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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Danny Lim's "dangerous" documentary, 18?

A few of you might have read from the news recently about the veto-ing of Danny Lim's 2004 documentary 18? at the Seoul Film Festival. If you haven't, here's an excerpt from The Sun's article:


By Llew-Ann Phang

The Sun. 14 July 2006.

PETALING JAYA: What’s behind the documentary “18?” that it had to be vetoed by the Malaysian Embassy in Seoul from being screened at the EBS International Documentary Festival (EIDF) there?

Festival organizers Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) had to close the curtains on the award-winning documentary by Danny Lim after the embassy rejected it for featuring “an anti-government political activist.”

The embassy’s choice for the festival‘s Five Nations Fair, being held from Wednesday to tomorrow, is Hisham Abdullah’s 45-minute “Songs of Change”, which tells the story of Kelantanese dikir barat activist and tukang karut Halim Yazid.

Lim, who is a senior writer with Off the Edge, said the festival director informed him of the embassy’s rejection late last week.

Lim said that even though former exiled activist and Internal Security Act detainee Hishamuddin Rais appeared in the documentary, he did not make any political statements.
And an excerpt from The Star's article.

Filmmaker baffled by decision to axe 18?

KUALA LUMPUR: Independent filmmaker Danny Lim, whose documentary 18? was reportedly vetoed by the Malaysian embassy in South Korea from being screened at a festival there, said he did not think his film would court any controversy.

Made in 2004, the documentary examines the sudden appearance of socio-political graffiti around the city. Most of the graffiti feature the number 18, while others were caricatures of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and also cartoons about the National Service and human rights.

The Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), organiser of the EBS International Documentary Festival, had to pull the film from the festival line-up after the embassy rejected it for featuring an “anti-government political activist.”

Lim: His 2004 documentary has won several awards
But the embassy has since denied that it had any power to veto the inclusion of Lim's documentary and had only recommended some other documentaries for the festival.

Lim said he was confused about the situation pertaining to his film.

The senior writer with an English magazine said the only political activist who appeared in his film was former ISA detainee Hishamuddin Rais.

“And he only talked about the origins of graffiti, such as cave paintings,” he said. “He also talked about whether graffiti was an art form. What if I made a documentary about the breeding habits of dugong, and I interviewed a political activist who happened to be an expert in that field? Would that be approved?”

I first read about this on a post from the malaysian-cinema mailing list (which I've just joined two days ago) So far, the only person (that I know of) who has blogged about this issue is Howsy who suggested that this may be a repeat of Amir Muhammad's Lelaki Komunis Incident? (Amir's involved in the production of this film and was the one who recommended it to the fest)

The film was vetoed by the Malaysian embassy in South Korea from being shown in the film festival because it features an 'anti-government political activist' - former ISA detainee Hishamuddin Rais. The embassy later denied this and said that they don't really have the power to veto the film and all they did was recommend some other films.

So be it. I am sure they are very supportive when it comes to matters like this.

Here's some info about 18?:
"What is 18? This mysterious number is but one of a prominent crop of graffiti that has popped up around the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Sprayed at strategic urban spaces and applied with a seemingly socio-political agenda, the 18? graffiti and its like (eg "Legalize ganja", "Ada apa dengan National Service?", "Pertahankan Hak Asasi", etc) brazenly takes its place alongside advertising banners and billboards in our urban sightlines.

What does it mean? What is it selling? Why? Who did it? 18? - the documentary - attempts to uncover the mystery behind the graffiti."
The film had won the Gold Prize in the Short Film: Documentary category of the 2005 Malaysian Video Awards, and was also the runner-up in the amateur category at the 2005 Freedom Film Festival. It was screened at the Singapore International Film Festival last year, and at the Jakarta Film Festival in 2004.

It is available for download at Danny Lim's website (50MB). Or you can even watch the thing via Youtube below:

The Malaysian independent film industry is said by many to be undergoing a movement of sorts that is referred to as 'a new wave'. Many works from this country are being shown in festival circuits, garnering accolades from foreign countries that are unfortunately not noticed by our own countrymen due to the lack of media coverage.

If allowed to grow unhindered, I think, and I want to believe, that there will be a bright future for Malaysian films, and that we can establish ourselves as, in Yasmin Ahmad's words, a filmmaking hub (of sorts) that will be noticed internationally. But once again, maybe I am immature and naive, thus I believe so much in the future of Malaysian filmmaking, that viral marketing will play a major role in expanding and causing the maturation of Malaysian cinema in an international stage.

Therefore, awareness has to be raised for works that are deserving, appreciation has to be given when necessary, criticism has to be given as a necessity. I wish more people can watch 18? not because I am so blown away by its greatness that I want to share this with everyone, I have my complaints, not with the content, but more with presentation, so pampered by the (seemingly) slick production values attempted by film students in my own Murdoch University that when I first watched this documentary hours ago, I was slightly disconcerted. To me, it is not a perfect film, many stylistic choices chosen by the filmmaker is not something I agree with, I didn't like the sound mixing, I didn't like some of the framing (I couldn't see some faces clearly because of the light, and angles), and the amount of talking heads used might be too boring for those who are not used to something of such languid pacing.

Even so, despite the rawness of its production values, I don't disagree with an artist's personal expression being silenced like this. So, watch the documentary above, if you think it's worth sharing. Please share it.

Related Links (constantly updated. Last update: 26/7/2006):

The Sensintrovert: Not Another LKT-like casualty: Danny Lim's 18? Axed From Seoul Film Festival
Howsy's entry has excerpts of the news articles from The Sun detailing this incident.

I hate to sugar-coat my words for you: This might just be about patriotism... or not.
Alynna's the first person to reply to my meme. (thanks) She chooses not to tag anyone because she believes in free will and that anyone who wants to participate in this noble cause will do so without being tagged. I hope she's right.

Wong Teck Jung's Chinese entry shows the honesty of his opinions about the documentary and he also muses about the graffiti drawn.

The Laments of a Broken Hearted Silhouette: 18?
Kyels gives an impassioned essay about the Malaysian political system and the culture that may have been brought forth from this system, resulting in what was recorded in the documentary.

CIJ: Local film withdrawn from Korean festival due to embassy's objection
CIJ executive director Sonia Randhawa: "This is a blatant example of censorship, following closely after the banning of Amir Muhammad's semi-musical documentary The Last Communist, we urge the festival to accept submissions based on quality and commitment, rather than succumbing to political pressure." (via Kian Keat)

Han is good: 18?
Fellow filmmaker Soo Han voices his dissatisfaction with the axing of the documentary and some factors that may be detrimental to the struggling indie film scene.

reduced and recycled: 18? eighteen? 0011000100111000?
Xpyred points out that the axe-ing of the documentary is a very ironic thing to happen. Someone has fallen into a well-laid trap... but who? Click to find out!

The MovieBuff: What is 18?
The MovieBuff explains the controversy that surrounds this short film.

D'Blog: 18?
Dabido has much to say about the film and this issue, providing numerous of his interpretations and thoughts on what this film was about, what the graffiti was about, and the ramifications of this film getting axed.

Little Girl In A Reverie: Danny Lim's 2004 Documentary 18? Meme
Jolene/ Jayelle tries to keep the meme alive despite her confusion regarding the whole issue, and for that, I am grateful.

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