Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Singapore video release

The official VCD and DVD for The Last Communist is distributed by Comstar in that bastion of democracy and artistic expression, Singapore.

It is available at major outlets in Singapore. I think the VCD comes out first and then the DVD. Either way, it has been passed without cuts, rated PG, and is available with optional English and Chinese subtitles.

Alas! Possession of this VCD or DVD in Malaysia is a criminal offence since it is banned. If you are caught with it, you can be fined up to RM50,000 or jailed up to five years. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

T-shirt now on sale

The official T-shirt for Lelaki Komunis Terakhir is now on sale!

You haven't seen the movie, now buy the T-shirt!

It is available in 4 sizes (S, M, L and XL) and on sale from today at:

1. Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) Resource Centre, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: (03) 4047 9052. Opening times: 12pm-6:30pm (Tues-Sun) (when there is a performance on at one of the halls, this is extended to 8:30pm). Mon closed.

2. Silverfish Books, 67-1 Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: (03) 2284 4837. Opening times: 10am-8pm (Mon-Fri), 10am-7pm (Sat & pub hol). Sun closed.

3. SIRD/Gerakbudaya Enterprise, 11, Lorong 11/4E, Petaling Jaya. Tel: (03) 7957 8342. Opening times: 9am-6pm (Mon-Fri). Sat & Sun closed.

4. Wondermilk/The Click Project, 37 Jalan SS 21/1A Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya. tel: (03) 7725 8930. Opening times: 10-6pm (Mon-Fri). Sat & Sun closed.

It is white with the 'single pomelo' design shown further down this blog.

It can also be ordered online now at Kinibooks.

The price is RM35 and only 500 shirts will be sold. Yes, the move to make back some of the money that the ban has cost me begins here.

I no longer seek to change the way you think; merely the way you dress.

Oh yes, these venues (except for Wondermilk) also sell the DVD for my previous documentary, the Indonesian-set The Year of Living Vicariously, for RM25.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Da Malaysia Code, uncut

Comment by Zaharom Nain

The Star. 9 June.

Suddenly, everyone’s a psychic and film critic.

Indeed, in the true spirit of Malaysia Boleh, Malaysians – from the all-powerful politikus to the seemingly-ordinary rakyat – have in the last couple of months been crawling out of the woodwork, to show the world how truly maju (progressive) we are. And what a sad sight it has been.

First, we had a report in a Malay newspaper that Finas (National Film Development Corporation) was screening lucah (pornographic) movies, based on the complaints of unknown and unnamed individuals.

The film series was initially conceived by film lovers evidently led by academic and culture vulture Dr Wan Zawawi Ibrahim.

It was largely made up of foreign-language movies, created by independent filmmakers interested in telling stories, making audiences think, using film as an art form, and eschewing the idea of making movies for a quick buck.

And, indeed, there is a growing audience for these films in Malaysia. An audience evidently fed up with the commercial scene, including the Malaysian (Malay) movie scene, with its ongoing themes of cinta (love), duka (heartbreak) and jenaka (comedy).

Anyway, to cut a tedious – but sadly, recurring – story short, apparently on the basis of this one allegation in the daily, without any evidence offered, without any specific movie being mentioned, Finas requested the series organisers to cease and desist.

Which they did, of course, under protest. What is stupefyingly silly about this whole episode is not that Finas made such a decision. That is its right.

But the decision evidently was made without separating fact from fiction, without distinguishing between what may really be quality films and, quite simply, the depraved perceptions of the complainant(s).

More than that, there was just no real public discussion of the issue, merely assertions about public opinion.

The same, however, cannot be said of Amir Muhammad’s Lelaki Komunis Terakhir.

There was much public discussion surrounding the film, although virtually no one had seen it.

And it looks like not many will, now that its “on-off” banning by the Home Affairs Ministry is finally “on”.

It was probably the first-ever locally made documentary film that was condemned so viciously even before it was available for viewing. Condemned based on the imaginings of the inquisitors, the paranoia of the persecutors.

