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To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

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Indonesia / After a century of false dawns, the film industry is beginning to rise

By: Mark Adnum - Posted on: January 4, 2019 | Culture & Life

The rollercoaster ride of Indonesia’s film industry is currently cresting yet another hill in its bumpy, twisting history. Southeast Asia Globe talks with a feature moviemaker who’s taking a break from the big screen to tell stories for HBO Asia

HBO Asia’s horror series Halfworlds sets ancient supernatural folklore in nocturnal modern-day Jakarta Photo: HBO Asia

Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar is making moves in a surging industry. He directed the first season of HBO Asia’s Jakarta-set supernatural series Halfworlds and some episodes of its new horror series Folklore. He joins other local auteurs enjoying both domestic and international acclaim for movies like last year’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, directed by Mouly Surya. The so-called “satay Western” about a wronged woman out for revenge won raves at 2017’s Cannes Film Festival, and is the nation’s pick to compete for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards.

Filmmaking in Indonesia dates back more than a century, and movies were first shown there in 1900. The current resurgence comes after last century’s bumpy journey for an art form that never totally took hold of audiences’ imagination.

“We hear about a once-rich Indonesian cinema culture, but it was an illusion,” Anwar told Southeast Asia Globe.

He’s referring to the sagas of Sundanese legends that were popular with Indonesian audiences in the 1920s, but were told from the point of view of the Dutch directors who made them on location in what was then the Dutch East Indies. In the early 1930s, elaborate romantic melodramas were all the rage, but they were created by Chinese entrepreneurs who were flush from the Shanghai movie boom and extending their market around the region. Heavily financed foreign productions discouraged local film production, which was scattershot and based mainly in Jakarta. The Great Depression and Dutch taxes made this dream all but impossible by the mid-1930s.

A handful of enterprising filmmakers dipped their toes in the water in the 1940s – just before film production was banned under the Japanese occupation. Government-approved political films saturated the post-Independence era until a string of indie domestic films enjoyed huge success in the 1980s. The 1988 political biopic Tjoet Nja’ Dhien was the first Indonesian film to be invited to Cannes. Soon after that victory, local filmmaking took a big hit when the government lifted a ban on the screening of foreign films. Indonesian moviemakers couldn’t compete with blockbusters from Hollywood and Hong Kong. During Southeast Asia’s economic crisis of 1997, Indonesia’s economy tanked, along with box office sales and investment in domestic film production. Just six movies were made in Indonesia in 1999.

The industry has been recovering since the mid-2000s, and in most Indonesian cities, air-conditioned multiplexes are seeing relatively healthy sales. John Riady, an Indonesian entrepreneur and editor at large of the Jakarta Globe, describes Indonesia as “the most invisible country in the world”, referring to the rarity of good English writing about the country and poor tourism marketing. It’s home to a quarter of a billion people, and its capital, Jakarta, is a gargantuan tech-obsessed metropolis that sends more tweets daily than any other city on the planet. Metrics like that are impressive, but local cinema isn’t quite keeping pace.

“Indonesians used to have a closer emotional relationship with movies and cinemas, mainly because there weren’t many alternatives to movie-watching at that time, and cinemas were not in high-end shopping malls,” explained Anwar. “Today, going to a cinema requires more effort since most of them are inside places which the average Indonesian person – someone who lives outside of Jakarta, for example, or the average Jakartan who doesn’t visit luxury malls – has no access to.”

In-demand Indonesian director Joko Anwar said the biggest challenge to the country’s cinema industry is getting people into seats

Anwar, 42, is a solidly built man who dresses and talks with the confidence of someone who tours the international film-festival circuit and enjoys a lucrative career. He grew up in a poor part of Sumatra and spent much of his childhood watching horror and kung-fu movies. In 2003, he wrote Indonesia’s first gay-themed film, Arisan!, and went on to write and direct a slew of films throughout the 2000s. His 2007 film, Kala, was lauded at the New York Asian Film Festival. His 2009 thriller, Forbidden Door, was screened at film festivals all over the world, and the Hollywood Reporter compared it to the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

The biggest challenge faced by Indonesian cinema is getting audiences in seats, Anwar explained. 

