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Filmmaking In Malaysia The Scene Today by Jennifer Fernandez


h Beng, Appalam, and Crayon.

These are the names of just a few movies that are found in the list of Malaysian Films. What are their similarities? What makes them special?

THEN AND NOW In 1933, Malaysia saw its first ever-made Malay movie ‘Laila Majnun.’ Since then, Malaysia has seen a tremendous shift and growth in the local film industry. Strict categorization defined what Malaysian movies were supposed to be and the primal point was it had to be in the Malay language. However the ‘newage’ movie directors such as the Late Yasmin Ahmad, Rahim Razali and Suhaimi Baba

took radical steps in cracking this stereotypical expectation of Malaysian Films being synonym to Malay Film. Yasmin Ahmad for one revolutionized this 80 year old industry through movies like Sepet and Gubra where multicultural and multiracial elements were incorporated making them movies more Malaysian instead of Malay and successfully inspired many more young artist and directors to follow suit. It wasn’t until recently was this concept ,heavy heartedly accepted on a national scale.

Dr Mahadi Murat, a renowned Malaysian filmmaker, published on his blog Thoughts On Film, that new directions have seen its way through this industry at the start of every new generation tapping into filmmaking. According to Dr Murat, what we have now is the fifth generation (movie Directors of 2000 onwards) and the culture elements seen in the movies produced by the directors of this generation is closely linked to that of what is associated in their lives, the battles they fight, and their objective and desires in life for being united and cultured. Malaysian movies are not grounded to its 20th century rules any longer and Malay movies alone do not throne the charts as Malaysian movies. Since then, Indian and Chinese movies of all dilects that were significant to Malaysia were listed as Malaysian movie with the attempt to narrow down the circularisation and clustering of each Malaysian to the land of their fore-fathers - China and India.

BREAKING THE STATUS QUO Breaking an age old ‘status quo’ took a lot of courage by the local directors. Taking Malaysian cinema to a new level owed much of its success to the dawn of the digital era of the 21st century, where the filmmaking industry took a complete 180 turn and began venturing in the arena of “Indie” movies. “Just do it yourself!” as the media declares this new wave that hit the filmmaking industry not only in the countries of extreme lavish expertise in cinematography but in Malaysia too. It was the direction Malaysians took at the start of the new millennia into creating a phenomenal breakthrough on the independent filmmaking platform with pioneers such as the infamous Amir Muhammad and James Lee right down to simple Malaysians like M.Kubenderan and Dick Chua and many others who own a digital camera and have the niche for directing and producing short movies better known as SHORTS.

FUTURE OF MAINSTREAM FILMMAKING Amir Muhammad the pioneer in Independent Filmmaking in Malaysia who has successfully brought Malaysian movies to International screens, says the mainstream will not collapse because they have the funds to produce and publicise, where else Indie Directors either fork out the own money or looked for sponsors or loans to fund them.

Amir is known for his bold approach in cinema, tapping into sensitive issues such as the Malay and Royal rights and the ISA and have himself couple of movies that had been banned in our very own land such as The Last Communist and Village People Radio Show, however most of his films and documentaries have been screened in film festivals at Sundance and Berlin. Indie movies are a way to shine light on many talented directors and scriptwriters who most often get lost in the cycle of acceptance by the mainstream media owners.

GOING ‘INDIE’ / SHORTS : WHERE IS HEADED TO, A THREAT OR AN EYE-OPENER? ‘Indie’ movies and SHORTS are not made to be a threat even though they do not go through the general ques of acceptance for production and is made on the grounds of freespirit. Many of these movies still go through the censorship board for approvals. They are not made to cause chaos but awareness and there are many people with diverse stories to tell the world. Imagination is the preview of life’s coming attraction, as Einstein said. This platform gives many a chance to excel and conquer their dreams and aspirations while at the same time giving other an inspiration to step up and show Many in the industry of independent filmmaking have heard of the P1 sponsored project called 15Malaysia. This project consists of 15 short films made by 15 Malaysian filmmakers that feature the bestknown faces in the country consisting of actors, musicians and top politicians.

The project producer is Pete Teo, Malaysia’s very own multiple award winning singer songwriter who has become a sought after actor in what is known internationally as the ‘Malaysian New Wave’ cinema. Back in 2008, Pete produced an anti-racism music video project – ‘Malaysian Artistes For Unity’ back in 2008 which reached more than 10million Malaysians and started off as a zero-budget project. Independent filmmaking in Malaysia is in for a good. Projects and productions that arises from it are mainly to speak out loud the voices of the unheard and the ideas of the minorities in all languages that are unique to the multiracial and multicultural elements of Malaysia.

Malaysians are talented, and we have a great pool of high achievers in the film industry who have set world renowed records in movie acting, directing and the engineering of sounds and visuals as we have seen in the creation of Life Of Pi the Oscar winning movie as one most recent example. Indepedent filmmaking opens the gates of opportunities for our younger generation.


A STEPPING STONE & PEDESTAL FOR YOUNG DIRECTORS With many higher educational institutions in Malaysia now offering Degrees and Diplomas in the various branch of filmmaking, independent platforms such as You Tube, Social Network sites and sponsored websites such as 107Malaysia - which stubbed out of 15Malaysia making it a platform for free lance and young aspiring directors to upload their work for the viewing pleasures of others. The works of these short shows are always circled within the context of Malaysia, making it uniquely Malaysian, and opens opportunities for young graduates to produce their work and to be recognised giving them a chance at employment and recognition.

Independent movies were made since 1990s and have been a hit in the International screen since by Hollywood directors and producers, but Indie-fever has only just recently hit our local shores and in Malaysia, which has severely lived in a closed concept of what movies should be by directors themselves and even viewers who would only watch movies that are in the mother tongue. The younger generation have a more open mind, but at the same time, there are a good number of audiences that come from the generations before. Our battles may be different but we are all fighting towards one same goal, which is to live in UNITY. 20 years back, not many would have looked at independent movies as a remarkable achievement because they lacked the resources to reach to these films that are widely advertised, shared and made on the Internet. But with more people being IT Savvy and able to afford PCs and tablets, You Tube and online movie viewing has risen and there is where the “Indies” and “Shorts” live and thrive for its success.

THE SCENE TODAY The diversified ideas for horror, romance, fantasy, suspence, and action-pac movies are drawing in the audience and creating much of a fan club of not only Malaysians but Asians and many from different continents. The proof that Malaysian Independent Movies are screened and awarded in Foreign Film Festivals such as in Berlin, Cannes, London, even Singapore and Tokyo goes to say, Malaysian are in the “game” and we’re in it to win it. So what is the similarity of Ah Beng, Appalam and Crayon and what makes them special? They were all Independently made and they are the new age Malaysian movies that defines 1Malaysia in the world of cinema and filmmaking.

Filmmaking In Malaysia, The Scene Today  
Filmmaking In Malaysia, The Scene Today  

The Scene of Filmmaking in Malaysia