Sunday, December 27, 2009

FADE OUT 2009: FADE IN 2010

Another year comes to an end.
2009 will become another calendar thrown into the dustbins of history.
For most producers, 2009 was a year to forget. Another annus horriblis.
It was the year that RTM pursued its flawed pitching/tender policies which destroyed many independent producers who suddenly found themselves with possible billings of less than a quarter million for the year. They floundered, they closed shop. Yet, companies like Gamma Taktik flourished whilst quality producers died by the wayside. And there seem to be no respite.
A few months back, another pitching session was called by RTM. Apart from the few Chinese New Year programmes that were offered to Chinese producers, Malay producers enter the new year wondering when they will get the call from RTM. Wondering if any of their ideas or proposals will be lucky enough to be accepted by RTM.
However, some producers were lucky as they can approach Astro and TV3. But these are far and few as each station has their own commissioning system and policies.
TV3's Primeworks, however, is aiming to become the country's number one content developer and this will be in direct competition with independant producers who do not have the financial and logistical clout that Primeworks (which has production company Grand Brilliance in their panel) has.
Astro is the best bet for innovative and creative producers.
Now with the new Malay channels, Astro is seeking to produce top quality content for local viewers. Their intent is clearly shown when they commissioned high quality mini-series from local producers for their Suatu Ketika slot. These 8-hour miniseries has been a boon to producers who have been lamenting with the miniscule budgets that other station offers.
Whilst not all producers are offered the chance to produce Suatu Ketika titles, those who have been given the opportunity eagerly went to produce some of the best local TV productions ever seen in recent years. This include titles like Rosly Dhobi, 10, Senoi Praaq and Korban 44.
There is talk that the project will be continued and that factual based stories like Botak Chin, Sybil Kartigesu, Tun Fatimah and the Selangor Civil War of 1870 will be produced by various invited producers and directors.
This bodes well for producers and directors with vision.
Meanwhile, in the feature film scene, not many memorable movies were produced and screened these year. Just trying to remember some of the titles that made it to the cinema would be a tough enough task. For those who can remember the following are some of the titles screened in 2009.
Scenario The Movie, Tsifu Tonga, Jin Notti, Jalang, Geng, Talentime, Papadom, Jangan Tegur, Bohsia, Sayang, My Spy, Wayang, Jin Hutan, Rasukan Ablasa, Maut, Santau, Lembing Awang Pulang ke Dayang, Sell Out, Karaoke, Sayang You Can Dance, Syurga Cinta, Skrip 7707, Setem, Jangan pandang Belakang Congkak, Pisau Cukur, Momok The Movie, Pulau Asmara and Muallaf.

Lowest box office performer goes to Pulau Asmara which according to FINAS website only garnered RM20,000 after one week's screening. Not sure if it could overtake Lembing Awang's RM90,000 box office take.

Biggest earner was of course the animated Geng which took in a whopping RM6.2 million beating the surprisingly popular Jangan Pandang Belakang Congkak which raked in RM6.1 million. However, the latter was more profitable since it only cost about RM1.5 million to produce unlike Geng which costs RM4 million. If these figures (acquired from FINAS's website) are true, it means Geng did not make a profit because the cinemas' take of 50% of total box office would have made its gross profit at only RM3.1 million which means that it is still RM900,000 in the black.

What is in store for 2010? More of the same unfortunately. Here are some of the titles lilsted:
Misteri Dendam Balan-balan, Estet, Shhhh Dia Datang, Janin, Eeeee Hantu, Kantoi, Duhai Si Pari Pari, Gentayangan, Lu Fikirlah Sendiri De Movie, Kapoww!!! Sereemmm! Jibam The Movie, Kecoh Betui and Syirik.

Sad isn't it? Any particular titles that catches your attention or fancy? Any of the above titles that cries out : Yes This Is The Movie That Malaysians Can Be Proud Of? Nope. None.

So I guess the mediocrity of 2009 will definitely flow into 2010 where we will be fed with more jaded horror movies and slapstick comedy. Imagine - most of the movies listed above were approved by FINAS and SME under the film loan scheme. As it is, there was a big hoohah over failed servicing of the loans on titles that failed at the box office. I guess more titles will join the queue of movies not getting enough at the box office to pay back the FINAS loans.

Once again, just by looking at most of the titles, how in the hell did these titles get approved and received loans by FINAS? Jibam The Movie? Kantoi? Kecuh Betui?

Maybe I should submit a comedy skrip called FINAS the Movie....maybe by just telling the nation the whole truth about FINAS, it'll be the comedy film of the year. Yes, true, actual fact is stranger and funnier than fiction.

Friday, December 25, 2009

FOOL'S GOLD - MAT VS MAMAT

The unprecedented clamor to covet the post of the President of the Malaysian Film Directors' Association (FDAM) is mind boggling to say the least.
The Association, which is the only association in the country that has as its members Malaysian film directors (including TV directors), will be having their Annual General Meeting this coming 30th December. This is after suddenly postponing (three days before) the previously announced date which was 20th December.
Most members who had cleared their schedules for the 20th of December suddenly find themselves not being able to attend the 30th December AGM. Those not able to change their plans and attend the AGM include Afdlin Shauki and Hans Isaac.
It is estimated at least 20 people who are supporting one particular opposing candidate will not be able to attend on the 30th.
In one fell blow, incumbent president Ahmad Ibrahim or more popularly known as Mat London, improved his chances of yet securing another victory as the association's president.
There seem to be no real challenge to Mat London's leadership, except maybe from Mamat Khalid, director of Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang and the upcoming Estet, who has announced that he will be offering his services as FDAM President at the AGM.
Whilst Mamat is trying to get his act together, rounding up the support of some impressive members in the industry, Mat London has been securing endorsements from his own fan base quietly and without much fanfare.
What is sad to me is that the members of the association, who are film and tv directors, who claim to be intellectuals and thinkers, can't seem to realise that the association has not been functioning like it should or could be.
Most too seem to be oblivious about the lack of proper management of their own association. The members' lack of understanding of the association's constitution and the rules and regulations of running as association under the Registrar of Societies Act is also disconcerting.
Such a core understanding of what an association should be, has led to what FDAM is today, a shadow of what it once hoped to be and the laughing stock of the industry.
Why? Well, for one, for an association of so-called elite filmmakers, it currently uses for their office an old container offered to them by FINAS.
Instead of rejecting the offer, FDAM has made it their office for the past 8 years. This is the image of the association if outsiders come to visit FDAM.
With the RM30,000 grant the association receive from FINAS annually, they could have done better by getting or renting a better address and space for its members to call 'home away from home'. So, it will be interesting to check the association's accounts and balance sheet to see where that RM30,000 went to.
However, what FDAM has also failed to do, under the current regime, is to set a path to make its members a respectable lot. As supposed leaders in the film industry, FDAM's voice is hardly heard nor considered eloquent or relevant.
The current leaders tenure is nearing its end, and I think it is a travesty if the members allow them to be re-elected once again.
Then again, those who should lead the community of directors don't seem to want to challenge Mat London and Co.
The members are in a messy quagmire and it will be interesting to see how they vote come next weekend.
I feel, and I hope to be proven wrong, that come this 30th December, members of FDAM will once again vote for mediocrity and self-mutilation by voting in again the incumbents.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

ASIA-PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD

Come 17th December, Kaohsiung Taiwan, will host the 53rd Asia-Pacific Film Festival. This is a surprise as most people have already thought the the festival had died an untimely death.
Only five years ago, the 50th APFF was held in Kuala Lumpur. The year after, the 51st edition was held in Taipei.
Hong Kong was supposed to host the 52nd edition but due to the global recession, the festival was cancelled. The next host - Jakarta, in 2008, also decided against organising it.
After two years of cancellations, most people in the industry have already assumed that the festival, the oldest film festival in Asia, had run its course.


However, Taiwan seemed to want to revive this festival, and next week, it will welcome one of the smallest numbers of entries ever recorded for the festival.
Malaysia is sending three films - Afdlin Shauki's Papadom, Hatta Azad Khan's Wayang and Yasmin Ahmad's Talentime.
Selection criteria? Papadom was best film at the recent Malaysian Film Festival held in Sabah. Talentime won best director plaudits for the late Yasmin. And somehow, Wayang, which did not many awards at the recent Malaysian Film Festival, received accolades as the Best Film in TV3's annual Skrin Awards.
Not many Malaysian filmmakers will make the trip to Taiwan next week. Most in the industry knew nothing about the festival (until today's newspaper article in Berita Harian), but those who were informed realised that unless their producers pay for the trip or if FINAS picks up the tab, only then would they go.
The biggest surprise however is the sad omission of Karaoke, the first Malaysian movie to be shown in Cannes after 14 long years.
Malaysian filmmaker Chris Chong's internationally acclaimed Karaoke was screened at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival from May this year.

