Is Indonesia in for a Disappointing Sequel?

The Jakarta Globe

Droves of moviegoers flocked back to hundreds of cinemas across the country on Friday to see the boy wizard defeat Voldemort once and for all on the big screen.

That the screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” — the biggest blockbuster so far this year — marked the end of Indonesia’s Hollywood film dry spell appeared to be a worthy conclusion to the long drawn-out saga.

But worries remain that a sequel might be in store.

New Actor

Controversy has surrounded Omega Film, the company largely responsible for bringing Hollywood blockbusters back to Indonesian theaters, from the start.

After the Motion Pictures Association of America and Cineplex 21 announced that no films from major Hollywood studios would be brought into the country from Feb. 17 pending the resolution of a dispute with the government over royalty calculations, the Finance Ministry responded by announcing a ban on three film importers that collectively owed Rp 30 billion ($3.4 million) in import taxes.

It was later discovered that two of the three banned importers were Camila Internusa Film and Satrya Perkasa Esthetika Film, both affiliated with Cineplex 21 and responsible for bringing in MPAA films.

With the ban on the two importers in place, the eventual resolution of the royalty dispute last month failed to bring back Hollywood blockbusters.

When news emerged that a new company, which was named Omega Film and believed to be related to Cineplex 21, had been granted an import license, moviegoers thought they had found their hero.

But as with all good films, the plot quickly thickened.

First, there were questions over why it was the only one of six new companies that applied for a film import license to be granted one.

Susiwijono Moegiarso, a director at the customs office, on Thursday denied allegations of special treatment.

“Yes, there were six companies, including Omega Film, that applied for film import licenses,” he said. “But it needs to be understood that Omega Film applied for an import license in April, and the other five just applied in May and June. So Omega Film got its license earlier.”

Susiwijono added that the license applications of the five others had not been rejected, but rather investigations into the companies were ongoing. “Hopefully, they’ll be done next week,” he said.

Then on July 5, the customs office suddenly froze Omega’s license, saying the company had not fulfilled all requirements. Suspiciously, Omega had the same office address as the five other companies.

But 10 days later, the customs office lifted the ban on Omega, “because they had completed the requirements and explained the company to us — its organizational structure, the directors and commissioners, whether they had the competency or not,” Susi wijono said.

Monopoly fears

Lawmakers have questioned this sudden lift of the ban, alleging something akin to deus ex machina (god out of the machine), the plot device that sees an unexpected power step in to resolve a seemingly hopeless situation.

An alleged relationship to Cineplex 21 and even to the ruling family have been floated as reasons for the positive turn of events in Omega’s way.

Syamsul Lussa, head of the film department at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said one of Omega’s directors is Ajay Fulwani, who, according to cinema pioneer and film importer Ilham Bintang, is a nephew of Harris Lesmana, one of Cineplex 21’s big bosses. There were also rumors that lawmaker and Democratic Party secretary general Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, the president’s son, was also involved.

Tourism Minister Jero Wacik dismissed all this, and subsequent allegations of a Cineplex 21 monopoly over the film industry.

As long as the names of a company’s directors and commissioners were not similar to those of the cinema company, “then it is not a monopoly,” Jero said.

He acknowledged that 80 percent of Indonesia’s 676 screens were owned by Cineplex 21, but pointed out that this only meant it dominated the industry, not monopolized it.

And he denied rumors of the ruling family’s involvement. “Bringing Cikeas into the Omega Film issue is very cynical. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is very concerned about this,” he said. “I asked Edhie Baskoro and he said no.”

Cineplex 21 spokesman Noorca Massardi could not be reached for comment.

Djonny Sjafruddin, head of the Indonesian Cinema Companies Union (GPBSI), has also defended Cineplex 21 over the monopoly claims.

“The Business Competition Supervisory Commission [KPPU] has already investigated [Cineplex 21] twice and did not find any evidence of a monopoly,” he said.

Tadjudin Noer Said, a commissioner at KPPU, acknowledged that the cinema industry was dominated by one player, but he explained that as long as it did not control prices, then it was not considered a monopoly.

Still, Syamsul has said that “if there is dodgy data about Omega Film, we are going to revoke its business permit.”

If that happens, Indonesia may very well see a sequel to the Hollywood boycott.

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