I won't go into details about how it took me over an hour to locate the new campus in Puncak Alam because I actually thought it was held at my old campus in Shah Alam, but suffice to say I was impressed by the new (4 years old) campus.
The dialog was titled Pengantarabangsaan Filem Malaysia, which was quite a mouthful. For those who has trouble managing Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu, it means (roughly) Internationalising Malaysian Films.
Chaired by FACT lecturer and former filmmaker, Dr Mahadi J. Murat, the dialog invited Shuhaimi Baba, Yasmin Ahmad and Khalid Maulud to give their takes on the subject.
Shuhaimi and Yasmin, as most of you would already know are easily the two top female filmmakers in town. Khalid, however, was representing the (usually absent) FINAS DG En Mahyuddin. Khalid's post in FINAS is as the Director of Development.
I am not going to give you a blow by blow detail of the dialog, which was entertaining though ultimately un-noteworthy, but here's a gist of the session.
FINAS, on the other hand, said that it has made efforts to help develop filmmakers to be able to make international standard works - these include giving small grants to first time filmmakers and of course establishing the infamous revolving fund (loans) for established filmmakers.
Some of the industry players attending - including Encik Fuad (3rd from left) from GBSB and Dr Hatta (white shirt on the right)
What was rather sad to note was that FINAS has not yet come to grasp what it needs to take to our films abroad (or not - depending on who you are as a filmmaker). Yasmin simply states that all you need to do is to make 'filem yang best'. When the 'filem tu best' it travels.
Khalid also said that FINAS rents booths at various world class film markets regularly to help local producers market their products to global buyers. Next month, for example, they will be in Los Angeles for the America Film Market. Other markets they participate include MIPCOM (in Cannes) and Hongkong Film and TV Market.
However, that's the only thing they do - rent booths. Producers have to fork out their own funds to attend these markets and sell their products. There isn't even a marketing plan to market Malaysian films (most foreign producers and distributors have already set up meetings and promoted their products earlier on - including sending brochures and pre-publicity materials). I assume producers who participate or tag along FINAS's programmes at these markets go there blindly.
But does 'pengantarabangsaan' only means marketing products overseas in hope that buyers buy our products? For example, I believe Yasmin's movies, Shuhaimi's movies, Yu Hang's movies, Amir Muhammad's movies, were all bought up or considered for distribution when they win festivals overseas and not through FINAS's efforts. I also believe that they do not participate in these FINAS global marketing spree.
Does this mean that our current crop of filmmakers, who are making waves overseas, see FINAS as redundant or even unimportant when it comes to pushing their products overseas? They (the indie filmmakers) should have been invited to speak their minds - but then again I always have this feeling that FINAS is a Malay-centric organisation (if you know what I mean) which is why they don't overly support non-main stream producers and filmmakers.
Grand Brilliance head honcho Encik Ahmad Fuad Onah (who is also the new GAFIM President) also gave his input and said that private sector producers like him should not be blamed for not risking producing films that may be well received overseas (especially festivals). Producers like him try to make commercial movies that make money like the latest Senario (which has made nearly RM4 million since its release last week). He has bosses to report to and the only way to make these bosses happy is to make films that sell - and as much as he may want to make quality movies for the world market - he cannot risk that.
He said the government or the authorities responsible should give grants to producers or directors to produce such movies without having to worry about 'pulangan' or returns.
I also had to ask something. So I asked En. Khaled a simple question: "Does FINAS consider any current filmmaker capable of producing world class films?".
He paused and nodded said yes. I asked him to name them. He pointed to Yasmin.
Only one? Never mind. So I asked him, if FINAS, in all its years and experience in knowing what the world needs, has identified Yasmin as someone capable of making world class movies, why not give her grants to make more movies?
In fact, Dr Hatta, also added that such a move would be wise. He suggested selecting 5 directors every year and funding each one RM3 million to make movies 'close to their hears'. He added that this should be a five year project. Such a move will bring Malaysian movies to the forefront of international film scene.
Oh yes, I also asked why FINAS was willing to spend RM30million on a Dolby sound studio when it would take 1000 movies to pay back its investment. He said, this is FINAS's way of helping the local industry by creating world class infrastucture for the industry. FINAS does not see the investment as a profit making venture as it is part of their social duty to do so.
So I told him to use the same argument when financing quality movies. Give funding to selected directors and not worry too much about the box office returns.
He also said that they have already given grants to films and mentioned Shuhaimi's movie 1957 as a movie that had received a special grant. Hmmmmm....I think this is the first time a FINAS official has made known to the public that Shuhaimi's movie was given a special grant. Interesting.
Anyway, I have had enough of listening to conflicting answers and didn't want to spoil the spirit of Raya over a stupid dialogue session, so I allowed to let sleeping dogs lie. Who knows, my postings here could come back to haunt me.