Karaoke (scene from the movie shown above) was nominated for the Camera d’Or (Golden Camera), the award for the best first feature film presented in any one of the Cannes’ selections (Official Selection, Directors’ Fortnight or International Critics’ Week). This distinction went unheralded in Malaysia and Karaoke's entry in Cannes this year was a bigger coup than Uwei Haji Shaari's Kaki Bakar which was screened under the Un Certain Regard category in 1995.
I guess a Malaysian movie which was selected to be screened in Cannes is not good enough to be selected by the Persatuan Pengeluar Filem Malaysia (PFM) as our country's representative to the 53rd APFF next week. I know the reason too. Firstly, the movie did not use Bahasa Malaysia as its main language (the filmmaker thought the most important language in his piece is film language) and the most glaring - the producer is not a member of PFM. Errmmm wait a minute, are Primeworks/Chilli Peppers and Uitm members of PFM?

Friday, December 4, 2009

WORLD CLASS FILM STUDIES COME TO SINGAPORE

Once again we get bypassed for quality film education or production opportunities. Previously, I personally felt sad that Lucasfilms decided to start a facility in Singapore some years ago, allowing direct intake of talented animation graduates in Singapore to find work on international animation projects.
At that time, we were expounding the virtues of our Multimedia Super Corridor and other spin off projects from the initiative. But all that is now water under the bridge, just like our expensive multi-million dollar Saladin The Movie Trailer.
Now, New York University, one of the best places any filmmaker could have to learn about filmmaking has set up a center in Singapore.
This is the link to their website : TISCHAsia
Now, here's the kicker, the resident Artistic Director for the campus in Singapore is non-other than multi-Academy Award winner Oliver Stone. Serious! No kidding.
The institution offers Degree and Post Graduate course in Film Production, Writing and Digital Animation.
A quick look at the Masters in Fine Arts course, which has a two-year duration, will take you back about US$41,000.00. (Just about RM150,000).
Now if FINAS knew about this, or even MOSTI, and if our Ministry of Communication, Culture and Arts are serious in producing world class filmmakers, they should think seriously about sending and sponsoring a batch of maybe 12 post graduate students to this school.
Once these pioneer batch graduates from NYU TischAsia, they can then teach ten students each in three years time. By 2015, we would then have at least 100 world class filmmakers in our midst.
Is this a dream? Maybe, but it's an achievable dream. FINAS is thinking of spending millions in doing co-production with South American companies, they spend millions financing film festivals and events, they spend millions sending their officers to film markets overseas, they lend millions to untested producers and filmmakers who either screw up the production or make movies that no one wants to see.
So why not just put aside about RM2 million to send 12 talented or young filmmakers who have shown potential to this NYU Tisch Asia Campus to do their post graduate Masters course and actually improve our dilapidated film industry within the next five years.
Please???

Saturday, November 14, 2009

FINAS OFFICIAL SAYS I SOUND LIKE A BROKEN RECORD

On the final day of the seminar organized by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)/Malaysian Intellectual Property Organisation (MyIPO) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, I think I stepped on FINAS’s toes a little too hard. Its representative at the seminar publicly said to me “you sound like a broken record”.

Hmmmmm….if he is the official representative of FINAS, his comments would also represent the official stand of FINAS right?

What happened?

Well, you see, it was the final Question and Answer session before the end of the seminar, when I stood up to comment and query the FINAS representative’s earlier presentation and comments made as a member of the final panel.

I asked:” Why is FINAS so interested in trying to market our films overseas, spending hundreds of thousands of ringgit flying all over the world, when they should help market Malaysian finals back home first, or maybe even regionally first.”

I continued: “In Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, and with the exception of Singapore, most movies hope to make back their money domestically first. Marketing their film overseas is a bonus – if it happens.

“You don’t make a film (at least in Asia) with the hope of making a profit from overseas sales without first wanting to make a profit back home. So what I am suggesting is for FINAS to seriously look to help develop, market and promote Malaysian movies domestically, and for the time being spend less in promoting our films overseas. I wasn’t sure why such a request would irk FINAS.

I also said: “Right now there is an average of 300,000 regular viewers and supporters of Malay movies or Malaysian movies, there should concentrate on how to increase this number of people viewing local movies.”

The FINAS representative immediately replied that I sounded like a broken record.

“I don’t know where Anwardi got this figure of 300,000 from. I want to know if Anwardi has got the addresses and phone numbers of these people or not. If what Anwardi say is true, can he explain how come two years ago, ticket sales was 3 million and last year it went up to over 5.29 million? Where does Anwardi get his numbers?”

“As for us going to festivals overseas, we don’t do it because we want to. We do it at the request of the industry. It is the associations that ask us to organize these trips to markets overseas. We listen to the associations and industry, WE DON’T LISTEN TO THE OPINION OF AN INDIVIDUAL!”

Unfortunately, the panel chairman stopped the beginning of a very interesting debate because I would actually gone on to thank the FINAS rep for proving my figure with his statement.

Firstly, the number 300,000 is not something that I pulled out of a hat. The number is the figure mentioned by the President of the Film Producer’s Association, Encik Ahmad Fuad Onah, in a previous seminar held in FINAS.

Anyway, the figure the FINAS representative mentioned was for the annual ticket sales. Let’s take his biggest number, the 5 million ticket sales last year. He actually proved that Ahmad Fuad’s statement was not accurate but in fact the PPFM’s President’s figure was actually quite generous. The number was LESS!!

Last year, according to FINAS’s website, 25 films were screened. And yes, 5.29 million tickets were sold. This means that an average of just over 200,000 tickets were sold per movie. Not 300,000 as what Ahmad Fuad Onah and I believed it to be. The number is actually quite smaller. In fact, in FINAS’s website, it states under the 2008 statistics column: ‘purata jumlah penonton - 212,000.” (Average viewership per film is 212,000 viewers).

Yes, he was right when he said more 5 million tickets were sold. However, this does not mean that there are 5 million Malay movie fans out there. It was, and FINAS’s website confirms it, an average of 212,000 viewers per movie.

That’s what FINAS statistics says. Not Ahmad Fuad’s. Nor mine. And therefore, if we had only ONE movie screened last year, and the ticket sales for the same year is 5.29 million, yes, I would agree that there is probably more than 5 million viewers that watch local movies,

Now, as for the industry wanting FINAS to find international markets for their movies and FINAS listening to these wishes by the industry (associations), let me try and make some sense of this statement.

For one, the industry has asked for many, many things from FINAS, but NOT ALL were granted. Which is fine. We cannot be and we should not be spoon fed or even fully subsidised by the government. But how come this particular request was given due recognition?

Does FINAS think there are billions of Ringgit waiting for Malaysian movies out there? Are there distributors and cinema owners in Europe and the Americas that are dying to screen Malaysian movies? Doesn’t FINAS give advice to the industry when they make unrealistic demands? Why doesn’t FINAS tell the industry, “Hey guys, why don’t you buck up locally first? Why don’t we try to promote locally produced movies amongst non-Malays? That’s a huge market waiting to be tapped IN MALAYSIA!”

But fine, let’s say that FINAS always acquiesce to industry’s demands and, as the FINAS rep says, they listen to the industry. Well. if the industry wants FINAS to start a national cinema chain (which they have asked for for the past decade) why haven’t they done so? Maybe because such endeavours doesn’t entail any overseas trips?

Anyway, my ramblings in my blog or at workshops and seminars will not make any difference right? Of course not. According to him, FINAS doesn’t listen to the individual’s opinions. We, filmmakers, who always consider ourselves as individuals first and everything else second, are nothing. FINAS only listens to the industry. Not the industry players'. Not individuals'.

I had better stop. I am beginning to sound like a broken record.

(Endnote: Another participant at the seminar told me: “Di, if you sound like a broken record, what does FINAS sound like? Hmmmmmm.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

FILM FUND FIASCO - WHO IS TO BLAME?

