Until Death Do Us Part - Jonas

Isnin, Mac 23, 2009

#311. Skoop : Freedom through film

Can films capture a political tsunami?

HAS the political earthquake of March 8, 2008, resulted in genuine improvements for Malaysia? And if so, can independent filmmakers capture how it has happened?

“Real Change?” is the theme for this year’s Freedom Film Fest (FFF), an annual competition to encourage everybody – from filmmakers and social activists to students and concerned senior citizens – to make films that express Malaysian concerns and issues.

This is the sixth year of the fest, organised by Komas (the Malay acronym for Community Communications Centre), an organisation set up in 1993 to utilise “popular communications”, such as videos, to promote social progress. “After March 8, what has really changed?” asks Anna Har, one of the executive directors of Komas. “Have things improved for residents? For health? Crime? For the disabled? I like the work my local councillor is doing but her naked pictures are being spread around... This year’s fest hopes to unearth real stories about ordinary Malaysians and the changes happening around them.”

As in previous years, Malaysians are invited to submit proposals for short films (deadline April 15) and the three best submissions will be awarded a grant of RM5,000 each and given technical support by Komas to transform their ideas and visions into an actual movie.

The organisers are also inviting general submissions for “best completed video”, in any format including documentary, docu-drama or even animation. Winners stand to win RM2,000 and the deadline is Aug 15.

Screenings of winners (and other human rights films) will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Baru and Sarawak in October.

On March 28, there will be a retrospective showcase of the best FFF movies – in London!

“Many Malaysians have emigrated and are pessimistic about Malaysia. They don’t want to come back and have given up on our country,” says Har. “But perhaps they don’t know about some of the progressive changes that are happening now. This is what the fest is trying to document.”

Over the years, award-winning films of the FFF have highlighted issues such as:

·how we haven’t learnt from the Highlands Towers tragedy

·the plight of Muslim trans-sexuals

·the rights of the Weld Quay jetty dwellers of Penang

·how new immigrants’ children end up in Malaysia

·rampant crime, police corruption and the need for reforms

·the “real” history of our struggle against British colonialism

Har, who is a TV/video producer and director, observes that the fest’s films are becoming more creative.

“Take last year’s winner, Justin Johari, who happens to be a lawyer turned first-time filmmaker. He was dealing with the issue of freedom of religion and expression in Malaysia, something considered very sensitive here. But he interspersed his opinions with a rap song.”

She adds that the fest participants are also on par with the contemporary documentary-making trend of being more “reflexive”. In contrast with old school documentaries which adopt a detached “voice of god” or “fly on the wall” view of things, the new approach has much more of the filmmaker’s presence and perspective (as can be seen in American filmmaker Michael Moore’s documentaries) allowing the audience to feel more “involved”.

Tan Jo Hann, another Komas executive director, adds:

“Since the very first FFF in 2003, the public has shown a hunger for socially relevant films, especially things seldom talked about openly in public such as government actions, sexuality, political dissent, racism, and other issues.”

Have the films had much of a real impact on Malaysia?

Tan, a social activist/trainer who was selected to be a Subang Jaya local councillor, notes that the impact of the films comes not only during the competition, but more so in its aftermath, when the films are shown to different audiences, generating discussion.

“People become more aware, motivated and empowered to do something about a certain issue. At least they dare to talk about these issues. That is a first step towards change in our society”

At the launch of this year’s FFF on Feb 14 in Kuala Lumpur, Dr Jeffrey Phang from the “Friends of Kota Damansara”, a residents group from Selangor which has been trying to protect the green lung and forest reserve which was originally planned for the area, said:

“When we were campaigning, we were truly inspired by one of the films which came from this festival, Alice Lives Here. When we saw it, we became more energised to continue our cause.”

The movie was about Alice Lee, a normal clerk who along with various residents of Broga, a small town in Selangor, went about on a motorcycle to campaign – despite intimidation and bureaucratic obstacles – against the building of a mega waste incinerator which would have spewed toxic fumes in their area.

“We want to see a peaceful transition but real change does not just come from our politicians or NGOs,” said Dr Phang. “We ourselves have to engage the critical mass of people. The most important thing about the FFF is that is records and shares the heroic stories of ordinary people with others.”

For more information on this year’s fest, check freedomfilmfest.komas.org. For the London screenings on March 28, go to freedomfilmfestlondon.blogspot.com

Highlights from London include Dr Mahathir’s “talk” with a 10 year old boy from Surrey, naked ear squats of police lock-ups and how a rubber tapper died while waiting 20 years for his court claims. The event is in aid of the Harinder Veriah Trust, a UK charity that works with underprivileged children in Malaysia.

Source : The Star

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