Is it too much to ask that if we are to make valid judgments on anything – including potentially controversial films – that we at least know something about it first-hand and not hear about it second-hand or third-hand?

Surely that’s the least we could do if we wish to be a “scientific, progressive society” (Ah yes, Vision 2020 and the nine challenges, remember?) in the not-too-distant future.

In the case of Lelaki Komunis Terakhir, even the authorities appeared confused, making more U-turns in their statements than Michael Caine did in The Italian Job.

One said that Lelaki Komunis Terakhir was harmless but amateurish, and a couple of days later changed that to “threatening national security”!

Another asserted that the film would upset and shock the older generation who had suffered at the hands of the terrorists.

Let’s get a sense of perspective here. The permit that was being applied for was for a limited run in a couple of cinemas. As with any other movie like, say Sembilu 55 or Pontianak 15, people interested in watching Lelaki Komunis Terakhir would then need to purchase a ticket to view it.

Nobody young or old, hitam manis or kuning langsat, rich or poor, left-winger or goalkeeper, male, female or other was going to be FORCED to view the movie and possibly die of boredom than of shock and horror.

And even if some viewers did get upset or were shocked, so what? To develop as a people, surely we need to take the rough with the smooth, the bad with the good, nightmares with dreams. What’s the point of denial?

First, let’s all agree that films, plays, dramas, popular culture generally all contain opinions, points of view.

There is this notion of authorship. It is a ridiculous myth that a film must consider all points of view or, even worse, only the official viewpoint.

For example, John Pilger’s award-winning documentaries are opinionated, so too are Robert Fisk’s critical commentaries on the war in West Asia. In no way do they toe the official Bush or Blair line.

Second, painful though it may be for some to accept, people like Chin Peng are part of Malaysia’s history – we can’t simply erase that, if we wish to call ourselves a democracy.

We need to remember that it is people like Hitler who burn books, it is murderous regimes like Pol Pot’s in Cambodia that try to erase history.

Fact is, there are a lot of shocking and upsetting events that have happened throughout history and continue to happen on a daily basis – the recent Indonesian earthquake, the May 14 threatening mob in Penang, the ongoing war in Iraq.

Are we supposed to shield our oh-so-sensitive selves from all these and pretend that such incidents, such shocking and disastrous events don’t happen? Deny their occurrence?

Are we to then abandon yet another 2020 challenge, that of creating a caring society?

Because, in all seriousness, how could we even dream of creating such a society if we are emotionally lobotomised?

And emotionally lobotomised is precisely what we risk becoming if the types of films we can watch and other forms of artistic and personal expression become increasingly dictated by the demands of the bigots, the paranoid and the insecure.

* Zaharom Nain is an Associate Professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Invite to talk ... and T-shirt launch!


Amir Muhammad, a critically acclaimed Malaysian director, writer and producer, recently courted controversy over his latest film, "Lelaki Komunis Terakhir" (The Last Communist), which resulted in the film banning by the Minister for Home Affairs.

Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD) is pleased to have Amir share his thoughts and experiences on the making and subsequent banning of his film.

11 JUNE 2006, Sunday
3.30 pm - 5.30pm
Auditorium, Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (1st Floor)
1 Jalan Maharajalela, Kuala Lumpur.

Amir is a writer and independent filmmaker based in Kuala Lumpur. He has been writing for the Malaysian print media since the age of 14. In 2000 he wrote and directed Malaysia's first DV feature, and his works have been featured in many international film festivals including Sundance and Berlin. He has also helped produce several other Malaysian DV movies.

The official T-Shirts of "Lelaki Komunis Terakhir" will be launched at the talk. Get them before they're banned.

* Seats are limited and reservations must be made in advance. Please make your reservations via phone during office hours (03-79578342) or email to sird@streamyx.com

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ban this!

The Malaysian ban is final. The Home Affairs Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad says so.

We have not managed to make an appointment to see him. We sent him a 2-page appeal letter on 23 May but he has not replied. When I called his private secretary a few days ago, I was told that "the Minister has more important things to do now."