In the front page of the Sunday Times today - REEL MESS RM50m loan scheme for film producers a failure.
And the blame is being put solely on the producers who got the loans and produced non-performing movies at the box office and also those who didn't even finish making their films.
Of the so many people who received the loans, the DG of Finas commended the KRU brothers for producing Cicakman that made money and actually serviced their loans. The FINAS KP actually told other producers to emulate them.
Now, back to the question at hand. Firstly, the fund is a loan. Not a grant. It is to be paid back to the government.
It is managed by FINAS and SME Bank. The vet and approve the loans.
There is a committee that vets the proposals. This committee recommends and, at a recent seminar in FINAS, claims to oversee the production (I wrote about this in an earlier posting). The supervisory factor it seems is so strict that a producer who changes the approve cast or even location would be fined a sum for doing so.
Now, having said that, if the recipient of the loan fails to produce a movie (that they approve) that made back its money, who is to blame? The committee that approves it or the producer that got the money and spends it any which way he can?
For Pete's sake, it's a loan. It's not a grant.
Didn't the committee check if the recipients are capable of paying back the loan?
Wasn't there a stop gap measure imposed to ensure that the loans are paid back?
Didn't any of FINAS lawyers aware of the loophole that states the loan will only be paid when the movie is screened? So the producers who failed to complete their movies and not get it on screen need NOT service the loan? Wow!!
Man!! I wished I had taken a loan, spent a bit of it on a fictitious movie and the rest on a Mercedes or a Beamer, and just sit tight and smile. Fuck the movie. I don't have to pay it back because I am not going to screen it.
So what is the KP of FINAS doing about this? Looks like he's going for a knee jerk solution.
He is going to review the disbursement of the loan.
Instead of the previous 60 percent up front disbursement, he is thinking of releasing only 10 percent. The rest will be released in stages to ensure the funds is used responsibly.
And I thought he has production experience. He was, if I am not mistaken, the MD of Pesona Pictures before he took on the helm at FINAS. So he should understand that the burn rate in fillm production is FAST! You have a 30-day shoot schdule, and you spend a million buck within that 30-days. Money MUST be in place to ensure smooth production. Now is FINAS thinks that progressive payments to the producer is the solution, and that the producers need to request payments every five or seven days from FINAS, he is clearly not in the right frame of mind.
Everyone knows that dealing with most government departments, getting payments ready and approved takes weeks, even months, and not days.
The paper work, the approvals, the procedures and the signatories required are crazy. In this scenario, either the production of the movie comes to a screaming halt and the personnel jumping ship, or a 30-day production schedule turns into an expensive 90-day staggered shoot.
Nevertheless, the BIG question is, if the film fails, at the box office or even at the production stage, who shoulders the failure - FINAS or the producer?
Isn't it FINAS who approves the loan, and therefore in doing so, isn't it a rubber stamp signifying that they believe the producer and his product will make back the money?
Isn't it logical that they wouldn't have approved and released the money if they thought the movie won't make money right? Or has the criteria in receiving the funds changed? Or are they now approving loans for films that they think will fail or for producers they think will screw up the production?
Hey, if I were a producer, and I came up with a proposal to produce a movie about a chicken that can talk through its backside, and FINAS approves it, and yet it fails in the box office - why blame the me? Shouldn't you blame FINAS for thinking a movie about a chicken speaking through its arsehole can make back RM1.5m at the box office?
What do you think?
But I would rather also talk more about the reason for setting up the fund.
Wasn't part of the reason the fund was created was to develop in the film industry? To help serious filmmakers achieve their visions and for putting Malaysia onto the world cinematic map?
Out of the few titles mentioned in the article that were given loans - Aduhh Saliha, The Chini, Gentayangan, Kantoi, Eeee Hantu and Jibam - were any of these titles of movies that would have made a difference in our cinematic inventory? Were these movies of quality? Were they made by filmmakers who want to make a difference? Were these titles of movies that we can be proud of screening at festivals overseas?
At least, if they fail at the box office, the movies can still be considered by certain parties as khazanah budaya (and by this a box office failure might get even a Ministry to buy the movie wholesale in order to pay off the loan - but even then you need political clout and even bigger strings to pull).
Nevertheless, I guess with titles like those mentioned above, there's no point even considering it as cultural products. So why were these movies approved in the first place? Was it more of a commercial decision than a cultural or artistic ones? Who approved them? And who oversaw the projects?
All these needs to be answered because producers like me, who are thinking of getting such loans, will now suffer because the funds were 'mismanaged' and now it would be more difficult for genuine filmmakers to get loans or grants (if there are any).

Monday, October 26, 2009

ARE TAMIL AND HINDI MOVIES MORE APPRECIATED BY LOCALS?

Isn't it strange that in a country like Malaysia, its own local films are shunned by the masses. Contrary to what you may have heard or read, there is actually no real revival of Malay language movies. If there was, don't you think the cinema operators would have identified or even operate a hall or cineplex meant specifically for Malay laguage movies?
Yet there hasn't.
This means that cinema operators feel that Malay language movies cannot sustain a cinema hall because the fans of Malay movies, and most of them have to be Malays, are not regularly watching these Malay language movies.
However, there is enough of a fan base for Tamil and Hindi movies to actually have cinema halls catering for this 'small' community. Strange.
For example, in Kuala Lumpur and PJ I know of at least four cinema halls are considered 'Indian cinemas' - State, Federal, Capital Square and Odeon cinema. These halls book more Tamil and Hindi titles than most cinemas, and surprisingly, these cinemas make money and get regular patronage from the Indian community.
So you can excuse my confusion if I wonder why Malaysia, being a Malay majority country, cannot have one cinema hall that caters to only Malay language movies.
In my opinion, as long as Malay language movies are not considered viable products by the cinema operators, I cannot consider them (Malay languaged movies) as something loved and supported by Malays, less so Malaysians.
I don't know when this will change. Some say it's a chicken and egg situation.
Build a cinema chain for Malay movies first, and the fans will come.
But cinema operators want to see the fan base increase ten fold first before they can even consider creating a cinema chain specifically for screening Malay language movies.
There was once talk about creating a national cinema chain, to be managed and run by GLC's or even FINAS. However, I guess, even FINAS doesn't have the courage nor confidence to run a cinema chain for Malay-language movies or Made-in-Malaysia movies. If they think it was viable, they would have done so.
Maybe with the existence of a new RM200m fund announced recently, the plans for a nationalised cinema chain can be revived. Especially a digital cinema chain, allowing local filmmakers to produce and screen their movies in digital format.
These ideas and policies need brave and strong leadership in our industry. I don't think we have that. So it will not happen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

RM200 MILLION CARROT DANGLING IN FRONT OF FILMMAKERS

Yesterday's budget by the Prime Minister made filmmakers, advertising executives, content producers, musicians and animators drooling with anticipation. An RM200 million fund has been mentioned available to boost our content industry.
Whilst the details are not yet clear, the PM said that the fund will be managed and channeled through Bank Simpanan Nasional. This is a surprise as previously, most of the funds for filmmaking, were channeled through the SME Bank and the Bank Pembangunan.
There was also mentioned that the funds would have an easier mechanism for those applying for it.
So we wait with baited breath again for the fund to be clarified and materialize.
I remember still many months back, an announcement of an RM15 million fund to be created for filmmakers, specifically for those who want to produce patriotic, historical and cultural themed movies. When this was announced, new wannabe producers with political 'connections' suddenly appeared with new production companies proposing movies based on Hang Tuah, Mat Kilau and many other historical 'icons'. Til to date, nothing has materialised.
No FINAS official is willing to confirm the existence of such a fund. Some however said that they are still studying the creation of the fund. Some just said wait and see whilst a few actually told me, they were just waiting for the money to appear.
Meanwhile, savvy producers who knew people who knew other people, managed to find funding from other sources - especially from MDEC and MOSTI. These two institutions, it seems are more than willing to fund heavy visual effects laden movies to the tune of millions.
I won't mention which producers had received some of this rumoured funding and neither will I identify what movies were made from these funds, but what I can tell you is that these movies were not successful at the box office, to say the least. But what do the producers care, the funds they received, it is rumored, were actually grants or what we in the industry like to refer to as 'free money'. This means box office returns doesn't mean a thing to them.
Meanwhile, other serious producers await for more funding to be made available. Uwei Haji Shaari, one of the more well known Malaysian filmmakers in the global stage, actually found funding (not from FINAS) and is prepping his latest movie - AFTER more than ten years of struggling. I wish him well. I only wished that he should have found his funding much much earlier.
Nevertheless, on a positive note, we as filmmakers can just sit and hope that now with the RM200 million fund created, we will see the quality, and not quantity, of our local films improve by leaps and bounds.

Friday, October 16, 2009

STOP DEMONISING LOCAL MOVIES FOR THE ILLS OF SOCIETY!!!

