There’s a kind of power in documentaries that comes alive with the compassion and courage of filmmakers who yearn to speak truth to power. Good stories have the ability to transcend culture and, in doing so, urge audiences to ask questions of themselves and the world they live in.
This year, Malaysia’s leading international human rights documentary film festival, FreedomFilmFest (FFF), is back for its 15th year with a bold lineup of 40 award-winning films by both local and international filmmakers.
Taking place at PJ Live Arts from the 29th of September to the 6th of October, the theme for this year’s festival is “Mend The Gap”, which was inspired by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, that states that “no one should be left behind”.
The gap in question refers to the “cultural gap”; that forms between groups of distinct social classes as a result of the disproportionate advancements in the economy, science and technology across the world. And despite the increasing presence of social media and other new modes of communication, social groups seem to only grow further from one another and become even more alienated.
In hopes of facilitating a deeper exchange between these groups, FreedomFilmFest will aim to use the power of film and good storytelling to close any gaps and inspire real change among the people.
The recipients of this year’s FFF film grant will tackle three issues in Malaysia that require immediate action — The education of stateless children in Sabah (Aku Mau Sekolah (I Want To Go To School) by Putri Purnama Sagua), adequate maternal healthcare in rural Sarawak (The Story of Kam Agong by Lawrence Jayaraj) and the rights of the differently abled to an independent and dignified life (In The Dark by Low Watan). All three of these films will premiere on the festival’s opening night.
Other local documentaries that will premiere during FFF include Sevan Doraisamy’s POCA Boy and female filmmaking duo, S-Ploited’s, Menunggu Masa (Waiting For Time). Another film to look forward to is Arul Prakkash’s Melawan Arus (Against The Tide), which will provide a critical look at the country’s recently concluded GE14 and outline some of the key challenges that lie ahead.
FFF will also shine a light on Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in hopes of nurturing and empowering the next generation of young activists. The documentary Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower, will be screened, which will tell the story of Joshua Wong, a young teenage activist who made a name for himself during the protests against the Chinese government.
FFF will also host a workshop with Hong Kong student activists, Agnes Chow, in collaboration with Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)’s “Sekolah Activisme” to give us further insight into the life of young activists.
They will also be identifying some of the gaps young people face in education. There will be an oral storytelling workshop with Orang Asli girls, who will share their experience with education through various forms of creative expression and a screening of the film Ask The Sexpert, by Vaishali Sinha; a documentary about Dr. Mahinder Watsa, a 93-year-old sex advice columnist for a daily newspaper in Mumbai. There will also be a screening of Kantoi, a film by Adam Zainal, which promotes discussion and debate around the topic of sex education.
Focus will also be put onto the challenges facing human rights in the digital age. There will be screenings of renowned international documentaries including The Cleaners by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewick and Black Code by Nicholas de Pencier, both of which identify the main issues regarding safety, security and censorship online. Audiences will also be able to attend a workshop on digital security by digital rights advocates WITNESS and EngageMedia.
Further mending knowledge gaps, the festival will also showcase films that deal with the lesser reported-on issues that plague the nation of Palestine. Julia Bacha’s Naila and The Uprising will deal with women’s role in the struggle for freedom and Erika Cohn’s The Judge will celebrate the role of the first woman judge in the Middle East’s Shariah Courts. Meanwhile, The Occupation of the American Mind, an investigative documentary by filmmakers Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, will examine the public relations war that Israel and American right-wing pro-Israel advocacy groups have been waging for decades in the US. There will also be a forum on current issues in Gaza which will be held in collaboration with ViVa Palestina.
FFF also recognises that, in recent months, Malaysia has offered somewhat of a glimmer of democratic hope to other Southeast Asian nations. There will therefore be screenings of several films which deal with the struggles faced by our neighbouring countries throughout the region. These include A Cambodian Spring by Christopher Kelly; a film that charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the ‘Cambodian Spring’ and The Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone by Ran Quinn; which narrates the life and work of Sombath, a Lao Civil Society Development Worker who helped promote development in poor rural communities. There will also be screenings of other films from Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.
Each film screening will also be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker or main cast, along with local experts who will be invited to contextualise the issues and add their own insights.
There will also be a bicycle-powered cinema, in collaboration with Biji-Biji Initiative, and virtual reality headsets to watch selected films.
And if you’d like to get even more involved, you can also take part in one of the festival’s several masterclasses, led by international filmmakers, who will share their perspectives on the art of filmmaking. This year’s masterclasses will be conducted by Joakim Demmer, director of Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas, Huang Hui Chen, director of Small Talk and Olivier Pollet, director of The Panguna Syndrome.
FreedomFilmFest has long been a platform for filmmakers and activists to produce films that highlight the issues of the region’s marginalised and repressed. This year, their efforts in using the power of film to expedite social change continues, and will go on to inspire both creators and audiences to uphold the value of human rights.
FreedomFilmFest2018 will be held from the 29th of September to the 6th of October at:
PJ Live Arts, 2A-3, Block K, Jaya One, Section 13, No.72A, Jalan Universiti, 46200, Petaling Jaya, Selangor
The festival will also be travelling to Georgetown, Muar, Johor Bahru, Manjung, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Singapore between the months of October to December 2018. For more information, visit their website.
Featured Image Source: Freedom Film Network