Balinale Comes of Age, Enters Second Decade

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CREDIT: Patrick Frater

Many film festivals, when they have been around for ten years, need a change of direction. The Bali International Film Festival, which concludes its 11th edition today, is all the better for the changes it has rung in.

The end of the first decade need not be an existential crisis. But a festival that does not move on risks becoming stale, irrelevant, or simply part of the furniture.

As it entered its second decade, the Bali festival, better known as the Balinale, has added a competitive section and a small industry conference.

“We felt that we needed to engage more with the Indonesian industry. The BalinaleX conference is a first step,” says Deborah Gabinetti. She was founder of the festival in 2007 and has been a constant force ever since.

With volcano Mount Agung, some 50 miles to the North, threatening to blow its top, the BalinaleX conference attempted to broach topics such as the state of the Asian film industry, film financing in Indonesia, screenwriting and film development, and the challenge of changing technology. While less existential than the threat of ash clouds or lava flows, those are big topics in a country where the local movies are made on budgets averaging $200,000.

Canada’s “Bad Moms” and “Rush Hour” producer, Jay Stern was on hand to provide reality checks and Hollywood anecdotes from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

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Indonesia’s central government paid lip service, with officials present on both conference days. But whether they have truly bought into the concept of the creative economy remains to be seen. Such matters are known to be on President Joko Widodo’s policy list, but probably a low level. The government attendees were quicker to discuss issues of shooting permits and untangling bureaucracy, than they were interested in industry chains and economic multiplier effects.

Others in high places have expressed mild surprise that foreign investment has not rushed in since the announcement last year that film is to be removed from Indonesia’s Negative List – a string of industrial and service sectors previously reserved for local companies.

For that to happen Indonesian film needs more infrastructure, diversity and strength in depth.

The Balinale’s first decade may have been spent proving that interest exists in something so perverse as a film festival in Bali. After all there is something paradoxical about sitting in a cold, dark room watching challenging art house movies, while outside the sun, glorious beaches and charming resorts of Paradise are just outside. Beckoning.

By now, Gabinetti and her programming team have largely learned what their audience want. “We have a mixture of expats and locals. They are a tough crowd. They actually expect difficult films,” she says.

Housed for the third year in a shiny new Cinemaxx multiplex in Kuta, the Balinale this year amped up the number of titles it plays to over 100 and increased the daily screenings. (The arrival of Cinemaxx, part of the giant local Lippo conglomerate, and the biggest challenger to Indonesia’s long-established cinema monopoly, is another sign of changing times.)

The jury involves Taipei Festival director Jeane Huang, Australian director Michael Rowe, and Erwin Arnada, a colorful local journalist and film maker who was hounded from Jakarta to Bali years ago after his efforts to publish Playboy in the predominantly Muslim country.

The festival opened last weekend with two world premieres: feature documentary “Chaplin in Bali,” and “Message Man,” an English-language Indonesian film about a retired assassin, a local boy and people smuggling. The festival’s closing film is Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight.”