I really hate it when politicians take pot shots at movies for their own warped ends. Why do they keep doing that I don't know.
I didn't want to even mention or touch upon the ongoing UMNO meet at PWTC. I got no reason to since every other blog covers it to death. However, when one Putri UMNO member takes pot shots at the movies, I can't but voice out my concern over such rhetoric.
Why oh why did this member be allowed to go to the platform and make a call to ban all horror and scary movies? Not only locally produced movies of such genre but also foriegn ones. According to her, if such movies were allowed to be produced, people would lose faith in religion (Islam). She wants producers to make movies of good moral values, proper storylines and meaningful subjects for the betterment of society.
And what's worse, her motion on this subject was PASSED!
Only last month, the Minister of Communication, Information and Culture announced that the Government would not support no condone movies or TV productions that highlight the rempit culture. Okay, that's one genre down the drain. Now horror movies.
This has been done before during the famous banning of VHS movies - VHS meaning violence, horror and sex. We barely recovered from that, until some producers started tweaking and testing the waters until Shuhaimi Baba broke the barrier with Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam.
Since then, producers became more courageous and now were brave enough even to produce pure horror movies like Histeria and Jangan Tegur. Not that they were any good, but they were genuine horror movies. What we cannot deny is that horror is a popular genre. Even a half baked production like Momok The Movie, based on my theater play Hantu Hantu Yang Saya Kenali, is raking in millions.
And as far as I know, there is no correlation nor study that proves such movies erode the viewers' faith in religion. Horror movies have been around since the Jalan Ampas days with early Hantu Kubur and Hantu Jerangkung movies.
"Booo!!! Seriously...does this face from the 60s scare you?
Who can also forget Jahlelawati's portrayal of Pontianak or Mariam Manado's Comel on the screen? I know it really looks dated when viewed today, but when it was released back in the 60s, it scared the pants of thousands of viewers.
And there were even horror movies from the US and England being screened. Malayans were introduced to werewolves, vampires. zombies and mummies through the silver screens.
S0 was there a marked decrease in anyone relinquishing their religious views since then? Did Muslims lose faith in God the minute they stepped out of the cinema halls after watching Dendam Pontianak or Sumpah Orang Minyak?
If not why the frequent fear by politicians and the powers that be, that horror movies can be detrimental to our psyche or our society and our religion?
If fact, I remember well when such movies actually made more Malays memorise as many ayats from the Quran as possible to ward of evil. The ayat Kursi also was especially memorised by children to protect themselves.
Is this a bad thing?
In the movies, the azan too was shown as being an effective way to chase evil away.
On the other hand, I also remember once, when we were not allowed to make Malay horror movies, Malay viewers went to see instead Chinese and English horror movies to sate their desires for such cinematic wares.
I could see instead, young kids beginning to believe that plastering yellow pieces of paper on the foreheads of zombies will make them stop hopping and also making the crucifix sign will ward off all evil.
Popular Hongkong Keongsi movies are loved by young and old, Malays and Chinese.
See? If we don't have Malay movies to show that verses from the Quran or specific doas are used to protect oneself, young Malaysians would instead pick up from the foreign movies other funny explanations on how to get rid of ghosts and monsters. These include using garlic bouquets, driving oak stakes into the hearts of vampires and even holding your breath to confuse Keongsis.
I really really hope that calmer heads and clearer minds run our political arena. There are so many other important issues to focus on. Banning horror movies is not one of them.
If you want to ban something that has been proven to be deadly then ban long public holidays. We all know that long public holidays create massive traffic exodus called balik kampung. And hundreds have died and thousands maimed and injured every time such holidays take place. This is fact.
As far as I know, no horror movie made in Malaysia has killed a single person.
So which is worse?
So stop picking on filmmakers. As it is, our censorship is already stifling. Stop demonising our local films and let us make movies for the masses and give them what they want.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

NEXT DOCUS FOR AWANI...YEAY!!!

Awani has just commissioned me to do three more documentaries by year's end. Had a meeting recently and the three documentaries would basically be reflections on certain events that occurred in 2009.
One is about the sidelining of the English language in our education system - especially the retraction of teaching Mathematics and Science in English. I plan to approach this documentary, though 30 minutes in duration, in a Micheal Moorish documentary style. A light hearted look at the issue. Hopefully Awani can accept this treatment.
The second one is a look baack at the performing arts scene in Malaysia in 2009.
The third, which will be the biggie, is an in-depth documentary on environmental issues and finding out where Malaysia stands on these issues. This would be interesting as United Nations has just announced that it was disappointed with the recent environmental talks held in Bangkok which is a precursor to the more important Copenhagen meet before the year's end. The Copenhagen meet is important because the UN is trying to replace the soon-to-end Kyoto Protocol with a sterner and more firm declaration for all to agree on.
I know most of you really don't think going green is not important or rather most feel that the global environmental problem is not yet a crisis and if it was, it's the problem of governments and not individual citizens.
I belong to this group. I am hardly a green person.
Nevertheless, I have been watching documentaries over the past weeks about global heating and other environmental problems.
And then the tsunami in Samoa happened, and followed by the storms in Vietnam and Philippines.
A few days back, thousands died in Padang in a massive 7.6 earthquake followed by a 6.6 aftershock a day later.
I was thinking - maybe Mother Nature trying to tell us something? Is she angry? Is she saying that all the previous signs that she has shown should not have been ignored? Is that why within a fortnight she showed her might?
These recent events, has made me think about my position in the whole issue.
And I think I would want to know what other Malaysians think about it too. What more the positions of other Malaysians - both laypersons and scholars, along with the people in charge of policy making.
Through my documentary, I would want to know if the Malaysian government is just giving lip service but maybe not that serious about taking part in the global checking of pollution and other dangerous emissions from industries?
What about our private sector? Are they ignoring the need to be more conscious about green matters too?
I hope to shift through the chaff and find answers. And if I can't find answers, at least I want to get people to ask questions, because I believe now, that we really cannot be selfish and leave a dead planet as a gift for future generations.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I KNOW I KNOW

Yes, I've been lazy. Can you blame me after a week of Hari Raya open housing and makaning? It's the lontong, the lemang, the rendang, the soto...oh my god...too much of good things lah. And all these have made me lazy.
I wanted to write about my week long Raya in Singapore. Post photos. But I did that on Facebook. Had a great time. So did the family, so much so they want to do the same thing again next year. Glad to see my kids get to know their cousins and aunties and uncles and grand uncles and grand aunties. Of course, they enjoyed receiving duit Raya in SingDollars too.
And the food. Yes the food. I don't mean to put down the Malays in Malaysia, but there's something about home cooked Singapore Malay food that is just mind blowing. Is it the rice? Is it the water they use? Is it the spices? Is it the recipe? Or is it just the cook? I don't know. I mean my cousin's nasi beriani was just excellent.
Have been wanting to write about a few things that are on my mind. Things bothering me about where Malay culture is going....about the Arabicizing of the Malay world....for example are we becoming more Arabic leaving behind our Malay roots? Think about it. Is all things Malay taboo? But then again maybe that's too deep.
And then the Padang quake happened...so many lives gone in the blink of an eye, and for no good reason.
Yes it's God's will people say....but just think of the thousands of people suffering right now in Padang...no home, no food, no water, no electricity, no medicine and not a great future in store for them.
Even good news that came my way ( got commissioned to do three more documentaries for Awani before year's end) seemed out of place.
I don't know.
Maybe I should take a break from blogging. Maybe for a few days more.
Let's see how it goes lah.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BALIK KAMPUNG AFTER 50 YEARS

Come this Friday, I will be joining the massive traffic exodus heading South. I will for the first time since I left Singapore at the age of 10, be spending Hari Raya in the country of my birth. The funny thing is I do not remember Raya at all during the first ten years of my life. So I guess saying that it is my first Raya in Singapore in 50 years is quite accurate.
Why the sudden need to Raya in Singapore? Some close friends even look at me in a funny way, especially when they realise that my parents are not coming along. My parents will celebrate Hari Raya in Petaling Jaya with my brother's family. "How could you celebrate Raya away from your parents??" they ask. Why not? So many actually do....well at least one half. You know what I mean...c0uples who quarrel every year before Raya to decide which parents to spend Raya with. So the one who loses the argument, does not spend Raya with his or her parents.
Anyway, I thought why not now? The kids are all grown up. It would be great for them to meet their cousins and I get to meet and spend one Raya with my favourite uncle too. He's my mom's brother. In fact, he is my only uncle since my Dad doesn't have any brothers.
I will also be visiting my Dad's younger sister, my aunt Busu, in Singapore.
And on the way back to KL on Wednesday, I will be stopping by my Dad's hometown of Parit Sulong to visit his other younger sister. Mak Ning.
Anyway, for the past few years, my Raya has been very regulated.
The night before Raya, the family would go up to Janda Baik to our family homestead.
In the evening after berbuka, we'd start preparing food for Raya. Mom will be preparing her lontong and rendang, with the girls helping her out.
The guys will be in the living room making ketupat shells. Yes, making our own ketupat shells is a family tradition. So this will be one of the few times if not the only time I won't be making ketupat shells with the family the day before Raya.
Surprisingly, there's no takbir in my area in Janda Baik. Most probably because our home is too deep inside for our villager neighbours to walk all the way to takbir in the house.
At around ten, the kids will be in the lawn playing with fireworks. Yes, one of the best things about being home in Janda Baik on Raya night is that you get to play with fireworks. All kinds of fireworks collected the month before....worth about RM500.
The next morning, we get up early. This is tough because for the past 30 days, we do not have breakfasts only breaking of fasts. So the Raya morning breakfast is like a shock to the system. Oh mannn coffee tastes sooo goood in the morning.
By about 8am, everyone will be ready with their baju Raya and the guys will head for the Janda Baik mosque for Raya prayers.
Since we celebrated Raya there in Janda Baik, I have not heard a single Khutbah Raya worth listening to. Sorry, it's true..at least to me. It's either boring or not informative at all. Anyway, after prayers we would stop by at the cemetery where my dear late grandmother's grave is. Sometimes, we visit her grave later in the day.
Back home, the first day's meal is being prepared. The breakfast before prayers was just a snack, this one, the one waiting for us upon our return from prayers, would be lavish. Lontong, rendang, ketupat pulut et al.
So when we reach home, we would all gather round the dining table. The adults sitting down around the table, and the kids in seats around us. Then Dad would recite the doa.
After the doa, we would dig in for our first Raya feast. This is of course one of the best parts about Raya.
That done, it would be resting time. Watching tv and such. And of course, just before noon, we would be salaming and bermaafing with each other and to our parents.
This would be a solemn moment for most of the family..as it should be...asking for forgiveness from one another.
After that it would be waiting for guests from the village to start coming, especially the kids.
That my friend is Raya for me. We would stay on for another night, and after lunch the next day we would head for home.
We hardly go visiting...or rather me, because the rest of my family would actually go visit relatives - mostly relatives on my wife's side. Me, being the anti-scocial person I am, will always find excuses not to go.
So, this time around, I will go visiting. In Singapore. And to my relatives homes.
My cousins, about a dozen of them, will be expecting me. And to tell you the truth, I am looking forward to all this. It's been a long while since I went visiting relatives or friends homes during Raya.
All I've got to do is cringe when giving duit Raya in SingDollars. Argghhhh!!!!
But there, the Raya fare would be really excellent. Singapore beriani, ayam masak merah, ketupat and rendang, lontong, soto singapore, nasi lemak, ayam kurma, sop tulang, bistek, laksa...oh mannnn...you know, the 8 kilos I lost after my recent operation may be making a comeback soon.
So it will be an exciting Raya for me. A different Raya at least.
And yes, I will miss my parents. Who doesn't? I will call them Raya morning. But they will be in my brother's good hands.
Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and to those who know me through my blog and through facebook, a Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Maaf Zahir Batin.
To those, who, like me, will be on the road doing the balik kampung thing, do drive safe and be aware of the other drivers on the road to.
I wish you all a happy and safe Raya.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

