Asia Times

Southeast Asia

Saturday, February 28 2004

 

Hooray for Baliwood!

By Gary LaMoshi

 

DENPASAR, Bali - You can measure how deeply an idea has infiltrated the global consciousness by its imitators. Hollywood, home of the US film industry, begat Bollywood, nickname for the Indian movie business centered on Bombay (now Mumbai). And now there's Baliwood.

 

Or at least the Bali Film Commission (BFC) hopes to create Baliwood, and it has confidently copyrighted the term. BFC promotes its home island and the rest of Indonesia to overseas filmmakers for location shooting.

 

The Lord of Rings trilogy is the new holy grail for turning the silver screen into local gold. Location filming in New Zealand generated 23,000 jobs (which made Lord of the Rings the largest private-sector employer in New Zealand) and pumped US$70 million into the national economy. It also led residents of Taranaki province, where much of the filming took place, to begin calling their area Nakiwood.

 

See it live!

After their release, films can also lure tourists to come see in person what charmed them on the screen. Braveheart's portrait of medieval Scotland got credit for a subsequent 52 percent rise in tourist arrivals there. Cambodia's Angkor Wat had its profile and visitor numbers raised thanks to the ancient temple's prominent role in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Thailand's pristine coast depicted in The Beach tempted audiences to visit in its wake, as well as bringing in $35 million during shooting. Tourism in New Zealand rose a reported 50 percent after the first Lord of the Rings film, and the final installment's premiere in Wellington drew thousands more visitors to New Zealand's capital.

 

If other island nations can make millions from the movies, the BFC figures the world's biggest archipelago nation can do it too, even bigger and better. Indonesia has a history of filmmaking, and the industry is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Teen flick Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? ("What's Up with Love/Cinta?") [the name of the lead character]) and yuppie tale Arisan (a regular social gathering centering on a lottery) featuring a gay kiss have found audiences in Indonesia and won critical acclaim.

 

During the 1980s, Indonesian filmmakers churned out some 125 features a year, ranking third globally behind India and the United States. But the numbers dwindled until, at the depth of the Asian economic crisis in 1998, just four films were made in Indonesia. Unlike Hong Kong, though, where the decline in movie-making sidelined production trades, Indonesia offered a booming domestic television market as the government loosened its shackles. Now 10 national networks increasingly demand local programming, particularly sinetron, local soap operas, keeping the cameras rolling.

 

For foreign filmmakers, that means Indonesia has skilled crews available (at wages a fraction of their Western counterparts') as well as state-of-the-art production, processing and editing facilities. The country even boasts world-class computer-animation services, including Red Rocket of Bandung in West Java, which does work for Disney.

 

Cue the commission

What Indonesia hasn't had is anyone to promote the country as a location and help filmmakers negotiate the bureaucracy and find professional help. Cue the Bali Film Commission.

 

"Indonesia offers the most diverse range of locations in the world - including the ability to re-create any era or setting - 350 different ethnic groups, large numbers of extras available on short notice, English as a second or third language, and the world's best craftsmen, who can create or copy virtually anything at a fraction of the cost," BFC founder Deborah Gabinetti enthuses, pausing only to catch her breath. "Although the country has no tax-rebate or incentive plan in place, we've found that most budgets can be undercut by 10-20 percent right off the top."

 

A member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1978 with credits on both US coasts, Gabinetti was an established casting director in New York in 1990 when she met a friend heading for Indonesia to film tourism advertisements. She recalls, "I jokingly said, 'If you need an assistant, call me', and six months later, he did." She took the offer, eventually setting up shop in Jakarta for six years to work with the burgeoning television industry. After moving to Bali in 1997, Gabinetti found herself assisting foreign film crews that came through. "There were no support services in place, and local people and resources were not being utilized," Gabinetti remembers. "The government also was not receiving copies of anything shot here for use in their own promotional efforts."

 

In April 2002, she proposed an agency to promote Bali as a shooting location and help productions that did come. The provincial government's Bali Tourism Authority provided office space but no funding to the fledgling group, which became known as the Bali Film Commission on receiving international recognition last October and has broadened it mandate to promote shooting throughout Indonesia. "Unlike most film commissions, we receive no funding from the government," Gabinetti notes.

 

BFC's four-member team based in Denpasar also provides a range of services, including logistical support, help with permits, equipment rental, crew hiring, location selection, research and publicity.

 

Folly to Bali?

Golden Globe-winning producer Julia Fraser is working with BFC on an upcoming feature film Almayer's Folly, adapted from a Joseph Conrad novel. "Before we met Deborah, we were mostly looking at shooting our film in either Sarawak or Sabah [in Malaysia]," Fraser says. She adds that BFC has assisted on issues beyond location hunting, such as casting and financing. "Deborah is very passionate about bringing more exposure to Indonesia as a location to make films."

 

BFC spreads its gospel at media trade events around the world and last week signed a cooperative pact with other film commissions in the region. The Indonesian central government has begun to recognize and assist BFC, cutting red tape to support film production and even considering some limited sponsorship help.

 

While waiting for Indonesia's Lord of the Rings, BFC has overcome concerns about the October 2002 Bali bombings to log several successes. Kiss Kiss Ko, an Indian-Indonesian co-production, was shot almost entirely on Bali last year. Due in theaters next month, the low-budget film features the boy band Band of Boys and some 600 local extras.

 

South Korea 's Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) television network filmed segments of a romantic miniseries, Incident in Bali, at some of the island's leading tourist spots and in Jakarta. SBS brought a 40-member Korean production team, then hired three dozen assistants from Jakarta and Bali along with 100 extras. The series began airing in January, and BFC hopes the program will encourage more Korean tourists to visit Indonesia.

 

BFC attracted a third of all international filming on Bali and nearby islands last year, according to Gabinetti. BFC hopes to top that figure this year, plans to develop local capacity to support the industry through training and workshops, and is talking to investors about building a studio in Bali.

 

"Even a simple facility will increase the country's appeal to filmmakers and its potential for film deals," Gabinetti proposes. She's already got a name picked out - and copyrighted - if that studio gets built.

 

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