Two seminars on the subject held as part of Balinale Film Festival.

If a government that doesn’t provide any support for its film industry begins to realise that a buoyant industry can deliver cultural, political and economic benefits, what initiatives should be regarded as a priority? That question hung in the air during two seminars held as part of the Balinale Film Festival this week, and the presence of Euis Saedah [pictured], director general of small and medium industries in the Ministry of Industry, meant participants were guardedly vocal.

A film school could be established to teach talented young Indonesian professional filmmaking practise said one participant. A film commission ought to be considered, said another. International film festivals that provide networking opportunities between local and international filmmakers should get backing. And an information kit for visiting filmmakers could be provided giving the regulations around the importation of foreign workers, the need for film permits and other basic facts pertinent to filmmaking, said a visiting producer.

While Saedah was noncommittal on the issue of assistance for film she said the government was ready to facilitate the growth of the creative industries – and design, craft and information technology have been identified as having great potential – and she was on a fact-finding mission that included learning about film.

There is also something quite fundamental the Indonesian Government could do, the discussion revealed, and that was removing the regulation preventing foreigners from investing in cinemas. Although in place for cultural reasons, local producers say the lack of screens also acts as a barrier to the success of their own films.

With a population of about 250 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populated country on the planet and has less than 700 screens. But it is not just the low screen ratio that’s the problem: 60% of the population lives on less than US$100 per month and can’t afford to go to the cinema. (The statistic was included in one of the introductions to Dutch director Leonard Retel Helmrich’s astoundingly intimate documentary trilogy about the country’s underclass.)

It means that some are lobbying not just to drop the rules preventing foreign investment in exhibition but also to find some way to encourage the introduction of an affordable second tier chain that is in regional and suburban areas as well as key cities. After all, there’s very limited theatrical revenue to be had if there’s no cinemas within geographical and financial reach.