IN HOPE TO SEE MORE NON-P.RAMLEE MOVIE CLASSICS ON TELEVISION

I have written this many times before. When I was a film critic with NST I also mentioned this before and was immediately slammed by many parties.
I really don't care what these P. Ramlee fanatics think lah. What worries is that our TV stations seem to be giving the wrong impression to the current generation. It is as if there were no other filmmakers of note in the 60s and 70s apart from P. Ramlee.
Everyday I tune in there's bound to be a P. Ramlee movie - either on RTM ker, Media Prima Channels ker and/or the Astro channels.
Only once in rare while, they screen a non-P. Ramlee movie.
I am not saying that P. Ramlee movies are not good..most of them are evergreen classics. Especially the comedies. But movies like 6 Jahanam, Damak and his last movie Laksamana Do Re Me are really tiresome fare done when he was not a happy filmmaker.
P. Ramlee acted and directed in some 66 movies during the glory days of Malay films. However, there are more than 500 movies available for screening on our TV from the vaults of Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris (Cathay).
Classics from the same era include movies directed by Hussein Haniff, Jamil Sulong, Omar Rojik, Salleh Ghani, . Roomai Noor and S. Sudarmaji. Movies not directed by Malays include those directed by Ramon Estella, M. Basker, B.N. Rao, Phani Majumdar and L. Krishnan.
So many of this film classics do not reach the masses. It was as if only P. Ramlee's movies are worth watching.
During this coming Hari Raya, I do hope the stations screen more golden classics...but not the P. Ramlee ones. Yes, I know that there are those who say 'kita tak jemu jemu tengok filem P. Ramlee'....they should instead start saying 'tak jemu jemu tengok filem Melayu klasik'.
When, for example, did you get to see classics like Istana Berdarah, Samseng, Laksmana Bentan, Raja Bersiong (both versions), Mahsuri (both versions), Pontianak (many titles), Mat Sentul and his whacky comedies, Lancang Kuning dan Masyarakat Pincang? Hardly ever.
I guess the obsession with P Ramlee has even overtaken the cyber space. If you check Wikipedia under List of Malaysian films (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Malaysian_films), it seems our Malay movie history before the 80s is dominated by P. Ramlee. No mention of Omar Rojik, Mat Sentul, Jamil Sulong, Hussein Haniff, Salleh Ghani and such. I am sure this oversight is related to the over-emphasis on P. Ramlee's contributions to our cinematic history on television.
It is also strange that this obsession with P. Ramlee is basically visual. P. Ramlee was also a prolific composer and song writer, but his songs does not overwhelm the airwaves like his movies do on TV.
Strange too that people keep thinking that P. Ramlee directed three of his most beloved movies - Sergeant Hassan, Anakku Sazali and Hang Tuah. Hassan was directed by Lamberto Avellana (a legendary Filipino filmmaker) whilst Tuah and Anakku Sazali was directed by Phani Majumdar.
Also sad too, that the media obsession is so Ramlee-centric, that his wife, Saloma, a legend in the history of our music industry, has since become more of a footnote to P. Ramlee's life.
Saloma deserves her own place in history. Even a book about her would suffice. Or even a mini-series or movie about our original Diva.
Whatever it is, it would really, really be nice if we can enjoy the creative contributions of other filmmakers of the 50s and 60s from Cathay Keris and Shaw Brothers. The TV stations should really stop relying on P. Ramlee's short list of about 60 movies to entertain us. Especially only a few are true cinematic classics.

Friday, September 11, 2009

THE RESURRECTION OF AFDLIN - PAPADOM

After the lukewarm reception of Sumo and Los and Faun, and also the misadventure in Thailand with Brave, Adflin needed to prove, at least to his peers, that he still has it as a filmmaker. Or has he burnt out?
As an actor, he is still a crowd puller. He is still amongst the more bankable stars today having acted in box office hits like Cuci and Sepi, but as a director, there's always this nagging feeling that you need to make box office movies to be considered a good director. Not that this should be the case.
So you can imagine the trepidation he must have had with Papadom.
And you can imagine the joy and the vindication he must have felt when Papadom won five major awards at the recent Malaysian Film Festival in Kota Kinabalu - for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Score and Best Original Story.
However, for most critics and film activists, we cannot comment on the win as most of us haven't seen the movie. It will only be released next month.
S0 when the producer invited me to preview the movie and also to attend Tayangan Unggul's Berbuka Puasa do, I accepted. I usually don't attend press previews because I really believe that someone needs to pay RM10 to watch a movie in order to be free to criticise or praise it. That RM10 vindicates your opinion about the movie.
So I went to Kuala Lumpur Convention Center yesterday. Tayangan Unggul had rented the Plenary Theater to screen the movie. I didn't like the idea, because they projected the movie on a video projector. Secondly, the stage below the screen was shiny and reflected the images on the screen thus causing visual irritation.
Luckily, the sound was good.

The movie started off awkwardly. Afdlin's wig was a distraction but I forced myself to just sit back and enjoy the story. The story's premise was also a little off but I put that aside too. I mean the film begins with a Malay guy (Saadom) selling nasi kandar and makes his own papadom and then a Chinese friend likes the papadom so much he bankrolls Saadom (Afdlin) and creates a franchise of nasi kandar restaurants and a papadom factory. This is just the first act, setting up for the rest of the movie.
Saadom is so engrossed with his work and in creating his nasi kandar empire that he keeps missing his daughter's birthday thus getting an earful from his wife (Nurkhiriah) who can't seem to understand why the husband is working so hard.
So, during one of her fits telling her husband off whilst driving, she crashed and died.
Saadom felt that it was his fault, and from that day onwards, became a doting father to his now teenage daughter Miasara (Lianna Jasmey). This is where the fun starts in the movie.
Now a rich and wealthy man, Saadom spends most of his time looking after his daughter, so much so that it suffocates her.
When she got flying colours for her exams (20 As! okay), she saw it as her ticket out of her father's overly doting antics. To her, freedom is being in University, far far away from her father.
Or so she thought. (By the way, would a top scoring student enter Uitm?).
Saadom decides to watch over her even in college. He takes a job as a gardener in the college so that he can look over her and 'protect' her, without her knowledge.
That's basically the movie's premise.
Adflin's assured direction allowed this movie to flow smoothly. His dialogue is crisp, funny and refreshing. Each character stands out - even a cliche' prissy college diva - didn't screw up the collage of wonderful characters he created.
On the acting front, Adflin manages to capture a subtlety that I have yet to see in a local comedy film. Influences I see and there are many. Especially those of the Farelly Brothers'. Like the boria group popping up twice in the movie, much like the Mariachi singers in There's Something About Mary. On the other hand, the off-the-cuff dialogue is much akin to the 'nonsense' dialogue used by Chow Sing Chi in his comedies.
Whatever the influences are, what matters is that the comedy worked, and worked well.
Even the little roles that he created - like the college landscaping boss played by Harun Salim Bachik - and the bald short silat teacher played by magician-cum-actor Henzy - are wonderful and colorful but whacky characters.
I also like the subtle references that Afdlin made on the situation of the Malay film industry. By making Miasara a film student he had an excellent landscape to add his critique of the film industry.
Amongst the stars that shone in this little gem of a movie are Que Haidar, Vanida Imran and Nurkhiriah.
Those whom I thought over-acted, even in their cliched roles, are Farid Kamil. Scha and Lianna Jasmey.
Yes, Lianna Jasmey, the best actress winner at the film festival.
I guess she was just lucky that last year, there were no other outstanding actresses that gave her a run for her money. At most, she should have won Star of the Future award if there was one.
The role was one dimensional, but within the canvas that Afdlin created, Lianna's performance was nevertheless commendable, but really, it was not an award winning performance.
Papadom not only survived its shortcomings but actually relished in it. The comic timing was excellent and the pathos real. I would bet good money that many of you would shed a tear during certain scenes in the movie.
I have been waiting for a long time for a Malay feel-good movie. A really long time. Papadom is the first truly feel-good movie that we can be proud of.
Forget about Mamat Khalid's Estet for the time being. Papadom is far superior and needs your attendance at its screenings beginning October.
So if there is a Malay movie that you plan to see this year, Papadom fulfills all criteria for you to spend your hard earned ringgit on. Estet can wait.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

