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India is in the lead but Bali and Singapore are also becoming Asia’s new movie hubs

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, is one of Bali's most picturesque temple complexes (All pictures courtesy planetware.com)

With a view to boost film tourism, the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had set up a Film Facilitation Office which paid handsome dividends as a number of filmmakers have started shooting in India.

Before the Covid pandemic hit the world, in 2019 itself, more than 10 foreign film projects were shot in India. This included the box-office hit and critically acclaimed Tenet by Christopher Nolan, which was shot in Mumbai and the locations included the Breach Candy Hospital, Cafe Colaba Market, Gateway of India, Royal Bombay Yacht Club, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel among others.

In fact, to ease filmmaking in India, the National Film Development Corporation operated FFO, offers a single-window clearance online system for international film shoots in India.

With film tourism gaining currency, India is now going to face competition from other nations in the region, which too are providing facilities and environment for shooting movies. These include Singapore where the globally superhit Crazy Rich Asians was shot, Eat, Pray, Love, starring superstar Julia Roberts, which launched several holiday trips to Bali, Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which put Cambodia’s exquisite temples on the tourist map. among others.

Pura Tanah Lot ("Pura" eans temple in Balinese) is one of Bali's most iconic temples.

Now, Bali, the Indonesian island – which has been the backdrop for several films since the 1930s – is inviting investors, both local and foreign, to build film studios. This plan was unveiled at last month’s Cannes Film Festival by the local group United Media Asia and Creative Artists Agency in the US.

According to an article in asia.nikkei.com, Missy Davy, Creative Artists Agency spokesperson in a statement said: "Through their productions, UMA will employ thousands of local talent[s] to bolster the Bali economy, which has been severely impacted by the global pandemic. Bali is the ideal location to create a production destination."

The statement also reflects Indonesian Government’s backing for this project as evident from a comment by Sandiaga Uno, the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy said: "I am very excited to see United Media Asia's effort to build and cultivate Bali as a world-class hub for international content.”

Mount Batur at sunrise

Founded in 2018 by Indonesian actress and producer Michy Gustavia, UMAZ received a $20 million investment from media conglomerate Kompas Gramedia with its focus on local content in the language of 270 million people of the country.

Films have been doing well in Indonesia as box office receipts have registered a growth of seven per cent annually over the past five years. Viewers love offerings of over the top platforms like Netflix which is predicted to have 50 million as its users there.

Talking about this, Davy said: "Indonesia's entertainment market is one of the fastest-growing in the world, if not the fastest, outside of China [and] UMA is strategically positioned to capitalize on the increasing global appetite for local content.”

Despite its natural calamities like floods and lack of power, can Bali attract filmmakers as it competes against Australia and South Korea? Andre Dananjaya feels it can. "From sound and costume designers to cinematographers, Bali has thousands of talented creative professionals that could be engaged by foreign production houses if they do start operating in Bali.” Dananjaya represents NGO Kopernik that produces films on human rights issues.

Dananjaya added: "Studios are limited but with Bali's diverse landscapes it is more likely that producers would choose to shoot on location rather than in a studio.And when it comes to steady electricity, film production companies almost always use backup generators, so main electricity supply isn't an issue."

On a similar vein, US national who is Bali based, Lakota Moira, who produced a Pulau Plastik or Rubbish Island, stated: "There is so much good talent on this island but too much of it is spent on creating commercial content for Instagram or weddings — work that does not necessarily foster their potential. And when they are hired by filmmakers from overseas, it's usually just as fixers or [microphone] grips. But if we had a platform that could expose their work to wider audiences, it would broaden their horizons and give them much more creative license."

With the pandemic playing havoc with economies across the world, filmmaking too has been adversely hit due to lockdowns and restrictions on cinema halls. Indonesia too is no exception. Much like India, it too needs Government support.

Indian film industry was pegged around 183 billion rupees in 2020 and has been severely dented with postponement of big releases and halting of film, television and web series shootings.

Julia Roberts in 'Eat, Pray, Love'

Government support is vital as other nations like Australia have given $665 million as Government rebates to the film industry in the last 10 years. Likewise, South Korea’s Korean Film Council has announced a $17.8 million package as stimulus for its movie industry to bail it out of Covid created limbo.

To keep the local industry afloat, the Indonesian Government directed the State-owned production house Perum Produksi Film Negara to invest in potential blockbusters and homegrown content. Reportedly 1.97 trillion rupiah ($137 million) has been set aside to finance 135 hours of film and content production this year.

Besides this laws need to be tweaked to facilitate visas for filmmakers to come to shoot while also providing them tax incentives to make Bali as the most preferred location for shooting films.