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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Is FINAS really helping to develop the Malaysian film industry?

This was forwarded to the Malaysian Cinema mailing list yesterday. It's from a filmmaker named Ahmad Yazid:

I was attending the Festival Filem Malaysia 21 at Putrajaya tonight. My documentary film, “Making the Cut”, which was produced with FINAS (Malaysia National Film Development) funding was nominated for the Best Documentary category.

Ok, i got the ticket this morning and was excited to go because my chance of winning was 1 in 5!

I got there at around 8:45pm and the show was about to start. I managed to find a seat in a good row, to make sure I was near the stairs in the event that I win, so i wouldn't have to hassle myself through the Mak Datins with their tight Kebayas and nice cleavage.

Anyways, at around 9:02, I received an sms from the executive producer asking me where i was. I told him I was in the audience and he smsed me back as fast as a flash from the newspaper photographers.

This was his sms: "urgent, Finas have just told us that only prod company EP (executive producer) and FINAS rep to go up if win."

I was like, this has got to be a joke! As I was trying to digest the whole situation and was wondering what was happening, the nominees were already announced and the winner was my film.

Amir Muhammad, who sat a row behind me, looked at me and asked why I wasn’t going up on stage to collect my trophy and the RM15,000 cash prize! I could only look at him and shake my head.

My friend, who I convinced to come after an exhausting seminar, could only console me with her supportive words.

So this is what happened during my awards night. Other people take credit for my film on stage. It must have been a hell of good film!

I loved to see the FINAS Head of Production receiving my award on stage with such a proud face. He must have been really proud of my film. He probably secretly wished that he had directed the film. But, dude! come on, you don't seriously think that, do you?

Anyway, i didn't get to even touch my trophy and god only knows who gets the prize money! Looking at the face of the FINAS rep, I'm pretty sure he also would gladly spend the money on himself.

I just had a conversation with my friend 2 days ago about how many talented Malaysians go abroad to get real recognition for their work, like Tsai Ming Liang, Lee Sin Je etc. My buddy Seng Tat had to do his own thing without government assistance and he got more awards in a year than Datuk Yusof Haslam received in his lifetime.

My point is, does this country deserve me? Or do i have to go outside my own country to get recognition like a lot of Chinese people do? But, I'm a Chinese educated Malay. Does that mean FINAS is not going to recognize me? Yes, i don't have the Malay mentality which is all about kissing asses. Ahh, that's what i have to work on! Ok, will do...

Ahmad Yazid
Director of Discovery Channel's "Making The Cut"

My personal dealings with FINAS hadn't been that bad. Some procedures took a bit too long for them to process, there were some silly mistakes they made (losing my e-mail, misplacing my fax message during the Hari Raya period) when I applied for a tiny grant to be used for The Elephant And The Sea's promotional funds last year.

I was finally called in to sign an agreement to accept the grant, but I never got a phone call nor an email from them in the end. Of course, I could have called them and repeatedly bug them for the money, so it could have been my fault too, to think that I can deal with a local government agency without taking the initiative to, ah, remind them things. But that was last year.

When I was at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March. I found out in horror that the organizers had made the mistake of flying me to Hong Kong after the industry screening for KURUS was already over. So I asked for another screening, and they complied immediately. But because all these happened at such short notice, it was (understandably) impossible for them to inform anyone about the new screening.

I was fearful that the film would play in an empty hall, it was quite early in the morning as well! So I eventually decided to invite the FINAS people to watch the film. And a few of them came immediately. They were supportive, and they genuinely enjoyed the film. I hung out at the FINAS booth for a while and chat with them for a while after that.

The easier route for me for this blog post is to join everyone and immediately demonize FINAS for what they did to Ahmad Yazid after quoting his message. But I don't see the world in black and white, thus I added my own (more positive) experiences with them in the above paragraph.

However, I DO think what they did to him was classless. Because this wasn't settled earlier and they prevented him from going onstage with a last-minute text message. While in most cases, the (exec?) producers are the ones who go onstage to accept awards for best films (Oscars, Golden Horse, Hong Kong Golden Awards etc.), they 'could' go up together. So I blame this more on how they do things and less on what they did.

Anyway, on their website, FINAS stated clearly that their objective is to 'promote, maintain, and facilitate film production development in Malaysia'. It is also their mission to 'To develop the local film industry into the international standard.'

They even came with a customer charter that said:

"To guarantee the effectiveness of job execution in promoting, maintaining and facilitating Malaysia film production.

We promise :

* To provide efficient, friendly, fair and justified services.
* To provide adequate trainings in order to improve quality and productivity of the human resources in the film industry.

* To provide equipment and infrastructure facility that fulfill the industry needs.
* To provide consulting service to film practitioners in the effort to improve their awareness, knowledge and expertise.
* To monitor and coordinate filming activities towards the development of a factual industry.

If everything's as bad as Ahmad Yazid had said, I don't see these being honoured at all. Unless it is considered part of the 'training' they want to provide him so he'll know that when working with them, the omnipotent FINAS is involved in all aspects of a production. Including accepting his awards.

(If I were in this situation, I would pretend not to have received the SMS and charge onstage. But be classy about it when giving an acceptance speech. *winks* )