We seem to be satisfied with what we have and praise ourselves, pat ourselves on the back and compare each others' work and am totally satisfied with it. Some of the filmmakers I know just want to make movies for the following reasons – cari makan, maybe win some popularity award locally and to be part of a glamor industry.
Very rarely do you hear that they are in it to hone their craft as filmmakers, that they were inspired by movies by Bergman, Satyajit Ray, King Hu, Scorsese, Teguh Karya, John Ford or Kurosawa (for my generation) or by Spielberg, Lucas, Luc Besson, Beat Takeshi, Guy Van Sant or Guy Ritchie (for the younger generation). Or that they are in it to be able to screen their works at Sundance, Venice, Cannes, Berlin or Torino. They are happy to get screened in Rotterdam or Jeju or some small unheard of festivals around the region.
Making it in the film world sometimes isn’t by choice but sometimes by chance. For some, the need to make quality movies seen by a world audience made them leave our shores as they cannot find investors and funders who share their vision of creating a better Malaysian cinema. Of course, the stifling censorship rules here is not something world-class filmmakers can work with too.
Investors are aplenty if you bring scripts that pander to the basest common denominator of our local film going culture – horror and comedy. Drama? Tough. Epics? Expensive and doesn’t draw crowds. Action? Well, this should be the latest trend after the blockbuster performance of KL Gangster – really. Just check out the movie coming soon entitled Bini Bini ku Gangster.
I do not want to knock these genres because great movies do exist in these genres – Exorcist (US), Halloween (US original), The Exile (Hongkong), The Election (Hongkong), Hangover (USA), Godfather (USA), My Wife’s A Gangster (Korea), Shaolin Soccer (Hongkong), 4bia (Thailand) and Ring (Japan) many others.
But somehow, there is a lack of movies that could travel overseas, get quality distribution and also winning important awards at known festivals. Would the world market want to see Merong Mahawangsa when they have Bangrajan and Langsuka? Would they want to screen KL Gangster when they have Merantau, Ong Bak and Beat Takeshi movies?
What do we need to break this barrier? I believe to start off, we need to meet with Malaysians who have made it overseas. Either with those who made movies that make money or won awards. And there are a few.
At the top of the list would be Michelle Yeoh.
A Hollywood and Hongkong film action icon, Datuk Michelle Yeoh is one person who could single-handedly help give Malaysian filmmakers exposure to the world.
Datuk Michelle Yeoh, former Bond girl and cast as Suu Kyi in her latest movie
She knows people, she knows how the business works internationally and she is talented. Her latest movie about Myanmar heroine Suu Kyi may actually garner her an Academy award nomination.
Second on the list is James Wan, a Kuching-born Australian filmmaker whose claim to fame is creating and directing the first Saw movie. He also supervises the Saw franchise which is in its seventh outing (Saw 3D). His latest directorial effort is Insidious.
He is the only Malaysian-born filmmaker to have produced 8 Hollywood feature length movies to date of which he directed five. He is what Hollywood refer to as flavor of the month filmmaker due to the overwhelming success of his Saw franchise.
Saw franchise creator and director is from Kuching
Third in line would be critically acclaimed Tsai Ming Liang who is now Taiwan’s top filmmaker. Like Wan, Tsai was born in Kuching but instead of US-bound, he went to Taiwan to make movies.
As a Malaysian-born filmmaker, he has most impressive awards list having won at the prestigious Venice (Vive L’amore), Berlin (The River) and Cannes (The Hole). No other Malaysian or Malaysian-born filmmaker can boast such an impressive CV.
Tsai Ming Liang is one of the most original directors of his era
Fourth in the list is a relative unknown but a powerful socialite in the US. She is Florence Low Sloan, who has just produced her critically acclaimed movie Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, directed by Wayne Wang.
Malaysian-born Florence is married to the former CEO of MGM, Harry Sloan. The daughter of local developer magnate Tan Sri Low Keng Huat, Florence formed a company called Big Feet Productions which produced Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Considered as one of the most powerful Asian ladies in the US, her partner in the movie company is another powerful Asian woman, Wendy Deng Murdoch, the third and current wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Florence Low-Sloan with hubby and Meryl Streep
Fifth would be Encik Shahril Ibrahim, a friend of mine who left for the US and stayed on to become one of the top CGI software engineers in the American film industry.
Shahril (Right) chilling out with friends back home in KL.
He began his film career as the software development head in Bossfilms supervising CGI work on Species, Multiplicity, Outbreak, Turbulence and Desperate Measures. He is now attached to Californian award winning effects house Ryhtm & Hues as Senior Advisor.
These are amongst the few Malaysians who have the pulse of the international film industry in their hands. These are the people that the Malaysian film industry should know and meet up and network with. These are the people that FINAS or the Malaysian government should woo to set up companies and exploit their experience overseas as filmmakers.
Forget about baby-gloving Shahrukh Khan with titles and location sponsorships. Get these people who are Malaysian-born and get them to introduce filmmakers, young and old (me, me and me), to producers, investors and distributors who would be able to identify talent and nurture them and open doors of opportunities in the international filmmaking scene.