15Malaysia - Hits and Misses

Recently, Green Packet or P1, one of the country's top Wimax providers, sponsored a short film project entitled 15Malaysia. It was produced by Pete Teoh and involved 15 young indie filmmakers like Hua Yuhang and Linus Chung and main stream filmmakers like the late Yasmin Ahmad.
You may like some of the shorts, but maybe dislike a few. Here is my favourite. Go to 15Malaysia.com for the rest of the shorts.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE PENDET TV PROMO CONTROVERSY

This controversy was not highlighted much in our media, but across the Straits, our Indonesian friends, fueled by media reports in the printed press and also on TV, the issue has been blown out of proportion.
In short, what happened was that a documentary series produced by KRU for Discovery Channel entitled Enigmatic Malaysia, was being promoted on the cable channel. In the short, maybe 20-second promo, the montage had a fleeting image of a female dancer, presumably influenced by the Balinese Pendet dancer, which in truth doesn't exist on our shores.
In fact, the nearest Malay dance form that maybe considered similar would be the the tarian asyik, which again may also have had Siamese influence. Nevertheless, the dancer image used does look very much like a pendet dancer.



Anyway, this promo was screened a few weeks back, and a few people in Indonesia saw it and immediately accused the Malaysian government of stealing their dance form and henceforth their culture, and promoting it as if it exists in Malaysia.
It spiraled out of control with the Indonesian media immediately taking potshots at our government and Malaysia as a whole. We were accused of being 'malings' meaning thieves.
The Tourism Minister from Indonesia also demanded that we apologise for the abuse of their cultural icon.
During this brouhaha, the apologies presented by Discovery Channel for the 'mistake' of using the Balinese image was ignored by the media. The Malaysian government also apologised eventhough it was with a proviso saying that it was not an official or government promo and that it was also produced by a private agency outside Malaysia. The producers of the series, KRU, also stressed that point.
However, the Indonesian media went even further and said that the promo was actually this year's Malaysia Truly Asia promo, produced by the Malaysian Tourism Authorities.
After this, the media went totally amok scrapping the barrel's bottom and started to accuse Malaysia of being serial cultural thieves. It seems, according the the mainstream Indonesian media, we stole and claim as our own such cultural rights to the batik, the keris and even the song Rasa Sayang Eh (which was evidently used in an earlier Tourism Malaysia promo some years back).
One station even went on to analyse the similarities of our national anthem, Negara Ku, with an Indonesian recording of a song entitled Terang Bulan, and said the Malaysians can't seem to create anything original and keep stealing from Indonesians.



We can actually refute each and every one of this accusations - but no one seems to be doing it 'scientifically' and officially over here. No Malaysian anthropologists took up arms to defend our country against this accusations. Or at least none publicly.
No one tried to explain to the Indonesians what cultural diaspora means, and even point out that most of their own traditions and culture had actually originated from the middle East and from India centuries ago.
Furthermore, we Malays cannot be deemed to have stolen something that is intrinsically something that is already part of our own diverse heritage. It is already established that most of the Malays in Peninsula Malaysia are descended from the Bugis, the Minangs, the Javanese, the Boyans, the Acehnese and who knows where else. And this wasn't a recent event. This diaspora began hundreds of years ago when there were no United Nation sanctioned borders, well before Indonesia actually existed as a republic.
Indonesians seem to want to forget that they were or are part of the Malay archipelago which was once ruled by the great Majapahit Kingdom and before that the Srivijayan Kingdom (which gave Bali most of its Hindu traditions).
Even our kings came from the Palembang, the Minangkabau and the Acehnese lineage.
Through these historical osmosis, Javanese, Riau, Minang and Bugis culture became part and parcel of the various Malay communities in the Peninsula.
Batik, musical traditions like the gamelan and wayang kulit, fighting styles like the silat and their weapons which include the keris, our culinary heritage, and even religion grew to evolve in parallel to our Indonesian counterparts'. Bali, however, being geographically distant and being uniquely Hindu hardly had any cultural impact on the now Islamic Peninsula society.
Meanwhile, the Indians and the Chinese also came to the Malay Peninsula and til today their cultures and traditions have become totally intertwined with the Malaysian experience. Malaysia is today globally known as a melting pot of many Asian cultures.
What the Indonesians fail to understand is that through time, these cultural icons like batik and keris has evolved into a uniquely Malaysian art and culture. Malaysian batik is totally different and distinctive form from the Indonesian batik. As for the keris, connoisseurs of the Malay weapon, can easily identify the differences between a Malay keris and that from Java or from Sumatra.



Why too the sudden interest in suddenly trying to prove that Negara Ku is 'stolen' from Terang Bulan? If historians have got their facts right, the song is not even of Indonesian origin..it is actually French in origin, came to Malaysia by way of Seychelles and offered to Perak as their state anthem, and instead was offered to Tunku to accept it as our national anthem but with new lyrics. Meanwhile, someone in Indonesia adapted the song to become Terang Bulan, just as someone else in Hawaii turned the song into an evergreen hit entitled Mamula Moon. Even the song Rasa Sayang Eh's Indonesian origin is debatable. Is it a song written by a Moluccan just after the Second World War or a foreigner who brought the song to Moluccas. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. It is a folk song. I have sung it since my childhood days and during scout Jamborees and not really caring where it originated from. Even songs like Burung Kakak Tua can be considered a Malay song eventhough it is a Dutch folk song landing here by way of Indonesia.
If this debate rages on, there's actually no stopping the Indonesians, especially their media from creating more confusion and may even accuse us of stealing more of their national heritage including the Malay language - saying that the man who perfected the Malay language that we use today, was a Riau royalty.
Someone in Malaysia has to step up and tell the Indonesian media and their government not too get too carried away by such trivial matters. Let clearer heads rule and lead.
If they want to start their witch hunt again, they may even start accusing Singapore of stealing their national flag design. They might even renew their claims over Sabah and Sarawak.
There's no end to this if not checked.
More efforts should be made to instead have more inter-cultural dialogues and activities between Indonesia and Malaysia - we have so much in common.
What would happen if Malaysians get so fed up with the constant attack on our cultural sovereignty that we might just say.."Fuck it..enough is enough" and just ban everything Indonesian - these includes keretek, caddies, maids, unskilled labor, movies, television programmes and nasi padang. Also stop all monies transferred back to Indonesia monthly from various sources and this includes investments - both private and governmental. Let's also boycott all the Indonesian owned businesses here like Ayam Penyet and Sari Ratu restaurants while we are at it.
For example, not going back to Indonesia anymore for leisure or business is not a big deal to me. I can always relocate my focus to Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and even China. Golf courses in these countries are as good if not better than those found in Bogor.
If this is what the Indonesians want or are contemplating, maybe we should also consider it.
As it is, we have not even taken them to task for the many deaths caused by them on our shores during the Confrontation decades ago.
But I hope it doesn't come down to this even when stupid calls to "Ganyang Malaysia" again has resurfaced in the past weeks in light of this controversy.
Nevertheless, what we as Malaysians should do is to make sure that our elected representatives speak out rationally and intelligently against these unfounded accusations and attacks, and defend us instead of hoping that this matter finds its way under the carpet sometime soon.
Come on Malaysians! Defend our cultural rights. Malaysian batik is Malaysian. Malaysian keris is Malaysian. Malaysian satay is Malaysian. Malaysian wayang kulit is Malaysian. Malaysian gamelan is Malaysian. Take back and protect our heritage. Don't let them hijack it claiming that everything Malay is theirs by right. If we allow them to do that, who are we as Malaysians? Without our own culture and traditions, we are nothing.
Unless of course, this is a battle only for the Malaysian Malays. Will Malaysian Chinese and Indians stand by the Malaysian Malays in times like this? Shouldn't they too be supporting and voicing their disgust against the Indonesians? Shouldn't they show such solidarity in view of the 1Malaysia policy?

