World Cinema - Indonesia: March 2017

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, is finding out about how people from different countries experienced cinema in their homeland.

With one exception I have only ever visited the cinema in the UK and had always assumed that mine was a universal experience.  One day a chance conversation made me wonder if perhaps I was being naïve and so I set myself the challenge to find out what people living in Chesham but born in another country recalled about cinema in their homeland.  I am very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to give me such an insight often reviving memories that they had forgotten.


Today I am with Beth who hails from Bogor an island in Indonesia which is renowned for its heavy rainfall, often 26 inches of rain falls each year as Bogor sits in a valley a bit like Chesham. Her parents mum is from Bogor and her father from another island.

Beth moved to the UK through love when she followed her boyfriend and her first impression was that it had all the rainfall without the oceans. She came here in 1990 to study Business Administration where she met her husband, living first in Coles Hill and then moving to Chesham in 2001 where she quickly established a wide circle of friends, Beth now runs her own events company.

She is married to an American from San Francisco and has two children, a boy and a girl.

1) How does the cinema here differ from that in Indonesia?

Asians must eat she tells me, food is very important so in front of the cinema there are lots of different food stalls, at least ten maybe more, and whilst the films aren’t of secondary importance the food is essential to a trip to the cinema.

Cinema was originally a luxury pastime and then became the cheapest form of entertainment; it’s a bit like football she says.

Cinemas were mostly indoors but they had a huge stadium where every 3 or 4 months films are shown and the whole area piles in to watch Indonesian movies. This form of cinema is run like a drive in movie and the films are mostly slapstick comedy a bit like Mr Bean with the occasional drama.

2) What is your first memory of going to the cinema as a child?

We went as a family with grandparents, uncles, aunts and all our cousins, it was a big family occasion. I would have been 8 or nine as we were not allowed to go to the cinema when we were younger than that. The cinema was a part of our culture the cinema was the most popular entertainment as our parents were strict about us not watching television.

Indonesian films shown at the cinema were a form of propaganda - ‘Taboo’ was a popular phrase. Many things were deemed taboo by our parents. The films left us fearful of what might happen if we broke the taboo and were meant to breed respect for our parents and good manners otherwise the spirits will get you for breaking taboo. It was taboo to kiss a boy and we adhered to that even into adulthood.

3) What was the first film that you recall seeing?

Ibu Tiri, which roughly translates into Stepmother (at this point Beth and her friends burst into singing the film’s title song in the middle of the coffee shop.) The story is a bit like Cinderella and explains what might befall you if you do not cherish your birth mother.

4) How expensive was it to visit the cinema?

It was very cheap to go to the movies - probably less than 10p but you could go VIP for about £7.00 and there you could lay down in the comfort of air conditioning and with a blanket a similar experience to flying business class.

5) What was the etiquette in the cinema in Bogor?

Usherettes patrolled the cinema and made very sure that everyone behaved properly. There was one cinema for students because they can be a bit rowdy (but I suspect rowdy for Indonesia is a lot more genteel than rowdy in the UK).

If someone misbehaved at the cinema the Usherettes would throw them out, no argument and eating was not permitted in the cinema which is why the outdoor food vendors were so important.

6) When I was a child the only food eaten in the cinema was tubs of ice cream or choc ice, Orange Juice and hot dogs.  What kind of food could you buy at the cinema?

A whole range of food. I told you eating is very important to us Asians. We had Banana fritters Dim Sum and other savoury snacks. A particular favourite was sticky rice in woven banana leaves that were shaped like a rectangular box or a pyramid filled with rice, pork, chicken or beef.

You could also get grilled sandwiches if you wished. There were a variety of drinks available including ginger tea, ginger coffee, and a hot coconut with ginger beverage.

7) What sort of films were shown in Bogor? Was it the usual blockbuster? Walt Disney or something else?

Indonesian films always have a moral and a not very well hidden message to respect your parents whilst they are alive. Films about rags to riches taught us the importance of striving, of working hard and the importance of studying to get on. Lots of films came from America but not from the UK.

Films from China were generally the Kung fu master films and of course we loved the Indian Bollywood movies. Films with slapstick comedy were always very popular.

8) Do you go to the cinema in UK – if so what were your first impressions?

I recall been shocked by the behaviour of some teenagers and I wondered if this was common or perhaps it was an unusual incident but there were no usherettes to enforce the rules. The teenagers chatted throughout the film and even checked their phones. They spoke loudly and used inappropriate language. In Indonesia an usherette would have spoken to them immediately. ‘Come with me’ they would have said, and they would been evicted from the cinema without question.

I also couldn’t believe the lack of choice when it came to buying food and it was quite plain back in Indonesia I was used to more flavours of Popcorn, not just salty or sweet.

We also had an open air cinema and as many people would employ a maid it was a common site to see a child being chased by a maid who had the job of feeding the children before the film began.

9) We have certain films that are shown every Christmas. Is that the same in your country and if so what? Perhaps for Christmas or another festival? Perhaps always shown on television?

We didn’t really watch TV but there was a comedy called Benyamin which was very popular.

10) And what film character would you like to be?

I love the Marvel comics so I would have to choose the Black Widow, a powerful super hero who happens also to be a woman.

11) Finally what is your favourite film?

I have to say that Warun Kopi is my all time favourite. It is a comedy built around life style and every day life.

Thank you Beth for your insight into cinema going in Indonesia. It was good fun meeting you and your friends.