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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Doghouse 73 Pictures - James Lee's attempt to bring Malaysian independent cinema to all

A few days ago, filmmaker and pal James Lee won an award for Best Content at the DiGi WWWOW Awards with his brainchild, Doghouse 73 Pictures.

This is quite a big deal because the WWWOW Awards is the Malaysian equivalent of the Webbies, and it is recognising James' efforts in the last year and a half to bring Malaysian independent cinema to the internet for everyone.

James, as some of you might know, is one of the pioneers of local independent films, having made his own self-financed films in the early 2000s when digital filmmaking technology started becoming attainable for the public. What he did then would lead to the attention of international film festivals, and a movement that was then known as the "Malaysian New Wave" with other filmmakers like Tan Chui Mui, Liew Seng Tat, Yasmin Ahmad, Ho Yuhang and my regular collaborator Woo Ming Jin. Regardless of what people in the country would think, James' place in the history of Malaysian Cinema is more or less assured.

Early last year, when James told me about his desire to utilize the online platform and social media for his works, I was intrigued. Not only was he releasing all of his earlier films online, he was starting to make films exclusively for the internet. In the early 2000s, during the beginning of Malaysian independent cinema, films were shown either in underground or university screenings, or in film festivals outside the country, not everyone had any access to these films.

Unlike most other countries, we lack the infrastructure or official support for these films, to archive them, to make them part of Malaysian cinema canon. DVDs of independent Malaysian films were mostly distributed and sold overseas, and of course, due to lack of interest or awareness, the splash that we tried to make amounted to perhaps a mere ripple to rest of the world (... and even in our own country). It's heartbreaking.

Therefore James wanted so much to make sure these films can endure, by putting them on the internet. Since then, this blog had shared many of the films that James uploaded on the Doghouse 73 Pictures Youtube channel. Like his 2000 debut feature SNIPERS, his 2005 international breakthrough film THE BEAUTIFUL WASHING MACHINE, or his most recent short films like THE GIRL FROM TOMORROW and ALL FOR LOVE.

Of course, you might also remember 3 DOORS OF HORRORS, this horror omnibus film that he masterminded last year, which my last short film FLOATING SUN was a part of (along with segments by directors Leroy Low and Ng Ken Kin).

Yes, I think it's quite exciting that James is doing this, look at the amount of films you can actually check out, if you are free, and curious about the short films.

Or the feature-length films.

They are all here for free.

It's an embarrassment of riches.

Waiting to be accessed, to be seen, to be shared with others, you can either love it or hate it, they are all there.

The reason why I'm writing this isn't really just to promote James' Doghouse 73 Pictures. During the past few days, on websites I frequent, on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I have been seeing many complaints about the overexposure of the TRANSFORMERS franchise, how evil Michael Bay is ruining cinema, when there are "smaller" films to be discovered, smaller films like... Bong Joon Ho's SNOWPIERCER (!!?) That's sweet, it's quite commendable to champion the underdog, to rescue certain films from obscurity before it is drowned off by the overwhelming cacophony of noises from a Hollywood blockbuster. (SNOWPIERCER is quite good, but it's a little hard for me to call the most expensive Korean film of all-time "obscure", when it's been wildly popular in other countries outside of US...? Note, SNOWPIERCER, which is opening in the US the same weekend as TRANSFORMERS 4, was already screened in Malaysia in February)

But what about the smaller, less-trendy films that really needed to be explored, to be discovered?

I am merely hoping that what James had been doing could gain a bit more attention.

I just wish that people can be a bit more curious about things.