Monday, August 31, 2009

PROPOSALS FOR RTM

I am feeling good about my proposals offered to RTM during these past two weeks of pitching. I do hope at least 50 percent of what I pitched will be accepted. Unlike most companies, I only submitted and pitched 8 programme ideas.
Below are some of my company's proposals:

Long series/serials (dramatic):

Pangazou - an epic historical dramatisation of Tan Sri Herman Luping's novel of the same title. Pangazou, the Kadazan word for warrior, traces the path to adulthood of two brothers who later become Pangazous in their tribe. If approved, to be totally shot in Sabah.

Detik 12 Malam - a twilight zonish series. The host is a mysterious man who operates an archive. In the archive there are many strange things, not only documents but paintings and antiques. Each item has a strange and unique story behind it. Each episode covers one strange item.

Documentary series:

Rakan Muzium - a series that introduces young viewers as to the importance and the fun of visiting museums. Especially the unique and interesting museums that dot Malaysia's landscape. Currently there are more than 90 private, state and government museums in the country. The series visit the more interesting ones.

Telemovies:

Speaker Ku - A girl from a rich family irks her parents when she decided to become a teacher. She even made them angrier when she asked for a transfer to a really small village school. She teaches English and she has a personal goal of creating a good English speaker from one of her students. Of course the students and their parents think she is crazy for trying to make them love a foreign language. Nevertheless she found one student who shares the same kind of love she has for the English language.

Parit Sulong - The story of how Bintang Tiga nearly wiped out my father's family just a few weeks before Hiroshima was bombed. A violent and tragic note in the history of Parit Sulong that not many people know of.

Magazine Series:

Salero Kampuang - A travelogue cooking series hosted by my mom, Datin Rosnani. She takes the viewers back to her hometown of Padang - the home of Nasi Padang. She presents her favourite Padang dishes every week and also the beauty of Padang itself.

Malaysian Culinary Magic - A trip to the best restaurants in Malaysia - the top starred restaurants, meeting the owners and chefs and indulging in haute cuisine that boggles the taste buds.

Satu Selera - Another restaurant hunting series this time with three girls (of course Malay, Chinese and Indian lah) trying out eateries from all three ethnic communities.

Well, if all the above are approved I will have a busy 2010 and a satisfying year. And I can start planning for my indie movie Short Time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Disney's digital 3D...no more headaches

It's been awhile since I actually went to a 3D movie. Firstly, my experiences with 3D movies weren't very good. The glasses were cumbersome, the technology half baked and the effect leaves much to be desired. However, the thing that turns off nearly everyone would be the headache you get wearing the glasses for a long stretch of time.
So, I avoided most of the 3D movies - Polar Express, Bolt and many others
So, I surprised myself and actually went to see Up in 3D yesterday afternoon.
And I was pleasantly surprised. No headaches. No problems.
The 3D effect was also not too bad. Disney's 3D technology have soled may problems and have made it into a viable cinema technology.
I also read somewhere recently that 3D movies will be the next big thing in cinema.
So I began wondering when Malaysian cinema will produce their first 3D movie.
Hahaha..here we are just beginning to grapple Dolby technology and I am wondering when 3D will make its local debut. Hahhahaha.
Imagine Ahmad Idham making his Jangan Pandang Belakang in 3D or Associate Professor Razak Mohideen making his Duyong sequel in 3D. Or KRU producing Cicakman 3 in 3D.
Would any of you pay RM17 to watch these movies?
3D is just technology...in the end..the content counts, so if the movie is crap...3D or no 3D, people won't pay good movie to see it. I think they rather pay RM10 for 4D instead of 3D.

Friday, August 21, 2009

PLAGIARISING AS A STEPPING STONE TO SELF CONFIDENCE

In my early days, I have made dramas that were influenced by foreign materials. For example, one of my first dramas was Jelita Ku. It was 'inspired' by the movie My Fair Lady and Pygmalion. It was not a blatant copy as I just took the spirit of the novel and the movie and made it my own.
A couple of years ago, in my TV series Bilik No 13, I wrote and directed a piece called Tengkorak Monyet. This was my nod to one of my favourite horror stories called The Monkey's Paw. This story has also been done by Aziz Othman years ago called Kaki Monyet.
In fact, local filmmakers have also adapted foreign pieces (mainly without attribution) to make their own movies. Hussin Haniff, one of the most original of Malay directors in the 60s, was 'guilty' of 'copying' Kurosawa's Throne of Blood. The movie was aptly titled Mahkota Berdarah which translates to Throne of Blood. Talk about being blatant.
Comedian and part-time taxi driver, Mr Os, was one of the most prolific 'copiers' writing and directing movies that were poor rip offs of movies like his self titled Mr Os which was basically a retelling of Richard Pryor's Brewster's Millions.
More recent examples? Pierre Andre's directorial debut 9 September was a Malaysianised version of Kwak Jae Yong's My Sassy Girl. Pierre's Jangan Tegur too felt as if it borrowed a lot of ideas from William Friedkin's The Exorcist. Ahmad Idham on the other does not plagiarise from other films, but he does borrow scenes from other movies. The film Jangan Pandang Belakang, directed by Ahmad Idham and written by Pierre, for example had one scene showing a ghost floating alongside the car at night. This scene was definitely borrowed from a very famous Thai horror movie which I won't mention.
I cannot knock these guys, because stealing or borrowing ideas seem to allow them to learn film technique. Hopefully, by doing so, they improve their filmmaking skills and maybe create their own original styles and content in the future.
Most recent example, is by none other than indie filmmaker Woo Ming Jin in his Astro commissioned movie entitled Seratus Harijadi. It is basically a 'remake' of Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day. I didn't check out the end credits, so I am not sure if Ming Jin attributed the movie to Groundhog Day, but nevertheless, this is one of the better 'copied' movies done locally. It was well casted, well written (or rather adapted) and directed.
I don't think Ming Jin will be the last director to 'copy' foreign movies. Many will still do it in hope that they can get away with it and maybe entertain viewers who may or may not be aware of the movie's true origins.

FILEM KITA WAJAH KITA VS ONE MALAYSIA

Satu Malaysia! Now the key word for most proposals to RTM. Even in my porposals that I submitted, I had to think of concepts and themes that match or promote the Satu Malaysia or One Malaysia slogan.
But I sometimes wonder. In most productions for Malay dramas, the One Malaysia concept has long been in existence. There is an 'unwritten' policy that most of our dramas must be multi-racial. That's why we see non-Malay actors like Tingting, Madam Wong, Janet Khoo, Param, Rama, Kenji and many others, making a name for themselves in Malay dramas. Malay speaking non-Malay actors are now commanding high fees and are in demand. And this was well before the advent of One Malaysia.
The funny thing is, the producers of local Chinese and Tamil dramas don't seem to have this problem of Malaysianising their productions. Their dramas are usually 100% in Mandarin or Tamil, and you hardly see any Malay faces in the dramas ( and if there were, it is just some token extra speaking one line dialouges in Malay. Sometimes looking at these locally produced Tamil and Mandarin dramas, you wonder if they are actually Malaysian dramas or pseudo Malaysian dramas that could have been produced in India, Singapore, Hongkong or even Taiwan.
No, I am not against the production of local Chinese-language dramas or Tamil-language dramas. But I am just wondering why the Malay producers are 'forced' to produce 'Malaysian' dramas and yet the Chinese and Tamil producers are allowed to produce totally singular ethnic content?
If the government is to promote One Malaysia, then shouldn't there be a concerted effort to produce just One Malaysia dramas? Why should we start polarising our productions and defeat the purpose of One Malaysia?
Didn't we applaud the late Yasmin Ahmad's wonderful short pieces for Petronas as typical Malaysian originals? So why not emulate such ideals into our films? Or is it too difficult to do?
Maybe we shouldn't think about One Malaysia? For example, most of the independant filmmakers who seem to be gaining attention overseas at festivals are already portraying Malaysia as a non-Bahasa Malaysia speaking country. Far from the One Malaysia ideals.
If I am not mistaken, their movies are mostly Chinese-centric, albeit Malaysian Chinese-centric. however, as a piece of cinema, I cannot criticise them. They are producing good cinema, even if it is in their own mother-tongues.
So, now I am slightly confuse. Do I celebrate cinema for cinema sake or do we make movies to promote our language, our culture, our diversity and or One Malaysia?
As filmmakers, we should be striving for excellence. The pursuit for real cinema does not take language into consideration. The only language that matters is film language.
But here in Malaysia, especially those who are producing for TV stations, true cinema takes a back seat. We instead are required to wear our ethnic hats and think ethnic thoughts. We see categories listed that tells us what languages such productions must be made in, thus identifying and confirming that these productions are only watched and viewed by certain races in our societies. This means, Malays watch Malay dramas, Chinese watch Chinese dramas and the Indians watch Tamil dramas. So, who watches One Malaysia dramas? I bet you only the Malays would watch it because it is produced in Bahasa Malaysia.
In the end, we make films but we are not filmmakers.
In the end, we are as fake as the slogan "filem kita wajah kita".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DYLLA


