FESTIVAL Filem Malaysia is not a film festival.
Film festivals are meant to be for everyone. There are supposed to be screenings, press conferences with journalists, and each day the festival takes place it makes the papers. They’re sometimes a bit more expensive than cinemas but you get to watch movies from around the world. There’s always dialogue in the air, people talk about their choices and exchange opinions about movies. I base this on my personal experience as a guest at international film festivals.
Take for example France’s Cannes Film Festival. Film here is an event; Cannes is not just confined to its headquarters by the sea, its extensive program also runs at hotels, beaches and several cinemas around town. Because film here is an event. People beg you for tickets whether you’re going to a press preview or a red carpet gala, while a Cinephile queue exclusive to the town’s film buffs forms a long line. The festival takes place about two weeks and is very crowded. The films and the kind of people you see in Cannes are diverse — Aishwarya Rai, Maggie Cheung and Hanif Kureishi are past jury members, while films from Japan, Iran and even India has nabbed the festival’s top award. In fact, love of film eclipses the festival’s insecurities about language or identity, a spirit echoed in Tokyo and many other film festivals around the world taken seriously.
Can you imagine if the Malaysian Olympics committee banned players from making certain moves or adopting a particular style?
I was at the opening of Freedom Film Fest (FFF) last Saturday, where I managed to catch a world premiere. I saw Amir Muhammad and Badrul Hisham Ismail‘s Kisah Pelayaran Ke Terengganu. Featuring interviews with various Terengganu men while referencing Munshi Abdullah‘s 1838 text Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan, the 65-minute film painted an amusing but poignant look at East Malaysia. Probing the “Malay dilemma” as a leadership problem — a contrast from former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad‘s belief that it is inherent — Munshi’s text was the kind of thing you’d expect to resurface at a film festival because these are places for you to explore ideas. Amir and Badrul’s film also came after Unlocking Bengoh, a documentary unearthing the extensive displacement of native Sarawakian communities in Malaysia today. Made with the FFF Film Grant, Nova Goh‘s 25-minute piece drew passionate dialogue post-screening.
You wanna know what I saw throughout Festival Filem Malaysia last year? Nabil Ahmad, twice. Did I catch a single film during the press meetings or the actual event? Nope, only brief clips during makan sessions in swanky places. Makan while sitting in between media members, nominees, VIPs, and FINAS officials.
You see, film festivals are special because these are places to watch and recognise methods, cultures, stories and issues new, exciting, and vital. They’re not supposed to be majlis akhir tahun-type affairs to flatter your bestsellers and shareholders.
FFM is clearly not a film festival. It should rebrand itself as a national awards ceremony and call itself Anugerah Filem Malaysia or something nationalistic. It possesses neither the innovation, attention, urgency nor spectacle to give Malaysian films a boost as a standalone film festival. It also prioritises gratification over cultivating a film culture, choosing to present viewers with all the flash of an awards show and none of the actual film. Cannes knows the first thing about film appreciation: it has a special program which enables 13-15 year olds access to screenings. Even the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) made the effort of bringing its festival to our shores last year. By merely glazing over the most cerebral part of a film festival — the very films themselves — shouldn’t FFM be renamed even more accurately to Malam Anugerah Persatuan Penerbit Filem Negara?
On the plus side, it’s really up to anybody to pick up the slack.
Those who want a more credible film awards ceremony dedicated to Malaysian film, look towards the next Majlis Pengkritik Filem Kuala Lumpur. The namesake awards has been running since 2012 but its much more adept at recognising the merits of film, given its panel of industry participants spanning film critics, writers, editors and journalists. 2013 for example saw no Filem Terbaik as the panel considered local filmmaking that year inadequate for the coveted title — the same year FFM handed top honours to Nik Amir Mustapha‘s KIL. MPFKL is also far more updated, awarding Best Actor to Lee Sai Peng a full year before his RM17 million-grossing Filem Bukan Di Dalam Bahasa Melayu was ineligible for Filem Terbaik at FFM because it was predominantly in local Chinese dialects.
But if you want a proper film festival to experience something and even find yourself in conversation with like-minded people, drop by PJ Live Arts because Freedom Film Fest runs till Saturday. Norhayati Kaprawi‘s NHK-commissioned documentary on a female pesantren leader premieres today evening, while Yatna Pelangi and Mayk Wongkar‘s Pertanyaan Untuk Bapak about a man who seeks his former rapist will screen on Thursday. No Munafik in this lineup.
Freedom Film Fest runs from 20 – 27 August 2017. Results for Best International Film, Best SEA Film (Short) and Best SEA Film will be announced on Saturday night. For more details, read our previous write-up and visit the official website! Featured image from Kisah Pelayaran Ke Terengganu.