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The Parallel Cinema Movement in Indonesia (1960s-1990s)

Cinema Movement

By Moharif YuliantoPublished about a month ago 3 min read
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The Parallel Cinema Movement in Indonesia (1960s-1990s)
Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Breaking the Mold: The Parallel Cinema Movement in Indonesia (1960s-1990s)

Indonesian cinema in the mid-20th century was dominated by commercial films, often formulaic romances, musicals, and action flicks. Enter the Parallel Cinema Movement, a revolutionary wave of filmmakers who challenged the status quo and redefined Indonesian cinema. This movement, flourishing from the late 1960s to the 1990s, aimed to create a more realistic and socially conscious film landscape.

The Seeds of Change: A Growing Discontent

Several factors fueled the rise of Parallel Cinema:

Dissatisfaction with Commercial Films: The formulaic and escapist nature of mainstream films didn't resonate with a growing segment of audiences yearning for stories that reflected their realities.

Social and Political Turmoil: Indonesia underwent significant social and political upheavals in the 1960s, including the rise and fall of President Sukarno's regime. This turmoil created a desire for artistic expression that addressed these issues.

Global Influences: The burgeoning global art cinema scene, with European and Asian New Wave movements, inspired Indonesian filmmakers to experiment with form and narrative.

Key Figures and Characteristics:

Usmar Ismail: Often referred to as the "Father of Indonesian Cinema," Ismail played a crucial role in establishing film schools and fostering a new generation of filmmakers.

Sjumandjaja: A prominent director, Sjumandjaja's films like "The Long Road" (1956) explored social issues like poverty and rural life, paving the way for Parallel Cinema.

Realism and Social Commentary: Parallel Cinema films tackled real-life social concerns like poverty, corruption, and political oppression. They often featured ordinary people navigating these challenges.

Independent Production: Free from commercial constraints, Parallel Cinema filmmakers sought independent funding and distribution channels to maintain artistic control.

Experimentation with Filmmaking: This movement embraced various styles and techniques. Some employed a documentary-like approach, while others incorporated elements of magical realism or poetic imagery.

Standout Films:

"Cinta di Tamu Laura" (Love in Laura's Shop) by Sjumandjaja (1973): This poignant film portrays the struggles of a woman running a small shop in Jakarta.

"Seratus Hari yang Terbuang" (A Hundred Wasted Days) by Asrul Sani (1971): This political satire follows a student activist disillusioned by political realities.

"Marah dan Meri" (Marah and Meri) by Ami Prijono (1980): This coming-of-age story explores the lives of two young girls navigating friendship and societal pressures.

"Nagabonar" by Djamaluddin Malik (1987): While maintaining social commentary, Nagabonar incorporated elements of comedy and satire to address issues like corruption.

Impact and Legacy:

The Parallel Cinema Movement left a lasting impact on Indonesian cinema:

Elevating Social Awareness: These films ignited discussions about pressing social issues, giving voice to marginalized communities.

Diversity in Storytelling: Parallel Cinema paved the way for a broader range of stories and filmmaking styles in Indonesian cinema.

Inspiration for Future Generations: The movement continues to inspire contemporary filmmakers to explore social themes and push creative boundaries.

Challenges and Limitations:

Limited Reach: Due to independent production and distribution methods, Parallel Cinema films often had limited reach compared to mainstream releases.

Government Censorship: The Suharto regime's censorship posed challenges for films that addressed sensitive political issues.

Financial Constraints: Independent funding made it difficult to produce films with high production values.

The legacy of Parallel Cinema extends beyond Indonesia's borders. It sparked collaborations with filmmakers from other Southeast Asian nations, fostering a regional identity in cinema. Additionally, these films found international recognition at film festivals, showcasing Indonesian narratives to a global audience.

However, the movement wasn't without internal debates. Artistic expression sometimes clashed with the need for social messaging. As the Suharto regime loosened its grip in the late 1980s, some filmmakers embraced a more commercial approach, blurring the lines between Parallel Cinema and mainstream productions.

Despite these complexities, the Parallel Cinema Movement remains a testament to the power of independent filmmaking. It showed how cinema could be a powerful tool for social commentary and a platform for underrepresented voices, leaving an indelible mark on Indonesian cinema and beyond.

Despite these challenges, the Parallel Cinema Movement remains a significant chapter in Indonesian cinema history. It broke away from formulaic storytelling, fostered a culture of social consciousness, and paved the way for a more diverse and vibrant film landscape in the years to come.

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About the Creator

Moharif Yulianto

a freelance writer and thesis preparation in his country, youtube content creator, facebook

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Comments (2)

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  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    I think that I am going to be reading more of your pieces from now on. I have an interest in films outside of the Western narrative tradition, and this intrigues me...

  • Alex H Mittelman about a month ago

    Fascinating!

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