My only daughter, Adylla Lyanna, turns 18 today. Happy birthday sweetheart. You are now entering adulthood and you inherit responsibilties that go with it. Your parents are proud of you and we love you. Always respect your family and elders, and make friends with those who respect you and that you respect. You are now at a very complex and confusing time in your life...so if you have questions...ask your mom...hahha.
Time has zoomed by so fast. I still remember the chubby cute daughter that I loved so much. Now she has grown tall and slim and beautiful. Hehehe it worries me....but thank God you are taller than most guys in your age bracket...makes it tougher for you to find guys...heheh..anyway, concentrate on your studies first and your career...everything else will fall into place for you. Believe in Allah and trust the road He has chosen for you.
Happy Birthday Dylla.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A SCARY CONVERSATION WITH PEOPLE WHO MAKE POLICIES FOR LOCAL FILM INDUSTRY

I had an interesting conversation with some people that I will not mention who they are, but three of them were FINAS Board Members. Another was a senior Information, Communication and Culture Ministry official.
We were just talking about making movies.
The FINAS board member was telling the top Ministry official that he has perfected the formula for making movies locally. He proudly informed nus that from first day of shoot until printing the film's A Print, it took him only 27 days! He then said that if other producers cannot do the same, they should not be in ther business.
He said with this new formula, he plans to produce one movie per month. And this is a member of our FINAS Board.
Now, the Ministry official seemed quite taken aback by this guys' strategy and seemed quite interested in what he had to say.
The Ministry official then also said that he saw in some documentaries that US filmmakers are shooting feature films using HD camcorders. I tried to explain to him that they were many levels of HD technology but he said if these guys can make movies using cheap HD cameras, why can't we? I decided not to waste my time trying to explain to him the difference between consumer HD equipment and professional HD equipment.
I mean, his Ministry just spent RM50 million dollars in a sound studio in FINAS, and yet he is telling us that we should use low end HD cameras for producing feature films.
I then tried to tell him that FINAS or the Ministry should look into helping senior filmmakers like Rahim Razali, Mahadi Murat and myself, who have ideas and still have the creative energy to make good movies for the international festival market. I told him local producers and FINAS only seem to be interested in funding young talents.
Guess what he said. He thinks if the older filmmakers cannot make films that the current film viewers want to watch, they shouldn't be making films. If the younger film makers are making more commercial films that are viable, then they are the right people to boost local film industry.
He said he knew what he was talking about because ALL his degrees were in marketing and he considers himself a marketing expert, and that filmmakers should know how to market their films. According to him, good marketing can even make a lousy film successful. Film is ALL marketing, he said. So put more emphasis on market our ideas and films. That's the key to improving our industry.
I sat there dumbfounded. I am surrounded by people who are in a position to make a difference in the film industry and yet what I am listening scares the shit out of me.
In the end, I was told something that really took my breath away.
Young director Ahmad Idham, director of such classics like Jangan Tegur, Congkak, Jangan Pandang Belakang, Jangan Pandang Belakang Congkak, Brainscan and Syurga Cinta, have been given a seat in FINAS's boardroom. So now, Metrowealth has two representatives in FINAS's board - producer David Teoh and his current favourite director Ahmad Idham.
After hearing that, I returned to my hotel like one of the characters in Mamat Khalid's zombie movie - feeling completely dead inside and walking aimlessly without a brain within the film industry.
What else can you say when this happens?

THE MALAYSIAN FILM FESTIVAL HAS ENDED. REALLY? YOU MEAN THERE WAS A FILM FESTIVAL ON?

My friends have been bugging me past few days wanting to know when I will write about the 22nd Malaysian Film Festival in Kota Kinabalu last week.
I told them there was so much to things write about. It is of course in my personal opinion the weakest ever festival in the history of MFF. It is even as bad if not worse than when A. R. Badul won the best director award for Oh Fatimah! over a decade ago.
Even the fact that a movie entitled Papadom - a movie that no one has seen (apart from the Jury members) won Best Film award, Best Comedy Film Award, Best Actress award, Best Actor Award, Best Song Award amongst others, made the festival surreal.
I think in that aspect, our film industry made history. Apart from International Film Festivals like Cannes, most national film festivals only allow films that have been screened in the year prior to the awards to participate. Films that were not screened during the eligible period of time were not allowed to participate - which makes sense.
For example, how can we be excited at the awards night when a movie none of us had the chance of viewing won? It's like , "huh? so what? kinda feeling" when Papadom won many awards that night.
Don't get me wrong. I respect Afdlin Shauki and I believe Papadom deserved the awards but then again I haven't seen it, so I really don't know.
But then again, in a field of cow manure, a single flower or two stand remarkably alone and attracts attention. That's what the festival was about. Imagine Talentime and Papadom (and maybe Setem) going against titles like Abalasa, Jin Hutan, Momok, Syurga Cinta, Bohsia, Jangan Tegur, Skrip 7707, Maut, Histeria, Sifu dan Tonga, Brainscan andBold Cicakman 2. It's like a crazy bad year for local cinema. What's worse, the theme for the festival is Malaysian Films To The International Arena and yet none of the films that participated could better a film not yet shown.
Now, the good thing about the festival was that Sabah played hosts. And they were great hosts. I cannot fault them for the little screw ups that happened ( what event doesn't have minor screw ups right?) and really the Sabahans were excellent hosts.
Forget that the participants were ensconced in the One Borneo shopping center for five days. Forget that taxi cabs in Sabah are expensive - costs you about Rm50 bucks return from One Borneo to the city and back.
So, for most participants, apart from the various events that they attended, all they saw of Sabah was the inside of the shopping Mall - One Borneo.
I was lucky that I had work to do at the same time the festival was held in Sabah. I was producing my Merdeka documentary and interviewed Datuk Harris Salleh, Tan Sri Herman Luping Datuk Ayoub Aman and Tan Sri Ghani Gilong. So the trip to Sabah was quite fruitful for me.
At the end of the day, what did the Festival achieve? In terms of bringing Malaysian films closer to Sabahans I think they succeeded somewhat. At least the hundreds of students from UMS who turned up for the Awards night at the Dewan Canselor, got to meet their local heroes.
But in terms of recognising and celebrating excellence, I think the festival was a dismal failure.

Monday, August 3, 2009

WHAT HAPPENED TO ME OVER THE PAST MONTH

You must have noticed why I haven't been posting new stuff as often as I used to over the past two months. Well, the simple answer is that I haven't been well. I was admitted into hospital three times - mostly due to suspected gastric or reflux attack. However, when the third one became too severe, the doctors decided to do a second round of more detailed scans of my insides and lo behold! They found that my gall bladder is capable of building stones all the time and that my bile duct has been strained or distended due to the frequent squeezing of earlier stones - hence the unbearable pain.
So I had to undergo two procedures. The first, a scope procedure where the enter the area through my throat, my stomach, my duodenum and upwards again into the bile duct to clear and clean it and put a permanent tube meant for the second procedure - the complete removal of my gall bladder.
This was done under sedation and took about one hour. Before this noon procedure, I was already fasting since 9pm the day before.
When I woke up, the doctors said the procedure was successful, but to me the pain was still there.
So, my second operation, the big one, was scheduled the next day at 2 pm, and so, since I just came out of the scope, I am not allowed to take anything - no drink no food until the second operation is completed. I was on drip all these while.
The next morning, the pain began again and I felt my chest crashing in. I actually thought I was having a heart attack. The doctors wheeled me down to the OR or OT and was prepped up for the operation within the hour. This one will be done in full General Anaesthetic or GA. I hope I had a good anaesthetist - and within seconds of him saying that he is putting me to sleep, I was gone.
I woke up groggy but alive (duhhh). Someone told me the nearly 3 hour operation was successful but because of the pain I had earlier just before the operation, he recommended sending me to the HDU (High Dependancy Unit). I don't remember much of the few moments after the operation but I do remember a doctor saying that I already have had too much morphine in my system as I was in constant pain.... yeah right...you guys just pulled out my gall bladder through three cuts in my abdomen whilst pumping helium or CO2 into my stomach. That's painful okay?
So I lie there in HDU, my wife and kids taking turns to see me (they allow only two visitors at any time in HDU). They, like me, were glad I am still around.
I was tired and sleepy and they left me alone. But that night was still painful as I begged them to give my more Betadine injections if I can't have morphine.
Still no drink and no food.
Surprisingly, next morning I felt better and was surprised when the nurses gave me a change of hospital clothes and told me to take a bath. Huh? You mean I can walk already? Just last night you told me to pee into this papaya shaped contraption because I cannot yet be allowed to walk.
They say I am fine. And, surprise surprise, I was. There was of course the sharp pains and discomfort but I managed to shower and changed myself.
Later in the afternoon, they sent me back to a normal ward where I would be held for observation for the next two to three days. Oh yes, I was allowed to drink a little. This was now the fourth day of my fast.
And apart from the weird hallucinations I had on the first night in my new ward, and the sharp pains I had which required another dose of good old Betadine, I was fine.
Yesterday afternoon, they discharged me.
Then the real pain came. The bill? RM24,000.00.
DIDDUT...DIDDUUT..DIDDUUUT...DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTT