Indonesia Cinema’s New Film History

In order to delve the approach of New Film History, Film Department, Binus University invited two of pioneers of applying the methods on their respective doctoral thesis. With the title “New Film History: Cases of Indonesian Cinema”, Dr. Nadi Tofighian (Linnaeus University University) and Dr. Dafna Ruppin (the author of The Komedi Bioscoop: Early Cinema in Colonial Indonesia) were presenting their own research findings, exploring New Film History approaches regarding Indonesian Cinema. Both scholars focus on early years of film culture in in the archipelago (Colonial Indonesia or Dutch East Indies). Dr. Ruppin presented a paper titled “Early film production in colonial Indonesia: re-assembling a forgotten film archive (1896-1914)”. Dr. Tofighian discussed “Early film distribution and exhibition in colonial Indonesia and Southeast Asia”.

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On November 20, 2023, Dr. Nadi Tofighian and Dr. Dafna Ruppin, two scholars who focus on film culture in Indonesia history were both invited to an international Zoom webinar hosted in Binus Alam Sutera and moderated by Ekky Imanjaya to discuss New Film History in colonial Indonesia. The webinar aimed to bring forth awareness regarding the study of New Film History in Indonesia’s film history during the colonial era. Dr. Nadi Tofighian was the first to discuss this topic by explaining that film history emerged before cinema and that oftentimes when looking back at film history, we tend to focus on the filmmakers of the past rather than the culture surrounding the era. Thus the focus of New Film History, the study of culture surrounding film within a place or a country in history. Dr. Nadi stated not only the difficulty he faces regarding the matter like the lack of archives during the colonial era alluding to Indonesia’s cinema but also of how history is constantly being found and corrected as we learn and uncover more of the past.

Following Dr. Nadi was Dr. Dafna Ruppin, who focused more on the history of moviegoing in colonial Indonesia. Dr. Dafna researched the exhibitors of moving images in Indonesia during the colonial era, the method of transport that affected it as well as what type of movies that were shown, especially considering the Dutch’s control over Indonesia during the time. Much like Dr. Nadi, Dr. Dafna also faced challenges when trying to find sources that would help her in her research, language barriers and biases from newspapers from the time period were one of the many concerns. However, during her research, Dr. Dafna found that colonial Indonesia was rather up to date when it came to technological inventions revolving around cinema than what is commonly believed.

The webinar was an insight to New Film History which views Indonesia’s film history in a different light than usual. Studying the cultural significance that existed during the past and relating it to the films being made as well as other aspects like technology that helped it spread within Indonesia. Reminding us that film history isn’t simply about prominent figures in the past but also the many other factors that accumulated during the period that lead to film’s existence now. Showing us that history is constantly being uncovered and revised as we learn more about the past.

Author: Veron Sinison Susilo

Editor: Rico Apridon, Yafi Rajabil