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Jakarta Is Indonesia’s Cinematic City

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Movie audiences around the world watched Julia Roberts Eat, Pray, Love in Bali, yet Jakarta is where Indonesia’s cinematic heart beats. The electric capital of Indonesia is as filmic a location as Manhattan, as well as home to the country’s most dynamic new filmmakers.

Some of these auteurs are now international names, including Joko Anwar, who created the haunting 2017 film Satan’s Slaves; Timo Tjahjanto, creator of Netflix’s crime drama The Night Comes For Us, and Lucky Kuswandi, whose work has appeared at the Cannes Film Festival.

And Action: Indonesia’s Movie Scene

Indonesia’s cinematic renaissance is due in part to a wave of gifted filmmakers celebrated at festivals across the globe as of late. Yet the local industry’s roots go back to the 1980s. 1988’s Tjoet Nja’ Dhien was the first Indonesian film to play the Cannes Film Festival and was Indonesia’s submission for the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film.

Today, Indonesian directors are frequent guests at acclaimed festivals and film markets like Cannes, Berlinale, and Sundance. High-octane action movies in particular, most of which are set in Jakarta, have enjoyed international mainstream success. Wales-born director Gareth Evans helped make Iko Uwais into a major action movie star with The Raid: Redemption (2011), a film about a police officer fighting his way out of a crime-ridden apartment block. J.J. Abrams was such a fan that he cast Uwais and The Raid co-star Yayan Ruhian in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Indonesian government encourages filmmaking, welcoming foreign investment in production, distribution and theatres. March’s National Film Day hosts workshops, discussions and screenings in Jakarta and around the country.

Photo Credit: Lucky Kuswandi, In The Absence of the Sun

The Faces (And Spirits) of Jakartan Film

Some of the most popular Indonesian films have been in the horror genre, drawing from a rich, native supernatural lore that includes vengeful spirits, devils and demons.

“I made a list of Indonesian ghosts,” says writer/director Joko Anwar. “We have at least 48 of them, not including the derivations — a wide array waiting to be exploited.” Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves broke all existing domestic box-office records for Indonesian features. A prequel to a 1982 film of the same name (Pengabdi Setan), it follows four siblings haunted by their recently deceased mother. Anwar also brought demons of Indonesian lore, demit, to modern day Jakarta in an HBO Asia series, Halfworlds.

Yet Anwar deftly juggles genres. He brought everyday Indonesians to light in 2005’s Joni’s Promise and 2015’s A Copy of My Mind. “Jakarta is chaotic, but at the same time very endearing,” he says. “I often go to train and bus stations just to observe people. Everything is conflicting and side-by-side. It’s a very heterogenic city, coming from 100-plus ethnic groups.”

Similarly, Lucky Kuswandi’s 2014 feature, In The Absence of the Sun (aka Selamat Pagi Malam), is a cinematic kiss to Jakarta life, interweaving the stories of three very different women from divergent social classes. By contrast, Kuswandi’s first film, Madame X, featured a drag queen superhero.

On Location In Jakarta

There are many stunning, cinematic Jakarta locations, old and new, worth adding to one’s itinerary. They include destinations filmed in In The Absence of the Sun, such as the Grand Indonesia shopping complex.

“The night market in the National Monument makes you swoon, with the street food and stalls selling clothes, toys, reflexology and massage,” Kuswandi says. He also recommends the newly opened, world-class contemporary art venue, Museum Macan, and, for performance, multimedia, and other arts, Salihara.

Yet Jakarta continually evolves, and each film in which it appears serves as a de facto time capsule. “For example, 2003’s The Gathering by Nia Dinata features many places now long gone,” Kuswandi says, “from the restaurants to beautiful bookstore and the cinema.”

No cinematic tour of Jakarta would be complete without a theatre experience. The city’s oldest movie theatre, The Metropole, is a beautifully renovated art deco cinema from the 1930s. “It only screens commercial films,” Kuswandi says, “so if you’re into more adventurous, arthouse work you can check out Kineforum in Taman Ismail Marzuki, or Kinosaurus in Aksara Kemang.”

CGV Cinemas offers Jakarta’s most unusual move-viewing experience. With locations at several shopping centres, the theatre seats moviegoers in two-person beds, known as “Velvet” seating. In Jakarta, every aspect of film — including how it’s enjoyed — is being reimagined.

There’s no better starting point for a tour of Jakarta’s film industry than InterContinental Jakarta, where local concierges can recommend anything from the most acclaimed films currently in theatres to the best local restaurants to complete your night in this thrilling city.

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