Too Many Awards, Not Enough Movies

Talk about efficiency. For the entire first half of the 18th Malaysian Film Festival 2005 (FFM18) awards ceremony on Sun 17, July 2005, winners were ushered off the stage as soon as their awards were firmly in hand. We were thus thankfully spared of boring acceptance speeches. But truth be told, we were all dying to find out: to which deity or long-suffering producer do our winners owe their fame? It’s the only way we may hope to steal their success and contacts.

It seems that hosts Bob Lokman and Linda Onn were more interested in subjecting us to their suicide-bombing wit, which got more and more desperate toward the end as they realised they were running early. When reading out the last two awards, they even kept Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage Datuk Seri Rais Yatim waiting on stage aimlessly with his deputy, his wife and his secretary general while the two hosts listed “humourous” criteria for winning Best Picture and Best Director (“The director who keeps to the budget. Hahaha…”) Our eloquent minister and his anecdote-happy deputy would have made better hosts.

Watching an award ceremony where 25 films, most of whose posters alone can hurt the eyes, compete for almost 30 awards, is an exercise in absurdity. Coupled with dancing armed forces, a singer forgetting his lines, and an endless stream of trailers promising no relief from bad films in the near future, the whole awards ceremony itself appeared like a spectacularly awful epic film. And we couldn’t exactly just grab some popcorns and laugh our way through it.

At about midpoint of FFM18, however, at the initiative of veteran filmmaker Datuk Mustapha Maarof, winners started getting a go at the mike. I must say that our filmmakers, for all their filmic indulgences, know at least how to keep their thank you’s brief. And they also gave the night a bit of heart. It was nice to see Saw Teong Hin win the Best Director award. I said to him later at the reception, “An amazing feat.” And he said, “You mean it’s amazing I won?” Er… I mean, the movie is an amazing feat, dude, and being the first non-Malay to win this award is also an amazing feat. But as Persian-American expat film director-producer Naiem Ghalili says, “It’s like if you put Gladiator with all these films, it’ll win best film, but so what?”

Leave it to Yasmin Ahmad, who went to collect the award for Best Original Story for her film Sepet, to give the most heart-tugging acceptance: “Ramai yang mendoakan filem kita dari mula hingga sekarang. Malah kemenangan ini juga adalah berkat doa ibu bapa kerana saya menghasilkan skrip untuk menghiburkan mereka,” (Many have prayed for the success of our film from the start. This victory is also a blessing from my parents for I write my scripts only to entertain them.”

In her interview with Harian Metro, Yasmin goes on to say that it is a shame how our independent filmmakers have gone on to make a name internationally, but are not able to compete locally, calling into question the very theme of the festival, “Filem Malaysia Era Globalisasi”.

So, we decided to ask a few of our local independent filmmakers what they think of the awards.


Woo Ming Jin
Director of Monday Morning Glory (San Francisco Film Festival)

What do you think of the Malaysian Film Festival awards?

I never even saw it. Was it on TV or something?

I’m glad Yasmin won best film and Teong Hin won Best Director.

Do you wish your film is a part of it?

It’s not a real festival anyway. It’s not something I go to bed thinking about.

Do you know why your film doesn’t qualify?

Because it never received a general release? It couldn’t get transferred to 35mm for a general release, and no one saw it, that’s why it didn’t qualify.

Actually, it’s because it’s not on 35mm film. But they are changing it next year to allow digital films.

That’s nice. I think we should be allowed to compete. It’s always nice to be recognised locally.


James Lee
Director of The Beautiful Washing Machine (Hong Kong International Film Festival, Singapore IFF, Tokyo IFF, IFF Rotterdam, New York Asian American FF, Pusan IFF, Torino IFF, Munich FF, Montreal World FF, and Bangkok IFF, where it won the Best ASEAN Feature and a FRIPESCI award)

What do you feel about your movie not qualifying?

I don’t know whether my film qualifies or not. Maybe it’s because Beautiful Washing Machine is not considered a local film. According to the tax.

What do you mean?

All movies shown at the cinema, they take 25% entertainment tax from the box office takings. But local films can apply to claim back the tax. Beautiful Washing Machine, Visits and Chemman Chaalai is considered a foreign film because it is not in Bahasa Malaysia. So we cannot claim back our tax.

What do you think about the awards?

I’m not interested in it.

What would you feel if you qualified for it?

My films are small films. They will not, now or in the future, qualify for such a big festival. Putting my film in it will bring the standard of festival down.


