Alice in Videoland

On the 17th of September I was at Budaba for the Malaysian Video Awards. Having finally found a spot to stand where I wasn’t either moving aside or blocking someone’s view of podium and award recipient, I sat on a rail and finished a glass of melting ice with traces of gin.

Then my dear editor took the glass out of my hands and pushed me onstage. Pete Teo and Ho Yuhang were coming up with Mussadique Suleiman, Hafez Jordan Suleiman and Rauf Fadzilla: the animated music video of Pete’s ‘Arms of Marianne’ had won the Best of MVA Award. I tried to hide behind them.

You see, one day I was brought, quite serendipitously, to the Voxel Animations studio in Ampang, given a jacket to wear, and photographed in varying degrees of bad posture, body part by body part. These were later pieced together on Macs and made to move by arcane software. I was physically present for half-an-hour, at most.

The animators spent much more time roaming the environs of Jalan Raja Chulan, Sultan Ismail, and Ramlee at sweaty mid-day, taking pictures of sidewalks, mouldy walls, rusting metal, garbage bins. For the next three months, these photographs were meticulously montaged to create an Orwellian dystopia. “It’s a time-consuming process; but nevertheless, fun to do,” says Mussadique. My body now shuffles around in the music video, carrying passed-out ladies. I’ve tried to avoid watching the video; it’s hardly unsatisfactory, but still causes me great embarrassment. They thought my slouch was cute.

‘Arms of Marianne’ also won the gold award in the Best Music Video category. “The awards have not caused our phone to ring of the hook yet,” Mussadique tells me. “What they have done, though, is give us a well-needed sense of motivation, a feeling that we are being listened to.”

Paddle Pop

I have informed you of my oblique connection to the Malaysian Video Awards; my dear editor is using me as a gimmick again (“Write as if you are Alice in Wonderland, you know. Zedeck in Videoland!”). I have little enthusiasm for commercials, the Paddle Pop Lion having scared me as a child. I missed six of the 9th MVA Festival’s eight days.

Compelled to fill the gaps in my knowledge, I have three VHS cassettes and nine Digital Video tapes on loan from MVA Central. Here are some highlights: Desmond Hew’s The Defiled is a spiffy looking gangster short set in an abandoned Taman Perindustrian, and would have been alright if the thugs didn’t speak in inconsistent American accents. Eugene Foo’s five-minute hallucination, Grey Avenue, won Best Experimental Video (Amateur Animation) and Best Short Animated Film (Open); the traffic-light-giraffes, caterpillar-trains and tractor­-elephants were trippy. Chee Guo Lin’s An Interview with the Swimming Pool is a neatly made, funny, and poignant short in which a guy literally interviews a swimming pool and learns about compassion; it won Best Short Film (Independent / Self Financed) and is this year’s recipient of FINAS’ RM 30 000 grant.

“You don’t have to watch the whole thing, you know,” James Lee says. I am in his workroom, trying to endure the outtakes of Jeffery Manja, an excruciating (but sincere, I’m told) Iban-language pop music video. James is letting me use his DV camera to watch the tapes.

I ask James about the MVA, and he has some reservations:

“They’re not doing as much as they can. I mean, they’ve been doing it for nine years already. The festival is free to the public, and you can watch some nice stuff there, but the awards themselves don’t mean much. You win an award, go to a party, and everyone is happy, but there’s no follow-up. Ming Jin had to deal with FINAS himself.”

At the 7th MVA in 2002, the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS) awarded a grant of RM 30 000 to Woo Ming Jin for Mina In Perfection, which won gold in the Best Short Film (Drama / Fiction category). But Ming Jin had to jump through hoops to get even some kind of confirmation that he will get the money.

“True lah, FINAS isn’t very organised,” James says, “but I think the MVA Council should handle this sort of thing for him.”

James rolls out a luggage bag; he is busy packing posters for The Beautiful Washing Machine (his latest film). Tomorrow, Ho Yuhang’s Sanctuary, which James produced, travels to the 9th Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea. The film was accepted for competition in the festival on the strength of its director’s previous work alone – “That’s on the same level with Tsai Ming Liang,” James says – but needs to be in film format to qualify. Yuhang approached FINAS to fund the transfer from Beta tape to film, but FINAS rejected this proposal: the film was [1] “not multicultural enough” and [2] “not up to standard”. Pusan organisers later made an exception for Sanctuary, still on tape; it went on to receive a special mention in New Currents category, one of the highest accolades ever awarded to a Malaysian film.

Never is Neutrality

The RM 30 000 grant is FINAS’s only connection to the Malaysian Video Awards. “From past experience, anyone who works with FINAS needs an individual strategy to deal with them; they don’t have any regulated procedure. If MVA is the go-between I’m not sure it’ll make working with them any easier,” says Bernard Chauly, a current member of the MVA Council, whose films have won awards at the MVA from 1998 through to 2003, and who has curated the MVA Festival since 2002.

Bernard informs me that some MVA winners have managed to utilise the grant: Liew Seng Tat, for example, used his to make Not Cool, which won gold in the Best ASEAN Short Film category this year.

Advertising agencies already receive some form of acknowledgement from the likes of Kancil Awards, but an equivalent for filmmakers in the commercial industry did not exist; the Malaysian Video Awards were created to address this lack. “But non-commercial categories, the experimental categories of the MVA, were in the agenda from the beginning,” Bernard says. “Chan Moon Kean [founder of MVA and of MFX Sdn. Bhd., an animation and post-production company] was really into experimental film.” He adds that they were also working with the National Art Gallery, which wanted an overt connection to ‘art’.

I had earlier talked to Lina Tan, Red Communications’ Executive Producer; she observed that some people regarded the MVA as partial – the people who organise the awards or sponsor it are winners themselves. “I think what’s important is the pooling of resources, wherever that comes from,” Bernard answers. “If TWO Am Sdn Bhd’s What Colour Are You? wins Best Music, which is a category they sponsored, that’s purely coincidental; the judges have no idea who sponsors which categories. At the end of the day there never is objectivity; there never is complete neutrality.”

More importantly: “The awards help students get scholarships or places at a competitive institution; it helps get filmmakers subsequent grants to do more work. We have to do what has to be done.”

Cel by Cel

Bernard tells me that attendance for the MVA Festival was highest on the 16th of September: animation day. “Young people have a huge interest in animation, as opposed to, for example, documentary. That actually says some problematic things about our viewing tastes.”

I was present that Thursday for the Animation Forum, which included Chan Moon Kean, Japan’s Sayoko Kinoshita, and the UK’s Jayne Pilling as panellists. To a student’s comment on the inherent advantages of computing power, Ms. Kinoshita defended her preference for working in analog, eel by eel. An endearing short from the British Animation Awards had hand-drawn female forms taking their pet penises for walks.

Bernard points out that the week-long Festival programme acts as a counterpoint to the awards night. “If that seems to cater for professionals in the commercial filmmaking industry, then this festival is for the next generation of filmmakers – amateurs or students in college. Where they can see stuff and see their own stuff screened.” A session called The Best of British & Malaysian Animation, featuring winners of the British Animation Awards and some Malaysian shorts, also on the 16th.

“Anyway, I’m happy to say that none of the events were below quarter empty. We’re actually one of the high points in the National Art Gallery’s year. Former Director General, Puan Wairah Marzuki, actually told me, ‘After the festival ended, the NAG seemed a lot quieter again.'”

Keeps Us Dreaming

At, there is a banner advertising the



and above these lines is

party!! party!! party!! party!! party!! party!! {Awards Presentation + Live Music}

I am not exactly sure why I am here. Mild curiosity, perhaps; ads never really fill me with emotion, except mild annoyance and fear. On the projection screen is such a commercial, one I have never seen on television and a nominee for an award: a more-or-less Caucasian man dives from his luxury yacht into the water and experiencing exotic marine life.

This seems to be a shared ideal of the majority of watermark ads these days, from telecommunication corporations and airline carriers, banks and paint brands. Passion Picture’s Colour spots showcase a multicultural montage: boys playing with a buffalo, girls in saris, Japanese geisha, an anthropologist type with his team at the Angkor Wat.

The cosmopolitan upper-middle-class dream is nice. It may even be true, in Budaba and this stretch of Jalan P. Ramlee. It’s great relief from the hate and terrorists around us, I suppose, to imagine a world where every person is kin.

The reverse is, of course, that it keeps us dreaming: paradise is already here; just buy the product. The power of propaganda is to compel an audience into belief of an idea, even if that idea is blatantly and evidently untrue. It’s more frightening than the Paddle Pop Lion.

Forgive me; I always end up in soliloquy when I’m unengaged. There is hardly room to move here. Lina Tan will tell me later: “They should not hold it in a bar. To me this trivialises the awards; it’s too informal; it alienates the larger part of the film community who will not be comfortable being seen in a bar with alcohol flowing so freely. It’s so smoky and dark: I can’t see the winners.”

I am not so jaded, yet; I’d have to attend the MVA a few more times before this can occur. Meanwhile, Eugene Foo, whose talent is a crime not to recognise, clutches the Best Short Animated Film trophy for Grey Avenue. We have to do what has to be done.

First Published: 20.10.2004 on Kakiseni

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