The 20th Malaysian Film Festival will be held in Penang, from the 3rd till the 5th of August 2007. The whole of last week I was occupied watching film after film since I was the Head of Jury for the Digital Film category. 10 films participated under the category. Mostly are the works of our Indies Filmmakers.

When Ms. Nancie Foo, the Head of the Participation and Jury Committee offered me to come on board, I seek Dato’ Husam’s advise. His original answer was a simple “Rasanya OK”. But minutes later we kept on exchanging smses and it got sentimental, as Dato’ Husam finally revealed that it has been his dream for the past 20 years to hold a Film Festival in Kelantan.

I have attended only few film festivals during my 13 years in the industry and I received some not worth mentioning recognition internationally and locally. In 1993, my feature film shot on 16mm was selected and screen in Tokyo. The festival was The 3rd Film Festival of International Cinema Students, held in Shibuya, and my work, Karamnya Bahtera Merdeka a.k.a The Cries of An Independent Child was nominated. Amongst the juries were Lord David Putnam, the Producer for Chariots of Fire and British actor, Colin Firth. My last film festival was Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, in 2006 and my work, Persona Non Grata was amongst the five films chosen to represent Malaysia. During the Gala Night, action director, John Woo was there and touched many of us in his speech, in a very humble mood; he said this, “Thank you for accepting me here. I am glad to have the chance to learn from all of you”.

My first collection of memento came in Tokyo, where Karamnya Bahtera Merdeka was selected as top ten films out of 169 films from more than 50 countries. I received a scroll for that but I left it hanging in The Communication School in Penang. In 1999, I, in absentee received The Best Story award, followed by Jury Award for Most Promising Director seven years later. Both the trophies are in the IKEA box on top of my closet.

A friend chided me for my action. He claimed that I think those recognition were not good enough to be on display in our house. In my explanation, I told him, I always honoured and cherished those recognitions nevertheless, I never worked for recognition. I enjoyed attending those festivals because it gave you the opportunity to meet lots of nice people whom inspired you during your growing years. But, glory is not for me. Glory is only for the almighty.

God have given me 5 awards which I will not change with anything in life. Those awards are my three sons, a daughter and a wife. What more could I asked?

I love my work and I can never thank Him enough for those wonderful years I had, sitting on the director’s chair and staring at those talented people. It is always a good feeling when you were given the chance to do something you love and get paid for it. I love my moment in UTAR while sharing my ‘donkey’ years with my students. Today, I love serving my position and my bosses.

That is what I call passion.

Passion is what I see in Dato’ Husam and his dream of organising a Film Festival in Kelantan. A Film Festival in a state that does not has evena single cinema?. Many blame the state policies for the dying cinema. But what about other states like Terengganu and Perlis? Cinema has been wiped out in basically all small towns in Malaysia. Giants like GSC and TGV with their distribution networks played an important role in determining the survival of the independent cinemas. Creating the theatre hall is not a problem but to survive the business with the booming cost is the major factor. For only RM5 you can buy a pirated DVD but you will not able to even get a ticket at a decent cinema. A trip to the cinema to watch Harry Porter for my kids and me will cost us almost RM100 inclusive of the pop corns, cokes and Twisties. Another RM50 if you need to have a session to discuss the aesthetics element of the movie at McDonalds. A visit to the cinema is fast becoming a luxurious trip for many.

Many argued that the downfall of the local film industry is the fault of the Censorship Board. For many years I have been against it. Censorship is a must and filmmakers need to accept censorship especially in a multiracial and multi-religious society like us. Censorship will help filmmakers to be more creative. Censorship is not about stopping an artist to express themselves. But with, censorship, an artist must learn to be creative in expressing what they want to highlights without hurting the viewers sensitivities.

For almost a decade now, the Censorship Board is facing intensify criticism and under Rais Yatim, the censorship board started to give way. I trust the main reason for it is to help the producer to make more bucks by putting more sexual and controversial elements into their movie. Yes, we could do without the rigid and obsolete ideologies under the previous regime of Censorship Board. But are we ready to let go our values for the sake of giving some artist the chance of becoming less artistic and more documenting life as it is?

Almost all the movies that being submitted under the digital film category publicised free sex with openly showing couples in a steamy moment under the banner that cried out loud, this is the reality of new generation of Malaysians. Half of the movies submitted openly criticised the social contract that help our fathers to live in harmony. While most of the movies by the new breed filmmakers are much better than Malay movie that filled the cinema, it has lost the Malaysian values and showing no social responsibilities towards the society.

As a filmmaker myself, I am not arguing on the reality they are trying to portray but questioning the manner it is being portray. It should be done creatively rather than taking an easy route that can jeopardise the sensitivity of certain viewers. Aren’t creative people a bunch of sensitive blokes? Is it because these category bypass the Censorship Board so that they can be less careful and less creative?

If previously the Malaysian cinema is facing a generation of filmmakers that lack of honesty and intelligence in their product, are we now ready for the new group of local filmmakers that you can hardly doubt their sincerity in the subject they tackle but lost it values and identities along the route they taken.

Is the freedom of having illicit sex in a car park is what we wanted to live and fight for? Is the freedom of saying the Malays are the lazy buggers, the Chinese is systematically being discriminate and the Indians are bunch of jokers is worth a can of the expensive Kodak? Is it worth winning international recognition by portraying our nation as nothing but acres of junkyard? Aren’t filmmaking is a work of visual art? Is there only one way of portraying those things? Or is there a creative way in portraying it?

Let me share with my reader something about getting international recognition the easy way. Let us portray the Malay Ulamak, The Buddhist Sami and The Hindus Monk and the whole movie talks nothing but about their sexual desires, with the ending scene the ulamak was given a blow job by a transvestite under the shadow of Petronas Twin Tower. I bet the movie will take Europe by storm and critically acclaim in all nyamuk festival it participated.

Well, nyamuk deserves nyamuk recognition. There are various kinds of mosquitoes and most of them can be fatal.

It is time for Kelantan to take a leading role in developing the alternative talents that can uphold the identities and the values that used to make us proud of being a Malaysian. An annual Film Festival with its own agenda and characteristic should no more be a one man’s dreams; it should be a reality and benefits not just you and me, but the whole world.