Ho Yuhang
Director of Sanctuary (Pusan International Film Fest, where it won a special mention, Fribourg IFF, Singapore IFF, Hong Kong IFF, Commonwealth FF, CINEFAN FF, Brisbane FF and IFF Rotterdam, where it won a NETPAC award and a special mention)

What do you think of the awards?

We talk about it, then we laugh about it.

It’s nice that Yasmin won. We were joking with her the other day, we think she probably couldn’t win. So many films this year. All crap. So must give out awards to all.

What do you think of the films that were nominated?

Sembilu 2005 is so bad until it becomes entertaining – utterly dumb and racist.

I had to walk out of Qaisy & Laila halfway. It’s so naïve. Casting a local as an Afghanistan, go there and kesian them. Fuck you lah, they are stronger than us. Actually, I’m friends with Dr. Jemilah Mahmood [president of Mercy Malaysia, on which the movie was based] and she is a really nice person. I went with her on one of their missions. We were driving around giving medicines out. In the movie, they were just driving around and doing nothing!

Would you like to be able to qualify for the awards?

To me, it’s not so important. Pusan and Rotterdam more important.

You know you are disqualified because your film is not in 35mm film?

Di Ambang Misteri and Ah Loke Café were shot on video also. But they managed to transfer to 35mm. But some of these movies shoot on film also look like video. It’s appalling lah.

[Yuhang’s application to FINAS for funds to transfer his film to 35mm film was returned with an offer that is 10% of what he requested. The rationale given was that his film wasn’t Malaysian enough.]

I am not sour, it’s just a different game. The film awards is there because those people are in the position, so must do something. It’s like you’re a cop, you might as well catch thief. Just a bit of action to show that you’re still around.

How would you like them to change?

Don’t change. Then I keep making my film, then my film will be better than them.


Amir Muhammad
Director of Tokyo Magic Hour (IFF Rotterdam, Singapore IFF, Hong Kong IFF, San Francisco IFF, Los Angeles Asian Pacific FF, CINEFAN FF, and Melbourne IFF)

What are your thoughts on the awards?

It places importance on not offending anybody, giving awards to everybody.

What about the criteria to accept only 35mm films?

Next year they will allow digital films. Rais Yatim proposed the change.

You have been making films for a while now. Don’t you wish you could be a part of it?

Not at all. It’s an industry award, it’s for industry people. It’s fair enough. My films don’t contribute to the national economy.

Now MDC [Multimedia Development Corporation, Cyberjaya] wants to set up an alternative awards. TV3 also has awards. Too many awards and not enough movies.

Given everyone feels so negative about the awards, how will you feel if your film gets nominated?

Very excited. Of course.

Every year they change the goal post, so it’s hard to get enthusiastic about it.

How can you take an award seriously which has given two lifetime achievement awards [Anugerah P Ramlee & Tokoh Karyawan Negeri Perak] to Jins Shamsuddin, both times when he was involved in the organising.

This is the only award where you only find out the nominees and judges on the night itself. They’re afraid people won’t come if they knew they’re not nominated. They should do away with this system.

What do you think of the films nominated?

Senario XX [not nominated for anything] is better than most of them.


List of Awards

Best Film: Sepet

Best Actress: Erra Fazira (Hingga Hujung Nyawa)

Best Actor: Zamarul Hashim (Di Ambang Misteri)

Best Director: Saw Teong Hin (Puteri Gunung Ledang)

Best Supporting Actress: Ida Nerina (Sepet)

Best Supporting Actor: Radhi Khalid (Qaisy & Laila)

Most Promising Actress: Sharifah Amani Yahya (Sepet)

Most Promising Actor: Ng Choo Seong (Sepet)

Best Child Actor: Shawn Lee Jen Xian (Ah Lok Kafe: The Movie)

Best Theme Song: Warkah Buatmu Laila (Qaisy & Laila)

Best Sound Editing: Azman Abu Hassan (Gangster)

Best Editing: S. Rakesh (Gangster)

Best Art Direction: Hasnizar Ithnin (Puteri Gunung Ledang)

Best Cinematographer: Indra Che Muda (Pontianak Menjerit)

Best Poster: Sepet

Best Original Score: M. Nasir & Tan Yan Wei (Puteri Gunung Ledang)

Best Original Story: Yasmin Ahmad (Sepet)

Best Screenplay: Mamat Khalid & Saw Teong Hin (Puteri Gunung Ledang)

Best Animated Feature: Hoo Whai Khinn (Olsh)

Best Short Film: Faizul A. Rashid (Dewa Panah)

Best Documentary: Mohamed Harun (Temengor: Biodiversity in the face of Danger)


Photos and text by Pang Khee Teik

First Published: 21.07.2005 on Kakiseni

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