Lost and Found: Accessing and Finding Asian Classic Films Part 1

As a film researcher who has interests in (new) film history and film archive, I always try to find the primary sources as my references. Although, in most of my research, I analyze the documents (regulations, old magazines and newspapers, trade magazines, in-house magazines) and online sources (blogs, online forums), I also analyze the films and film’s paratexts (DVD covers, special features, posters/marketing promotional materials). Therefore, in many cases, I tried to find Indonesian and Southeast Asian classic films.

In this paper, I just want to share my personal (and my colleagues) experiences researching dan finding rare and lost films.

There are some important places that gave me access to the classic films.

  1. Cinematheques and Film Museums

Between 2007 and 2008, I studied my master’s in film studies at Universiteit van Amsterdam. I went to Amsterdam Film Museum regularly and found out about many colonial films produced, distributed, and exhibited in colonial Indonesia. Later, in mid 2010s, Dafna Ruppins gave me the DVD of colonial films shot in Indonesia, including a short silent fiction on a know-it-all maid (pembantu sok tahu). Fortunately, Indonesian Film Center has agreement with Amsterdam Film Museum and we can access most of the silent films in IDFC website. The second place the n Netherlands is KITLV Library in Leiden.

Some film museums, such as HK Film Museum have regular programs, for example Haunted Screens: Hong Kong Ghost Films, in 2011 when I visited the building.  In Jakarta, Sinematek Indonesia and Kineforum are two institutions that diligently screen classic films.

When I went to Canberra, invited by the Australia National University as guest lecturer, I went to National Film and Sound Archive and watched a beautiful lost film titled

General big libraries sometimes keep abandoned films. Nick Deocampo in 2011 told me that he took a research at Library of  Congress in 2001 and found so many lost Philippino films produced during America’s occupation era.

The collaboration among film archive institutions are also important.

And Sinematek Indonesia plays important role. For example, Darna Ajaib, screened in Pusan Film Festival (2008), was developed especially for Pusan Film Festival from Sinematek collection.
FilmIndonesia reported that a Huyung film were restored by Sinematek Indonesia in 1994 in collaboration with Busan Film Festival and Yamagata Documentary Film Festival.  Huyung’s Antara Bumi dan Langit was screened in Indonesia Under Japanese Military Rule in Yamagata (1997).

Unfortunately, or fortunately?), some insiders of Sinematek Indonesia offered to copy the Sinematek’s collection illegally. I got Usmar Ismail’s Ananda, Big Village, Lagi-lagi krisis by doing this kind of method.


  1. Private film companies (DVD, Layar Tancap, VCD)

Mondo Macabro DVD should be the first to mention. They clean-up some Southeast Asian Cult cinema, among others, including those from The Philippines (For Your Height Only, Silip, Aswang), Indonesia (Mystics in Bali, Queen of Black Magic), Pakistan (The Living Corpses), India (The Bollywood Horror Collection:  Bandh Darwaza & Purana Mandir; Mahakaal-The Monster, Tahkhana-The Dungeon, Veerana). They undertake Chaperone Archiving model, just like Criterion Collection, and gave the films second life globally.

There are also Malaysian distributors circulating Indonesia and Asian classic films.

Layar Tancap (Traveling Cinema Shows) companies also keep many Indonesian classic films in 16mm.

And we need to mention cheap VCDs. About 5 years ago, there were some VCD companies (Karyamas Vision and Navirindo Audio Visual) re-produced classic films. But now they are gone. All original VCDs and DVDs are gone (except for KFC distribution).  And   pirated DVDs (the premium package) dominate the scene.

  1. DVD and VCD stores (both legal and illegal)

In 2009 I went to Kuala Lumpur.  Amir Muhammad took me to Chow Kit and saw a lot of classic Indonesian and Malaysian films. I found many Rhoma Irama films, Usmar Ismail’s Bajangan di waktu Fadjar and Korban Fitnah.

In Hong Kong, in 2011, there were few DVD stores selling classic HK films.

  1. Private Collections
    this year, I met Andrew Leavold in his book promotion. The book is on Weng Weng. And he showed us the footages of Weng Weng’s lost

Some scholars have their own private collections, including Ben Arps in Leiden and David Hanan in Monash/Melbourne. When I visited them, I saw many Betamax and VHS of Indonesian films.

David Hanan, in ASEACC 2011, showed a footage of Matt Dower, the forgotten film directed by Nyak Abbas Akub. The film was shot in color, but the government decided to make it B/W “so people did not have interest to watch it”. Adapting Ketoprak performance, the film is very satirical about New Order era and produced only three years after the 1965 Tragedy.

In fans’ online forums, they discussed their private collection related to “Crazy Indonesia”, “Rare Filipino” or “Wacky Siam”


  1. Online

When I recently undertook research on Indonesian and Filipino exploitation (Bomba) films with Thomas Barker, I  found many B-grade films  in archive.org and some online streaming. And because I was finding Bomba/pito-pito/sexploitation films, naturally some of the links led me to porn sites. One of them is Virgin People (1982).

YouTube is also a good way to find classic Indonesia and Asian films. JB Kristanto told me that he also used YouTube for finding data when wrote his Film Catalog book.

  1. Unexpected Places

One of the most popular cases is the discovery of Duo Kribo, being abandoned in a post-production film company. I had similar experience. When I and Toby Reynolds (my PhD colleague student in Bristol) co-organized double bill of Lady Terminator (1989) in September 2015, we invited Pete Tombs (the co-founder of Mondo Macabro DVD). He suggested The Killing of Satan (The Philippines, 1983) in 35mm, one of the infamous Filipino Cult movies, being abandoned in one of his warehouses in London.

In 2011, when I went to Hong Kong for Asian Cinema conference, the delegates went to HK film archive, and we watched The Orphan (1960), where 18 years old Bruce Lee acted as a cha cha dancer and pickpocket boy. The lost film was discovered by Cynthia Lu Chu Fun (senior manager of HKFA) in London, being neglected in Rank Laboratories along with other Asian films from 1950s-1960s. the curator told us that in 1960s, HK did not have the technology to develop film, so they did post-production in Tokyo and London, and many films ended up being abandoned.



By: Ekky Imanjaya,

faculty member, Film Department, Bina Nusantara University,