Subject: Timor films censored in Indonesia

[Excerpt: The films -- Timor Loro Sae, Tales for Crocodiles, and Passabe -- were said to be likely to "open up old wounds and create social unrest." ]

December 23, 2005

LSF facing criticism for film poster ban

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Director Rudi Soedjarwo was furious, but nervous at the same time. The Film Censorship Board (LSF) recently ordered the withdrawal of the poster for Rudy's upcoming film Sembilan Naga (Nine Dragons) before it had even been released.

The reasons were baffling: The poster features a caption reading "Manusia Terbaik di Indonesia adalah Seorang Penjahat" (The best Indonesian is a criminal), and a picture of young actor Fauzi Baadila without his shirt.

Rudi said that the withdrawal order meant that no film or VCD distributor would dare promote or distribute the film.

"That means the only chance to see the film will be in January, when the film is released. That is, if it passes the censors at all," he said, adding that the censorship process would start after Christmas and that he was really nervous.

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The whole thing showed how the state was reluctant to let the people decide for themselves, he said.

"It's like parents who always think of their children as kids. Why doesn't the LSF just deal with the ratings, instead of cutting the films, and then leave it up to the cinemas and TV stations to sort things out for themselves," said Rudi, who won the best director award at the 2004 Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) for teen hit Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? (What's Up With Cinta?).

Rudi's case once again places the state censorship board in the spotlight, worsening its already notorious reputation as being ultraconservative while at the same time capricious.

Dating back to Dutch East Indies days, the LSF now has 45 members comprising representatives from nine ministries, religious organizations, the military, the police and the National Intelligence Agency. Every film shown on TV and played in a cinema must pass the board's scrutiny.

The LSF frequently cuts scenes containing even a peck on the lips. But there are no clear standards, and some films containing kissing scenes, such as Ada Apa, pass uncut.

Some of its decisions are truly surprising. For example, the 2003 movie Arisan! (Gathering) has a gay kissing scene, while this year's Detik Terakhir (Last Second) even made through with a masturbation scene and a lesbian sex scene in the bathroom.

Another thing about the LSF, it always backs down whenever there is a protest from religious groups, government bureaucrats or people in powerful positions.

Last year, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Muslim TV preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar, or Aa Gym as he is familiarly known, blasted the LSF for passing the film Buruan Cium Gue (Kiss Me Quick), which they condemned as likely to corrupt the youth with "carnal desires". The film's producer then withdrew the film.

This year, the LSF withdrew the action movie Bad Wolves as the police objected to its portrayal of corrupt officers, which they said would tarnish the image of the force, despite the fact that it is at an all time low.

More recently, three documentary films about Timor Leste were not allowed to be screened at the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest).

The films -- Timor Loro Sae, Tales for Crocodiles, and Passabe -- were said to be likely to "open up old wounds and create social unrest."

"They're one sided, portraying Indonesians as the bad guys. They would further damage our already poor image," said LSF director Titie Said.

The fear of social unrest was Titie's excuse for a lot of the things that the LSF has done and been criticized for.

"You have to understand, not everyone is sharp and educated like you. We're still in the middle of a transitional phase as a nation. We are very diverse as a nation, we have to bridge that," she said.

"It's not undemocratic, and we're not against artistic freedom. But there is a bigger interest here, the interest of the nation."

While many think that censorship is redundant given the widespread availability of pirated DVDs and access to the Internet, Titie said "if we don't impose censorship, it would inflict more damage to society."

Titie admitted that there were no clear criteria or classifications for the censorship imposed, and that the relevant legislation, Law No. 8/1992, was a bit outdated.

However, she said the board still defended artistic freedom, for instance, in the case of Detik Terakhir, which tells the story of a girl from a broken home who turned to drugs and lesbianism.

"We passed the scenes because we don't want to disrupt the essence of the film, which consists of a good moral tale," Titie said.

John Badalu, JIFFest spokesman and director of Q! gay film festival, said that the LSF seemed to have double standards as it treated Western films differently on the grounds that kissing and sex scenes were part of Western culture.

"And there should be special rules for film festivals as the screening periods and the audiences are limited," he said.

Filmmakers have urged less censorship, and instead a tighter rating regime.

Noted filmmaker Garin Nugroho said that the people in the LSF were too prone to worry and fear, and that their decisions were often immature and even ridiculous.

"The more important thing is a good law enforcement and justice system, where people can file complaints after a film has been screened," he said.

The current censorship system, Garin said, could undermine democracy and justice. "We would become a worried and fearful nation, and never mature."

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