IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Indonesians bemoan Hollywood blockbuster blackout

Indonesian moviegoers are facing a bleak year of second-rate foreign releases and lowbrow local productions as Hollywood studios, the government and movie importers remain locked in a protracted standoff.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Indonesian moviegoers are facing a bleak year of second-rate foreign releases and lowbrow local productions as Hollywood studios, the government and movie importers remain locked in a protracted standoff.

It's been four months since major Hollywood studios withdrew films from Indonesia, a nation of 237 million people, in opposition to a new levy on imported movies that was meant to protect local filmmakers.

The government earlier this month announced a revised tax it says will bring back Hollywood, but film buffs remain skeptical.

Another big hurdle must be overcome before blockbusters such as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" hit Indonesian theaters. The government has banned Indonesia's largest film distributors from bringing in new Hollywood movies, pending their payment of more than $30 million in unpaid taxes and related penalties. The film importers are challenging that in court.

"Until I see actual (Hollywood) movies running in the cinemas, I won't get my hopes up just yet," said Marvel Sutantio, creator of the blog Indonesian Movie Crisis, which blames "greedy" tax and customs officials for the dearth of new releases.

Studios participating in the boycott include Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film, Warner Bros. Pictures and Universal Pictures, leaving Indonesian movie fans gasping. Normally, they spend an estimated $6.2 million a month, but local media report box-office takings are down 60 to 70 percent since February.

Studio representatives declined to comment on their negotiations with distributors and the Indonesian government.

Film buffs are making do with a handful of minor Hollywood releases and local productions that are widely derided for their low production values and limited number of themes. Moviegoers often complain about the influx of B-rated horror flicks that are light on character and plot development and heavy on cheap scares and frequent sex scenes. Japanese porn actresses are among the stars.

"Limitless," released May 24 in Indonesia, is the newest Hollywood film showing at a movie theater in one of Jakarta's high-end shopping malls. Its lobby, which once bustled with big crowds for midnight screenings, is as quiet as a morgue.

Other Hollywood films produced by smaller studios not participating in the film boycott include "Scream 4," "Beastly" and "Insidious" — not exactly the summer blockbusters Indonesian moviegoers had hoped for. A poster for "Kung-Fu Panda 2" announces it is "coming soon" despite the film's release in other Southeast Asian countries in late May.

Mixed signals and delayed decisions from government officials have compounded the problem. The finance ministry failed to keep its initial promise of announcing a revised tax regime by mid-March. And movie lovers are still bitter at Syamsul Lussa, the film department director in the culture and tourism ministry, for attending the Cannes Film Festival in France last month instead of addressing the growing controversy at home.

Before the boycott, film buff David Kurmiabi went to theaters about once a week. He traveled to Singapore last month with his mother, who was receiving medical treatment there. He saw three movies in three days to get his fix.

"We feel abandoned," said Kurmiabi, 39. "I just hope they will return very soon."

Other film lovers have turned to the black market to see the latest Hollywood hits, making for a thriving trade for the dozens of vendors of pirated DVDs in Jakarta's Chinatown.

Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo says the revised rules eliminate the disputed tax on the royalties paid by film distributors to the studios. Instead, there will be a tax of 21,000 to 22,000 rupiahs, about $2.50, per minute of film for each copy. The duty was previously based on the physical length of film.

Martowardojo said while the new tax should be low enough for Hollywood studios to resume releasing their films in Indonesia, it would also help protect the domestic film industry.

The government opened a new front last week when Martowardojo announced a government plan to allow foreign studios to distribute movies themselves, rather than relying on local companies.

Film distribution in Indonesia is dominated by Group 21, whose affiliates import Hollywood films and which also owns Cineplex 21, Indonesia's largest theater chain with more than 500 screens.

But it will be at least three months before legislation is introduced to Indonesia's parliament.

"We're going to miss the whole summer this year for sure with the way it's going," said Ananda Siregar, owner and CEO of Blitzmegaplex, the second-largest theater chain in Indonesia.