The Emergence of Documenter and Experimental Films


Author/Angga Cipta

If we see the early Indonesian cinema, many of them are influenced by the folklore. Titles like “Loetoeng Kasaroeng” or “Tengkorak Hidoep”, for example, are produced for local audiences and often show the magic of montage in moving images. Somehow the illusion from the film projection slowly could replace the collective memory about the depiction of folklore. Public excitement of folklore in cinema continues to grow until early 80s; many of them are horror genre and using amazing montage technique. These can be seen in some films starring by Suzanna Martha Frederika van Osch. This experimentation cannot be separated from the presence of an art academy which has a major in film. Although the records of moving pictures in Indonesia contain mostly cinema films, there are also films that appeared in the 1990s which originated from filmmakers who previously produced experimental films. Kantata Takwa (1991) directed by Gotot Prakosa, combined political turmoil, music and digital technology in poetic visualization. It was finished in 1991, but the film Kantata Takwa was only screened to the public in 2008.

Names such as Gotot Prakosa, with Henri Darmawan and Hadi Purnomo have produced many experimental films whose themes are very close to the mid-low class. This awareness was also developed by D.A. Peransi—as a lecturer at LPKJ— who introduced a new approach to film theory and aesthetics, he often calls documentary films an educational cultural film.1 Besides that, there is also Sardono W. Kusumo, a dancer and film director, who combines a documentary with traditional dances. They growth from the Sinema 8 movement. Sinema 8 is a group that used an 8mm camera to make short films works right after the 1973 Festival Film Mini in Jakarta. The members are from LPKJ (Lembaga Pendidikan Kesenian Jakarta, the former name of Jakarta Arts Institute) which opened in 1971. The using of the 8mm camera is also the indicator of the emergence of experimental cinema because of the shift in camera ownership, from exclusive—own by a film company to a personal. The movement focuses on the discourse of resistance to industrial establishment and power struggles in its presentation space.

At that time a lot of films were used as a propaganda tool, from the era of President Soekarno’s leadership to Suharto, who at that time had a special department for propaganda—Departemen Penerangan (literally translated as Department of Enlightenment, but actually much like the Ministry of Information). Prakosa said that government made two film terms, there are feature films and non-story films. Nonstory films which later become alternative or side-stream films, the classification includes; short films, documentary, experimental and animation.2 This classification triggers anomalies in the film ecosystem, since camera technology is getting more sophisticated and convenient, such as the 8mm handheld camera. This condition triggers the presence of film works that do not refer to the standards set by the Board of Film Censorship. This moment was marked by the presence of the Forum Film Pendek—Short Film Forum in 1982 and the Pekan Sinema Alternatif—Alternative Cinema Week in 1985, which became a space outside the commercial film industry as well as accommodating new aesthetic exploration concepts.

Politics of media at that time was strictly guarded, and film production had to be subject to conditions from the Ministry of Information. Then actors, actresses and film crews must be registered with the national film organization. The film industry was under the Minister for Politics and Security Coordination, in other words; film is not a cultural product but a political product.3 So the curation of censorship at that time was very strict, films should not contain elements of sex, violence, colonialism, fascism, imperialism and arousing religious, ethnic and racial sentiments. The Ministry of Information also acts as a government control system in monitoring the media and the dissemination of propaganda through film and television which of course is produced and financed by the government. The position of alternative cinema has not been able to become a spectacle for the general public but has been able to triumph at international film festivals.

Devices Shifting, From Filmmaker to Artist 

Meanwhile, in another universe, the mediums of art in Indonesia had significant development in the 80-90s era. Apart from the political turmoil, the acceleration of technology also had an effect, such as the popularity of Betamax video cassettes and video editing software. For example, at the GSRB (Indonesia New Art Movement) exhibition in 1987—Pasaraya Dunia Fantasi, which featured the projection of commercial footage from television. The first video work in Indonesia comes from Krisna Murti, in the form of a video performance installation entitled 12 Hours in the Life of Agung Rai, the Dancer. In the same year, the Biennale Seni Rupa Jakarta IX presented works in a more varied medium, such as performance art, installations and videos. As in the Western world, videos were used to document performance artists’ works and often used to conduct criticism toward the images and contents of the mass media. This is also supported by Krisna Murti in his book in 1999, Video Publik which reflects on his 10 years of work with the video (1990-1999) and the resistance to TV culture through video art. The book serves as a useful reference amidst the lack of writing on video works in Indonesia.4  f artist.

