Should success at any price be celebrated? Because when it comes to cinema in Indonesia it is hard to escape accusations that ‘success’ is linked to unsavory business practices, tax evasion, rent seeking, crony capitalism and corporations tainted by links to the world’s most corrupt dictatorship. At least according to most of the resources we could find during our research for this post.
Last week the CineAsia 2014 “Distributor of the Year” award was handed out to Indonesian film distribution company Cinema 21 Group. The award was introduced and handed over by Imax’s Andrew Cripps and received by the company’s Founder and Chairman Benny Suherman, as well as Harris Lasmana (Vice Chairman) and Suryo Suherman (President), and Sacheen Lasmana (Vice President).
The original press release published in FJI announced the award’s recipient with the headline ‘CineAsia to salute Indonesian distributor Cinema 21′ stated:
“Cinema 21’s progressive and amazing growth over the past couple of decades has made them the leading distributor and cinema exhibitor in Indonesia,” stated Robert Sunshine, co-managing director of CineAsia.
Cinema 21 Group started as a film distribution company in 1969, and since 1991 has been the distributor for all major Hollywood films in Indonesia. In 1977, the group expanded into the cinema exhibition business, making Cinema 21 the largest cinema chain in Indonesia.
So what’s wrong with celebrating success? When that ‘success’ is built on a nepotistic monopoly, links to a late genocidal dictator and involved an embezzler and fugitive wanted by Interpol, then the definition of “success” starts to become strained.
The timing of this award might also be seen as poor, coming as it does a year after the success of multi-award winning documentary “The Act of Killing” and just after Indonesia got its first president without ties to its brutal political past. Our research into Indonesia’s motion picture exhibition took us back in time to Cinema 21′s early days.
Benny, Bambang and Sudwikatmono
Cinema 21 was indeed set up 1969, but the press release offers just the most cursory and airbrushed corporate history version of the Cinema 21 organisation.
The founders were Benny Suherman and his brother Bambang Sutrisno together with Sudwikatmono, the cousin of then President Suharto who had seized power in a military coup four years earlier. We wondered why Bambang or Sudwikatmono weren’t mentioned or honoured as the founders of Cinema 21?
Could it be because Bambang fled Indonesia and is now wanted by Interpol? Bambang Sutrisno embezzled Rp1.5 trillion [USD $128 million] from Bank Surya for which he was convicted of in absentia in 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He fled to neighbouring Singapore where he is safely hiding with little fear of extradition.