The same report gives a clue about what some of these things might be: In the final paragraphs he reminds Puteri Umno members to register to vote.

The reasons that he has given in the media for the ban have ranged from: It's insensitive to release it when Umno is celebrating its 60th anniversary; it might make people think Chin Peng is a 'poor old man'; and (my favourite) the documentary does not show enough violence.

Radzi had initially said that the Umno Supreme Council and not the government would have the final say. He seems to think that the Emergency affected Umno more than any other segment of society. But this proposal seems to have been quietly dropped.

He said that the ban was because "the people had protested." The fact that the majority of commentators online as well as in the English, Chinese and Malay print media are opposed to the ban does not seem to concern him; are these not people? The fact that the new Censorship Board committee (which had passed the documentary uncut) seems now determined to start treating Malaysians like rational people also means nothing. How many steps forward, how many steps back?

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir is now the first Malaysian movie to be conclusively banned, with no possibility of appeal.

There have been other Malaysian films banned before - Spinning Gasing, Amok, Fantasia - but these were reversed on appeal, sometimes by going right up to the Prime Minister. I don't feel like going up to the Prime Minister. I've never even met the guy, and I'm sure he has more important things to do.

Yes, I lost a bit of money. But this can be slowly regained through the Korean TV sale and the Singapore box-office.

Of course I'm disappointed; not so much for myself as for what this signals for a country that has been lately harping on the need for a 'First World mentality' and to have a 'knowledge-based economy'. This is the same government that wonders why so many of its graduates that study overseas choose to stay overseas!

Will this discourage me from making other documentaries? Hell no. This is my country as much as it is any politician's, and I will continue to pursue subjects that interest me.

Will this discourage me from trying to release future movies in Malaysia? Well, this is a tougher one. The past month (since the ban was announced on 5 May) has been such an intense one. I don't know if I want to go through that again. It distracts me from what I should be doing, which is concentrating on the next documentary, which I am quite excited about and now raising money for.

I would like to thank all of you who have written in support, either on your blogs, or in newspaper columns, or who just utilised the Comments function on this here site. I have no illusion that you did it because you are concerned about me; rather you were -- quite rightly -- concerned about where this country is heading. The passion and intelligence displayed have been quite humbling, and of course inspiring.

I will continue to talk about this ban if asked. And there are many more overseas screenings lined up.

I have not 'given up' but time is precious and I need to pick my battles. I am sure the Malaysian public is resourceful enough to eventually see the documentary if they so wish.

What did hurt me (I'm only human) is when people say that my documentary will offend their grandfathers who 'fought' the communists. I had no wish to offend people's grandfathers, especially those I'd never met. And then I thought: What did these grandpas fight for? Seriously. Assuming they really risked their lives and fought, what were the ideals that motivated them? I would have thought they were fighting for the right for Malaya (and later Malaysia) to be a democratic society with plural voices, and not the totalitarian state that they assumed the communists would bring about. Totalitarian states, as we all know, are notoriously fond of banning things that don't immediately follow the party line. So did they really get what they fought for?

There have been many ironies attached to this project, and here is another: A huge worry that was articulated (mainly by people who had not seen it) is that this little documentary will somehow promote Chin Peng. Thanks to the publicity the ban has generated, a rep from a major local book-chain told me that Chin Peng's book is now sold-out and new copies had to be ordered. The past month has seen the highest sales of any time since it was launched.

To give the government due credit, this was probably all a roundabout way of encouraging people to read. And to this what can I, a longtime reader, say but Syabas?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Coming to Seattle

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir will screen on June 15 and 18 at the Seattle International Film Festival. This is the second US festival after its sold-out screening at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival last month.

Seattle is a bigass festival that screens about 300 films this year. It is now in its 32nd year. As far as I know this is the first time it has selected something from Malaysia. So if you know anyone in the city of Starbucks and Nirvana (I'm showing my age here), do spread it around.