In the 2000s video developed further along with the collapse of the New Order regime in 1998 which made freedom of expression as something to be celebrated. Along with the impact of technology globalization and the presence of digital video formats, more and more artists are using this medium and starting to experiment with other elements such as sound, motion/kinetic to interactive. During this period there were also many artist groups or collectives that took the initiative to build their own art infrastructure. These forms of initiative are publishing—the results of regular research and discussion studies, biennial festivals, archiving, artist residencies, workshops and community empowerment (usually in collaboration with NGOs). This guerrilla, which should also be the responsibility of the state, finally was able to inspire the government to establish a Sub Directorate of Media Arts as part of the Ministry of Education and Culture in 2003.5


Dissemination, Pop from Alternative Spaces in Several Cities

In 2003 ruangrupa — an artists initiative based in Jakarta, created a biannual event OK! Video – Jakarta Video Art Festival, which later in 2015 turned into the Media Art Festival. This event originated from a research and video discussion which started in 2001, Rabu Video Klub (Wednesday Video Club). In addition to exhibiting video works by local and international artists, OK! Video also creates discussion programs with groups from abroad that focus on video. ruangrupa also tries to classify video works into certain themes and confront them with music as a new playground in the realm of moving images popular culture. The similar public presentation also occurred in Bandung in 2004, Beyond Panopticon, a video exhibition at a local electronics store initiated by Videolab. The exhibition space is very open to the public and represents the freedom of expression that emerged during the Reformasi (post New Order regime) era.6 There is also a Video: WRK – Surabaya International Video Festival, a biannual event that has been held since 2009 by WAFT Lab.

In Yogyakarta, a compilation of video works in Indonesia with VCD format appeared. Video Battle was initiated by Wimo Ambala Bayang, Wok The Rock, and Zulhan Sasmita in 2004 as a reaction to technological advances and the spread of knowledge on media through original and pirated VCD or DVD. Each edition is produced by 50 pcs and can be reproduced according to the buyer’s request and interest. The submitted videos don’t have special curation and usually had short duration. The video must be interesting in a visual exploration, new, fresh, naughty, clever and has strong character. This video compilation is sold for IDR 10,000 to IDR 15,000 and up to now 11 volumes have been published.7 Workshop, video studies and archiving were actively conducted by Forum Lenteng (est. 2003, Jakarta) and Commonroom (est. 2004, Bandung). Forum Lenteng also uses video and literacy for community empowerment in several cities in Indonesia using participatory methods as a form of activism. Meanwhile, education-based interdisciplinary and new media laboratory work was carried out by HONF (House Of Natural Fiber, est. 1999, Yogyakarta), they also initiated the Yogyakarya International Videowork Festival in 2007.

The review of video art in Indonesia was archived in the form of a 10 Years of Indonesian Video Art (2000-2010) Compilation, which was curated by Hafiz and produced by ruangrupa’s Video Development Division. This compilation shows the significant development of video art in Indonesia over a decade in terms of artistic ideas, visions and strategies. There are 27 video works selected mostly from young artists, explored technical approach such as the using of a simple camera, performance, installation, complex editing, digital effect, also long term research-based video, created particular dynamics.8 In 2009 KUNCI Cultural Studies Center also made other reading through the publication of the book Videokronik: Video Activism and Video Distribution in Indonesia which maps and analyzes how video works as a tool for social change and democratization of its use for 10 years, post 1998. This book is the result of KUNCI’s collaborative research which examines the history of video activism, maps the current situation and looks at its future possibilities.9




  1. Sumarno, Marselli (1997). D.A. Peransi & Film, Lembaga Studi Film, Jakarta.
  2. Prakosa, Gatot (2008). Film Pinggiran; Antologi Film Pendek, Film Eksperimental, dan Film Dokumenter, Yayasan Seni Visual Indonesia, Tangerang.
  3. Aartsen, Josscy (2011). Film world Indonesia: The rise after fall, M.A. Thesis in University of Utrecht.
  4. Juliastuti, Nuraini and Merdikaningtyas, Yuli Andari (2007). Folders: 10 years of documentation work by Cemeti Art Foundation, IVAA, Yogyakarta.
  5. Murti, Krisna (2011). Pameran Seni Video – Membajak TV, Komunitas Salihara, Jakarta.
  6. Ibid; no.5
  7. Ibid; no.4
  8. ruangrupa, (2011). OK.Video FLESH – 5th Jakarta International Video Festival catalogue
  9. KUNCI Cultural Studies Center, (2009). Videokronik: Aktivisme Video dan Distribusi Video di Indonesia, Yogyakarta.