening. The country's reputation is at stake, because nobody is interested to do business here.
Local filmmakers may have greater challenge to up their antes to fill empty screens and bring audiences back to cinema. I have somewhat hope and encouragement in this, that despite limited support in facilities, education and vast human resources, there'll be magic in the making. Hopefully.

In a less eloquent note, I can ask you all: please don't give up on our local cinema. Who knows how long we will have to wait until the dark clouds have been lifted off of the sky, but don't give up. The least of the very least is cherishing the memory for future generations to come that for once, a true filmgoing activity happened and was vividly alive in the face of the town.

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Jakarta, Indonesia
A film festival manager. A writer. An avid moviegoer. An editor. An aspiring culinary fan. A man.