Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is Film Part of Our Cultural Heritage?

Wahhh the title sounds so serious doesn't it? Well maybe it should be. It is a serious subject. Even the Americans consider film very much a part of their culture and heritage.
What do you think? Can something that is only just over a hundred years old be considered part of our culture?
Then there is also the on going debate about film as an art form (that's another story). Yeah yeah...film a legitimate art form? Well shoot I don't know. I can't give you an expert analysis of why film should or should not be considered art. Maybe Mansor Puteh can ( I mean he did go to Columbia University didn't he?).
I can't also say (with complete confidence) that film is also part of our cultural heritage - that is if compared to our architecture, our cuisine and other things like batik or music. It would be difficult for me. Or anyone else.
Yet, the film industry is under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. So, if that is the case - which is it? Culture? Arts? Or heritage?
It's definitely not heritage or Warisan because the department under the ministry do not include film as part of their mission.
It cannot be Arts or Seni (this includes performing arts) because film isn't spoken in the same breath as theatre, dance or music. For example, the Istana Budaya showcases theatrical extravaganzas, cultural performances and musicals - but no screenings of movies.
So shouldn't it be under Culture (Budaya)? I don't know.
It is however definitely under the 'management' of FINAS or the National Film Development Corporation which reports to the Ministry. So where exactly is it categorised under?
Nevertheless, if film is part of our culture, arts or heritage - shouldn't its history be considered something important? Something sacred?
Maybe. FINAS did build and financed the Galeri Perfileman. (In London - a similar and much more better gallery would be MOMI - Museum of Moving Images).
The film gallery is a mish-mash collection of fact and fiction (or rather wrong facts) from the history of Malaysian film. You can go through the whole gallery within 15 minutes and not be awed by it (like I was when I visited MOMI).
It is like a gallery that was done on a whim. Something you just throw into the oven and wallah and hey presto - a gallery. Guess not many of you knew it existed and if you did, you don't even know where it is right?
Now, if I was a film historian and researcher, and if film is a cultural heritage where would I go to see prints of classic Malay movies? Finas Galeri? Kekkwa? The national archives? Don't ask me...I don't know. I have my own collection but most are just pirated VCD's of P. Ramlee movies, and some of my father's too.
Shouldn't the national archives or FINAS locate this local gems? Find out if there is a print still available somewhere? If BFI (British Film Institute) and the American Film Academy can search the whole world for missing prints of classic films, why can't we? Who knows that somewhere in the Hongkong Shaw Brothers' laboratory lies the negatives of old Malay Film Production studio movies. Movies like Si Tora or Miskin or Cinta.
If these are cultural items, or pieces of art, or even little segments of our social memories, shouldn't we be trying to salvage, restore and save them? At least, if this was done, the future generations will have access to such classical movies (and not just access to movies with titles like Anak Mami or Jangan Pandang Belakang).
There's so many things that should be searched, salvaged and restored.
What about the equipment used by the old studios from Jalan Ampas? (I know some still exist because I went to the studio last year and saw it with my own eyes).
What about original cinemas posters? All the single sheeters and 16 sheeters make great viewing in a real museum dedicated to film. Then there's the promotional materials - black and white pictures, press releases, magazine articles and reports.
What about the props? In MOMI, the curators even managed to find and collect the slate boards of classic movies. There's also the costumes, original scripts and other film paraphernalia used in the production of the films.
In Galeri Finas, we see some of this. Some are the property of one Jins Shamsudin - and this include his collection of antique still cameras (which got nothing to do with our national film history). In Filem Negara's lobby in Petaling Jaya, there's a better collection of antique movie cameras on show - including the massive Mitchell cameras used during the 50s and 60s.
Okay, even if we manage to get all this stuff, at least when you display it in museums or the gallery, please get someone with enough intelligence to caption the items.
When you go to museums, the captions are important. You don't just write: "Antique Mitchell camera used in Jalan Ampas studios".
It should tell a story. Who used it? Which films used it? What are its characteristics as a cinematographic tool? Instead, what we have are just uninspired labels slapped on without much thought. For Pete's sake, labels are not captions.
You know, I feel angry when it is easier for me to find information on Indonesian film history than of our own. They have already published an encyclopedia on the Indonesian film history. We haven't.
I also believe the Indonesians have created an institution called Sinematek Indonesia (SI) whose mission among other things is to collate and archive their own cinematic history (including the search, salvaging and restoration of classic films) - something they are proud of.
Excerpt from website about SI :
"Sinematek Indonesia was first set up on October 20, 1975 and founded by the governor of Jakarta as part of the Umar Ismail Film Center. Sinematek Indonesia was established not just to support the national film industry and as a safe keeping for old films, but also to preserve national culture. Besides serving as a depository for film, Sinematek Indonesia also serves the community by providing services such as documentation, library, publication, and information for students and researchers. "
"As an institution that plays a great role in developing society’s appreciation for culture and history, one of Sinematek Indonesia’s challenges is to reach a wider audience and raise public awareness."
"Because a film archive preserves our past for us, its existence is a significant part of a country’s national heritage."
Aren't we proud of our own cinematic heritage? I guess not because it's helluva difficult to find any information on it.

1 comment:

Isnor Dzulkarnain Jaafar said...

Hi.. I'm doing a research on Jalan Ampas studios and i stumbled upon your blog. My name is Isnor Dzulkarnain Jaafar, 27. I am the founder of facebook group 'Singapore Malay Film Society', www.smfs.sg. One of our mission is to revive back the golden era of Malay Films in Singapore. The so ever sad state of the Jalan Ampas studios make me want to rebuilding and do sumthing with my own bare hands. That is why this year, our group would like to conduct a small tour around jalan ampas studios. We want to show everyone.. if the pple 40 years ago can do it.. y can't us now in this modern day of age?

Insyallah, my group and I will do what I can to revive/rebuild it and bring back its glory. This is our mission. Our goal.

Isnor
isnor@smfs.sg
+65 9689 5560