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Cinema of Indonesia (Early Cinema)

by Rio Johan
Cinema of Indonesia (Early Cinema) by Rio Johan
Though the cinema of Indonesia has a long history, the industry is currently struggling and developing: that’s what Wikipedia claims to be. And sadly that’s seems to be true that Indonesian Cinema have to face more “struggling” than “developing.” ====================================================================================================================== THE HISTORY (Originally titled as “Perfilman, Pers, Politik,” written by Akhlis Suryapati) Film, Press and Politics, played a significant role in the history of Indonesian Cinema. In 1927 when the country called Indonesia yet to be established — the State still called the Dutch East… Read more

Though the cinema of Indonesia has a long history, the industry is currently struggling and developing: that’s what Wikipedia claims to be. And sadly that’s seems to be true that Indonesian Cinema have to face more “struggling” than “developing.”



(Originally titled as “Perfilman, Pers, Politik,” written by Akhlis Suryapati)

Film, Press and Politics, played a significant role in the history of Indonesian Cinema. In 1927 when the country called Indonesia yet to be established — the State still called the Dutch East Indies — a film Euis Atjih forth advertised: “Look how Indonesian people quite good enough to play in a film, nothing less than Eourpean films, neither United States” (Pewarta Soerabaja, 8 September 1927). In 1900, the “living image” (film) came to Batavia through the “Pertoenjoekan Besar yang Pertama” in the Manege, Tanah Abang Kebonjae. “Policy rule,” or popularly called “politics,” put the cinema only exclusively available for Europeans. Recently before the 1920s, the natives had a chance to watch film, after a policy audience class, namely for the Europeans, to the Chinese, and to the Natives as well as the Slam (Islam). Separation of the class concerned the location of the show, the service (quality projectors), and the ticket price (Europe: 2 guilders, 1 guilder, 0.5 guilders; Native / Slam: 1 guilders, 0.5 guilders, 0.25 guilders).

Until the 1920’s, the power of cinema in Indonesia is relatively belonged only to the Europeans, with films imported from France and America, including documentaries and feature films that are all silent. Making films at that time could only be carried by the Dutch people or other Europeans, mostly documentaries about the nature and life of Indonesia, on orders from the Dutch Indies government itself. At those days, there was a film called Onze Oost or Timur Milik Kita (1919), financed by Koloniaal Institute (Institute of Colonial). Note that at the time filmmaker was called “the film operator,” which was those who operate the cameras and other technical jobs.

In 1924 polemics emerged in the local newspapers, started from De Locomotif, Sin Po, NWPD Cinematografi, De Preanger Post, Het Nieuwe Soerabajasche Courant, and others, concerning about the necessity for Dutch East Indies to make a film and to become the object of the film—as a film project for Bumiputera.

In 1926, at the initiative of L Heuveeldorf and Krugers with the support of Bupati Wiranatakusumah V (Bandung Regent), ​​a film called Loetoeng Kasaroeng was born. The film took a West Java’s legend as its story, along with native girls as cast—the Bupati (Regent) family. Through this film, the interaction of Europeans with the natives began to knit.

Starting in 1930, the cinema of Indonesia was growing in the industry understanding, in which the ethos of making films also means looking for financial gain. In addition to L Heuveeldorf and Krugers, plus F Carli, an European. The Chinese people, Wong Brothers (Nelson Wong, Joshua Wong, Othniel Wong) and The Teng Chun, also appeared on the screen. They could be called the first East people who made film in Indonesia. And also came the days of talkies, as example: Krugers’s Atma de Visher (1931), The Teng Chun’s Boenga Roos dari Tjikembang (1931), and Wong brothers’ Njai Dasima (1932).

In the spirit of industry, two non-indigenous forces, Krugers and Wong Brothers, conducted a production cooperation. In 1937 they made a film called Terang Boelan, with Albert Ballink as director. Terang Boelan became a trend that was widely appreciated by the public. At these days, the natives began to involved in the politic of cinema, which began with the appearance of a reporter named Saerun who acted as adivsor at corporate-owned Wong Brothers.

