The great Indonesian movie crisis deprives people of Hollywood
An unresolved tax dispute is making it impossible for many Indonesians to watch Hollywood films. And Indonesian theaters are suffering.
This story was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.
At one of Jakarta's biggest movie theaters, Richard Olsen, an Indonesia-based filmmaker, runs down what's playing on the big screens.
"A Thai horror movie, a Danish film. Normally you don't see things like this," Olsen said. "You'd see Kung Fu Panda way before you'd see this."
But for the past four months, Indonesia hasn't been getting any new movies from Hollywood. Olsen said he used to go to the movies two times a week, but the last movie he saw in the theaters was The King's Speech, in February.
Olsen said that his friends in Australia tease him, telling him about the great movies they've just seen.
"I have no chance to watch it unless I go overseas," Olsen said. "It's ridiculous."
The great Indonesian movie crisis, as some bloggers call it, comes down to an unresolved tax dispute. In February, the Indonesian government announced a new system for calculating tax on imported films. The Motion Picture Association of America or MPAA said with the new system, it's no longer worth it to send films to Indonesia.
Syamsul Lussa, director of film affairs at the Indonesian Ministry of Culture, said he thinks there's been a misunderstanding. He said that the studios think they're being taxed twice, and that's not true.
"I check with my friends at the tax director general -- no double taxation," he said. "It is impossible that the taxes and duties are double."
The MPAA wouldn't comment for this story because it's currently in discussions with the Indonesian government. Syamsul, who faced criticism here for going to the Cannes Film Festival in May in the middle of the crisis, said the Ministry of Culture will announce a resolution as early as next week.
But he said that last week, too.
Meanwhile, Indonesian movie theaters are suffering. They've seen a 60 percent drop in income since February, and some theaters have closed.
It seems many Indonesians are getting their Hollywood movies another way.
At a mall in central Jakarta, there is a wide selection of pirated DVDs. The women who work at this DVD stand say one movie is selling especially well, the new animated FOX feature* "Rio." Rio came out in the states in March but no one knows when it will come out in theaters here. Virginia, a DVD vendor, spoke frankly about the fact that her business is flourishing.
"More people are buying DVDs because there are no new films in the theatres," she said. "A lot of people are buying 'Water for Elephants' and 'Mildred Pierce'.
There's another unintended winner here, one that is on the big screen. It's an Indonesian war movie called "Hati Merdeka," or Hearts of Freedom.
"What we've been telling people is who needs Hollywood blockbusters when you have Indonesian blockbusters? We have one right here!" said Rob Allyn, an American producer and co-writer of Hati Merdeka.
The movie is the final part of a trilogy about young cadets fighting the Dutch in Indonesia's war for Independence, and it's the biggest budget film project in Indonesian history.
Allyn's son, Conor Allyn, the director and co-writer, said he expects the movie will do especially well because "it's not competing with Thors and Green Lanterns and Hulks, and what not."
But for student and movie lover Rezki Gautama Tanrere, Hati Merdeka isn't enough. He wants Pirates of the Caribbean, and he's sick of watching DVDs.
"Watching in the movies is much better than watching on DVDs," Rezki said. "The taste, the feel of watching in cinemas is very different."
Rezki said ultimately the movie crisis reflects the Indonesian government's lack of concern for its citizens.
"Even if I protest, the government won't even hear us," Rezki said. "They don't really care about us actually. Maybe they don't have time to listen to us."
But Richard Olsen said there's one thing that will make the government listen -- Harry Potter.
"We've been quite quiet in this ordeal as a nation, as a city, but I think if there's no Harry Potter, all the Harry Potter fans are going to go nuts," Olsen said. "There are going to be a lot of angry Indonesians."
The final installment of the Harry Potter movies is due in Indonesian theaters in July – maybe.
PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the "Rio" animated film was a Disney feature. It is a FOX feature. We regret the error.