“There are too few cinemas, compared to the increasing interest in cinema-going. For the past three years, Indonesia has enjoyed a [rise in] ticket sales for locally produced films, and it seems like we are going to surpass that also this year. However, ticket prices have crept up to keep pace with demand, and this puts a visit to the cinema out of the reach of most Indonesians, who either don’t have or can’t justify spending that kind of money on a movie ticket. There’s also the fact that the older traditions of movie-going are gone, and so unless you’re an upwardly mobile Jakartan, cinema isn’t on your radar at all. You watch TV. You talk to your family.”

Anwar then produced something unexpected: the 2015 dystopian A Copy of My Mind, set in Jakarta during the tense 2014 presidential elections. The urban drama and love story about a low-rent salon worker and a guy who writes subtitles for pirated DVDs featured Jakarta as a character more than a setting.

“My vision of Jakarta in A Copy of My Mind was meant to be a love letter to the city I moved to 20 years ago,” said Anwar. “Back then, I was penniless but I fell in love with the city right away. It was a very diverse place and people were more tolerant. Preachers weren’t spreading hate in mosques. Nightlife was colourful. We even had a gay film festival – imagine that, in the world’s most Muslim-populated country!”

Unlike the Hong Kong of Wong Kar-wai or the Madrid of Almodóvar, Anwar’s Jakarta wasn’t venerated, there was no background razzle-dazzle. In A Copy of My Mind, Jakarta is a bleak and ominous place, akin to the Phnom Penh of the Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh.

“Now, it feels like I don’t know Jakarta anymore. I believe that the 2014 presidential campaign started a kind of hateful atmosphere in the city, and in the country,” he said. “There were so many black campaigns launched, and they seriously damaged our capability for logic and cultural expression. Now hate has been normalised: you hear it from religious preachers, on the street, even in schools by teachers. With A Copy of My Mind, I guess I wanted to make a time capsule of that one particular year so 20 years from now, when things get better or worse, we can watch that film and remember what happened, and reflect.”

There are no film schools in Indonesia, but it does have five filmmaking education programmes at universities and institutes. It has just over 1,000 cinema screens, compared to nearly 15,000 in the comparable economy of India, which has a robust national cinema culture. In the Philippines, the industry employs a quarter of a million people and 50 million Filipinos go to the movies every year.

Jakarta’s abandoned Guntur movie theatre, built in 1923 and originally used as a boarding school Photo: WordPress/Instant Expat

So why does Indonesia lag behind?

“First of all, good and entertaining movies in Indonesia are so rare that momentum in viewership can’t be sustained,” said Anwar. “This makes it hard to argue for financing, it makes it hard to motivate people to join the industry or take up training, and human resources in Indonesian filmmaking are already so rare. This results in a lot of untrained people making well-intentioned but poor-quality films. But most films are likely to get a theatrical release to fill cinema schedules, thus glutting the market with low-grade product – and this turns audiences off even further.”

Anwar hopes the current successes signal a turning point. He spoke of the increase in new movie theatres and educational opportunities, including the workshops and training offered through the government’s Creative Economy Agency.

When Southeast Asia Globe caught up with him, Anwar was in post-production after a long shoot on location in Jakarta and West Java for his next film, Gundala, based on 1980s Indonesian superhero comic books. Promo shots and poster art for it are plastered on Indonesian Facebook pages and in that deluge of Jakartan tweets.

After his work with HBO Asia, it seemed possible that Anwar would follow the money and work internationally, but Gundala suggests the exact opposite.

“I believe what’s important is making films that you can inject your own personality into, your views of life,” he said. “I think I will be happy making movies anywhere, as long as I am doing movies which I care about, with stories that I believe in, and with interesting characters. It still has to be a personal experience for me. As long as I’m allowed to do that, making movies anywhere will still be bliss.”

This article was published in the December 2018 edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. To subscribe to our newsletter, click here