Over the political conception of Saerun, raised an idea of utilizing Tonil or theatrical arts in producing film, which was then famous on the plays and theater in all over Indonesia. Dardanelles’s artists, the most famous Tonil group at that period, leaded by Asmara Andjar whom also a journalists, invited to play on films. From this point, native artists were born, among others are Rukiah and Raden Mochtar. More natives began to involved in film industry, as crew workers or as the press reporter.

In 1934, the industry players organized a formed-joint movie theaters called Nederlandsch Indiche Bioscoopbond, followed with a Joint film importer organization called Bond van Film Importeurs. The initial board members were non-natives. The government ignored the natives, at first. When the organization was also included native people, and from there emerged the discourses of nationalism, the Dutch East Indies government suspected it as a medium that carries the ideology that lead to the movement for independence. Dutch East Indies government began a rigorous oversight to the development of cinema. The government established a so-called Film Commissie, a kind of film censorship board. During this period, besides the name Saerun, Usmar Ismail began to appear as film activist.

1940s became the prolific film in Indonesia. The presence the film sensor did not make the film industry creativity receded. On the contrary, 13 titles made in 1940 and 32 titles made in 1941. This period may be called the first golden era of Indonesian Cinema – although the “Indonesian film” itself yet to be born. This golden age actually achieved in the tension ahead of the World War II, when the Japanese began looting everywhere. Along with the heat of nationalist political movement, the film was loaded with political nuances. The press and academics began to demand quality films, for the struggle of independence, and artists have demanded the responsibility of giving the benefit of his work for the sake of people. To the extent that, a critics club was formed which boarded by Indonesia, Chinese, and Dutch Journalists .

This discourse incriminated the film industry, especially among the Chinese. Mainly because they made a lot of “for-fun” film such as “Terang Boelan,” with an average production cost of Rp. 150.000 per film title. Meanwhile, a “quality” film takes an average of Rp. 300.000. Another difficulty was the small-and-rare market for “quality-and-critical” film, compared to the “for-fun” film. As a response to that, an organization called SARI (Sarekat Artist Indonesia) was formed on July 28, 1940, at Prinsen Park (Lokasari).The event attended by 58 film activists. The founders are Saerun and Moehammad Sin (a jornalist for Pembangoenan Magazine). Saerun later became advisor, while Moehammad Sin became the Chairman.

March 8, 1942 when the Dutch surrendered to Japan, Indonesia’s political cinema suffered massive change. The Japanese government saw the effectiveness of films as a media of political propaganda to the Greater East Asia. The first thing the did was closing all existing film companies, including The Chun Teng’s JIF and Wong Brothers’ Tan. All film equipment confiscated. Film studio occupied (now the PFN). Then the Japanese Military Administration founded film company Eigha Java Kosha (September 1942), which later changed to Japanese Nippon Eiga Sha (April 1943). The company intensively produced propaganda films.

The film industry scattered to pieces. Wong brothers changed their professions to ketchup and lemonade seller. The Teng Chun led the Djantoeng Hati theater. While the actors back to Tonil or plays. All of it was very closely monitered, all text and display should be censured by Sindenbu (Propaganda Agency) led by Hithosi Shimizu, an expert on Japanese propaganda in China. The agency also formed Eiga Haikyusha (film dealers), Java Engeki Kyokai / PSOD (theatre), Keimin Shidoso Bunka (cultural center). Film production is under the authority of Bunjin Kurata (usually with a pseudonym B Koesoema). Some accompanying natives were Soetarto RM, Rustam Sutan Palindih, Inoe Perbatasari, Arifien Rd.

Few films that were made during this period, such as Berdjoeang and Keseberang (directed by Rd Arifien), Di Desa and Di Menara (directed by Rustam Sutan Palindih), Hoedjan (directed by Inoe Perbatasari).

