Tuesday, March 28, 2006

In parliament

Parliament in brief:
Chin Peng film raises questions

The New Straits Times. 28 March

Why a documentary on Chin Peng? This poser was raised by Datuk Dr Wan Hashim Wan Teh (BN-Gerik) who lamented on the absence of war memorials or documentaries on Malaysians who had served the country during times of war and strife. A 90-minute semi-musical documentary Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist) will be screened in theatres in May after it received the nod from the Film Censorship Board. It is about the life of Chin Peng, the exiled leader of the Communist Party of Malaya, and includes interviews with former guerrillas in Thailand. Wan Hashim said it was sad Malaysian heroes were not given such recognition. "We have had many heroes from 1511 when the Portugese invaded Malacca. Why The Last Communist when we have our own heroes?"

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Big Durian DVD

My earlier docu-drama thing The Big Durian is now released on DVD in North America. It can be purchased here for US$29.95 excluding shipping.

This is of course way more than Malaysians are used to paying for DVDs but the trouble is no local distributor wants to touch it. So if someone (not me) were to suggest that a person (not you) will buy the American DVD and then sell it to your friendly neighbourhood pirate ... You will make a profit and then ensure that other, more cheapskate, Malaysians can watch it too. So how?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

MStar article

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir in cinemas this May

by Fathi Aris Omar

25 March 2006

The film that once caused controversy, Lelaki Komunis Terakhir directed by Amir Muhammad was passed early this month by the Film Censorship Board (LPF) with no cuts and is slated to meet audiences in three cinemas this May.

"I am happy it got through with no cuts." the independent director said to MStar Online today. "This is the first time a local documentary will be screened in our cinemas."

The 90-minute documentary features the life journey of Chin Peng, leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), from youth to the present. It also has a 20-minute segment featuring interviews with former guerilla fighters in their current village in South Thailand.

Last year UMNO Youth was reported to be "against any attempt to film the struggle of Chin Peng" who is considered "a traitor to the populace and government of Malaysia."

Datuk Azimi Daim, the movement's Information Chief, was quoted as saying: "Instances of murder, violence and cruelty by Chin Peng and CPM members towards the public in Gerik, Bentong, Gua Musang and the Thai border are still fresh in the minds of Malaysians, including ethnic Chinese and Indians."

He came out with the statement as a reaction to Amir's plans to make this film.

The film itself does not contain interviews with its protagonist Chin Peng even though over 80 people were spoken to during its making.

During interviews, the former CPM guerillas raised the issue of the government's refusal to allow them to return to their homeland, and also described the experiences and ideological fervour they went through.

"I sort of assumed (if there had been any cuts) some lines in (these interviews) would be censored." Amir says, describing a few segments that initially were feared to be 'problemmatic' with the authorities.

This film is scheduled to be screened from the end of May in the Golden Screen Cinemas chain in Mid-Valley, 1 Utama and Penang's Gurney Plaza.

* Translated from the original article here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

2 US fests in May

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir will screen in freedom's land and bravery's home in two cities in May. The Seattle International Film Festival is the largest festival in the US (it runs for 3 weeks whereas others would typically run for 10 days). I think it's the first Malaysian work to screen there.

The SIFF has an entry fee but the programmer saw it in Berlin and thus invited it for free. Thou shalt never pay to enter festivals.

It will also screen in the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. This isn't a big festival at all; in fact, it's downright cosy. Many Asian-Americans will gather there to natter about "diversity" and "empowerment." Since it's in the City of Quartz they will also ask questions like "Do you have an agent yet?"

I will be going to LA (straight from Toronto) but the Seattle screenings will be unrepresented.

The last time I had an American screening, I had questions like "What's a durian?" But everyone had such nice teeth.

* Synopses and ticket details should be on the festival websites by early May.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hot Docs & Herzog

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir will make its North American premiere in competition in Toronto's Hot Docs , the largest documentary festival and market on that continent. I look forward to visiting Toronto for the first time in late April not only to present the screening and take in a few films, but also to meet with one of my filmmaking heroes. Yes, Werner Herzog will be getting a special award and giving a talk. Will he be as drolly strange and wondrous as his films? Only time and a very long flight can tell.

The only drawback will be the painful process of getting a Canadian visa. The locals who man the process here in Kuala Lumpur are total jerks. It's a truth nationally acknowledged that the biggest assholes in Western-owned organisations here are not the mat salleh themselves but the uppity Malaysians in them. I had to deal with them when applying to attend another festival 2 years ago and the resultant hassle was of the kind that inspires suicide bombing as a career option.

But as Herzog once said: "The world is not easily accepting of filmmaking. There will always be some sort of an obstacle, and the worst of all obstacles is the spirit of bureaucracy. You have to find your way to battle bureaucracy. You have to outsmart it, to outgut it, to outnumber it, to outfilm them -- that's what you have to do."

But then again, he also once said, of the ending of one of his films: "When I saw the dancing chicken, I knew I would create a grand metaphor -- for what, I don't know."

So in that spirit, it will be off to Toronto I go.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I am pleased to announce that Lelaki Komunis Terakhir has been passed without cuts by the Malaysian Film Censorship Board! It was submitted 2 weeks ago and the confirmation came yesterday.

This paves the way for the commercial release I was hoping for all along, which can now take place hopefully in May. Making it the first local documentary to get a cinema release in Malaysia. (Only three other foreign ones have ever screened here, too: Fahrenheit 911, Spellbound and March of the Penguins, all in the past 2 years). This could be the start of something, no?