Continued at: Post-Colonialism



G. Kruger
Loetoeng Kasaroeng (with L. Heuveldorp, 1926)
Eulis atjih (with L. Heuveldorp, 1927)
Karnadi Anemer Bangkong (1930)
Njai Dasima (1932)
Terpaksa Menika (1932)
Raonah (1932)

Wong Brothers (Nelson Wong, Joshua Wong, Othniel Wong)

Lily Van Java (Only directed by Nelson Wong, 1928)
Rampok Preanger (Only directed by Nelson Wong, 1929)
Si Tjonat (Only directed by Nelson Wong, 1929)
Lari Ka Arab (1930)
Indonesia Malaise (1931)
Fatima (Othniel Wong & Joshua Wong, 1938)
Gagak Item (Othniel Wong & Joshua Wong, 1939)
Siti Akbari (Othniel Wong & Joshua Wong, 1939)
Sorga Ka Toedjoe (Othniel Wong & Joshua Wong, 1940)
Roekihati (Othniel Wong & Joshua Wong, 1940)
Koeda Sembrani (1941)
Aladin dengan Lampoe Wasiat (1941)

Lie Tek Swie
Njai Dasima I (with Bakhtiar Effendi, 1929)
Njai Dasima II (1930)
Melati Van Agam I (1930)
Melati Van Agam II (1930)
Nancy Birkin Pembalesan (1930)
Si Ronda (1930)
Siti Noerbaja (1941)
Ikan Doejoeng (1941)

The Teng Chun

Boenga Roos dari Tjikembang (1931)
Sam Pek Eng Tay (1931)
Delapan Djago Pedang (1933)
Pat Bie To (1933)
Ouw Peh Tjoa (1933)
Pan Sie Tong (1935)
Tie Pat Kai Kawin (1935)
Anaknja Siloeman Oeler Poeti (1936)
Lima Siloeman Tikoes (1936)
Pembakaran Bio “Hong Lian Sie” (1936)
Gadis Jang Terdjoeal (1937)
Oh, Iboe (1938)
Tjiandjoer (1938)
Alang-alang (1939)
Roesia Si Pengkor (1939)
Rentjong Atjeh (1940)

Njoo Cheong Seng

Zoebaida (1940)
Kris Mataram (1940)
Air Mata Iboe (with M d’Amour, 1941)
Djantoeng Hati (with M d’Amour, 1941)
Pantjawarna (1941)

Tan Tjoei Hock

Dasima (1940)
Melati Van Agam (1940)
Matjan Berbisik (1940)
Sorga Palsoe (1940)
Tengkorak Hidoep (1941)
Srigala Item (1941)
Singa Laoet (1941)
Si Gomar (1941)
Matula (1941)

Rd Ariffien

Harta Berdarah (1940)
Asmara Moerni (1941)
Wanita dan Satria (1941)
Berdjoang (1943)
Keseberang (1944)

Other Directors
Resia Boroboedoer (Unknown, 1928)
Setangan Berloemoer Darah (Unknown, 1928)
De Stem Des Bloed (Njai Siti) (F Carli, 1930)
Sinjo “Tjo” Main Di Film (MH Schilling, 1931)
Zuster Theresia (MH Schilling, 1932)
Pareh (Mannus Franken & Albert Balink, 1935)
Terang boelan (Albert Balink, 1938)
Panggilan Darah (Suska, 1941)
Elang Darat (Inoe Perbatasari, 1941)
Poetri Rimba (Inoe Perbatasari, 1941)
Kartinah (Abisin Abbas, 1940)
Noesa Penida (Abisin Abbas, 1942)
Ratna Moetoe Manikam (Suska, 1942)
Di Desa (Rustam Sutan Palindih, 1943)
Di Menara (Rustam Sutan Palindih, 1943)
Djatoeh Berkait (B Koesoema, 1944)
Hoedjan (Inoe Perbatasari, 1944)

Note: None of those titles recorded in MUBI database, so I put another Indonesian film in list, because there should be something in the list.


Lily Van Java (1928)

Resia Boroboedoer (1928)

Tie Pat Kai Kawin (1935)

Pareh (1935)

Anaknja Siloeman Oeler Poeti (1936)

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