By Hang Kasturi

Whilst the whole world is reeling and suffering from the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic called COVID-19, the Malaysian film industry meanwhile has been infected by a new virus called Convid Awardaphobica – a disease that makes local filmmakers chase and clamour for accolades from dubious international film awards around the world and pass them off as legitimate and highly respected festivals.

So much so that even our Prime Minister congratulated a local filmmaker for winning the Best Film and Best Director award in a film festival in Toronto.

Yes, there is a prestigious Toronto-based film festival called the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF. But unfortunately, the Malaysian film won a festival called the AltFilm Festival in Toronto. Big difference.

Upon checking the site, it states: “The Alternative Film Festival is an iMDb-qualifying quarterly event that is committed to bringing filmmakers of all levels – even beginners – a chance at taking home a festival award. The online competitions are held in March, June, September and December.

“AltFF accept films in all genres. We are giving out awards in multiple categories. Each quarter, we will give out a Best Film Award (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter).”

Ohhkayyy. It is a quarterly online film festival that gives out awards like giving away kuaci (watermelon seeds). Anyone who has anything resembling a movie can participate and upon checking the recent and past winners’ circle, most of the movies that won are either truly indie no-budget movies or Z-Grade content from wannabe filmmakers around the world. All they (the filmmakers) want is the right to have laurels on their posters and the right to brag that they won a film festival in Toronto.

Let’s see the latest list of award winners from this ‘festival’. You can download the list from the website – and the latest 18-page  list is from the Spring awards 2021. There are more than 70 awards given out for the plethora of categories. The best awards of the said festival are listed as the  Best of the Festival and no Malaysian movie won anything in that category. You instead have to scroll down to page 14 to find the Best Horror award for in the Feature Film category and find the Malaysian movie listed as the winner in that category. A few categories below under Best Director, the same movie is listed as the winner (for the director).

Now, the previous Malaysian horror movie that sort of got international notice was Roh, which was in fact our country’s official entry into this year’s Oscar which unfortunately did not get into the shortlist for official nomination for any awards.

That is a good horror movie by local and regional standards. But how good is the horror movie that won the AltFF Best Horror Film award? You should just go and check out it’s trailer and reviews. and while you are doing that, also check out who they beat.

No, I am not trying to say these filmmakers are frauds. Far from it. They are eager genuine filmmakers who found that there are thousands of free and cheap festivals that they can participate and possibly win some accolades and laurels that can boost the movie’s marketability.

Unfortunately, there are parties out there who want to make a mountain out of an ant hill and get credit when it’s not due. The proof in the pudding as they say is for officials to identify and double check the status of the festivals that acknowledges or give awards to Malaysian film makers. Everyone in the business knows that there are only a handful of film festivals that matter and considered the elite among the elite. Even getting nominated or even officially selected for these festivals is an honour, what else if you win an award.

Let’s also check what the World Film Carnival (WFC) sites says about its own festival. WFC Singapore has just recently awarded a Malaysian film.

All Officially Selected projects in each month will receive WFC – Singapore laurels and certificates. All monthly Award Winners will receive laurel and customized certificates and are rated on their respective iMDb pages (if applicable). Each month, most representatives of monthly award winners are screened in Singapore.

Besides the BEST OF THE CATEGORY AWARDS, there are also OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS, CRITICS CHOICE AWARDS, AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARDS and HONOURABLE MENTION AWARDS, which are given, in all categories.

Talking about film festivals, I hear of this new programme announced by FINAS that is called The Road to the Oscars. It seems that the Ministry in charge of the Malaysian film industry wants someone to win an award at the Oscars.

Why the sudden interest in winning an Oscar? Is it because a South Korean movie entitled Parasite surprised the world and won the Best Film Oscar? And because of that this knee jerk reaction in thinking that a five-year programme can win us an award at the Oscars?

Not wanting to besmirch the quality of winners at the Oscars, just wondering what Finas thinks of other festivals like the Cannes Film Festival or the ones in Berlin, Locarno, Venice or the Bafta or heck, even the Sundance Film Festival. Are these festivals not better venues for world (international) movies? Why didn’t the authorities have a knee jerk reaction when Singapore and Thailand won prestigious awards in Cannes? Is the Oscar superior to the awards given out at Cannes?

A little statue named Oscar is supposed to be our cinema’s holy grail? Graphic by Alphonso Raphael

Never mind, let’s just say it is. So why now? When Japanese movies like Departure (which was a far superior movie to Parasite) or the slew of Iranian movies including A Separation won awards at the Oscars, no one budged and said Malaysia MUST follow the examples of these countries?  Ahhhh okay, these countries did not win the award they desire – THE BEST FILM award – the award that Parasite won.

Okay…fine. Legit. But did they study how South Korea has become a global cultural content creating giants until they managed to win the Oscars? Did they come out with a three-year or five-year plan? No. They didn’t. Their quest for creating content that can win global attention and hearts began with the Korean wave or the Hallyu which is a cultural phenomenon that began in the 90s when the Korean government asserted itself in wanting to promote Korean culture through world class design, content, arts and music.

One of the biggest conscious decisions the Korean government did was to lift censorship for film makers. Previously, the Korean censorship laws had prohibited movie makers and other artists from showcasing many topics considered controversial. This had curbed their creative independence for a long time. In 1996, the Korean constitutional court banned this censorship and opened up a barrage of topics for artists to explore. This move provided immense opportunities and independence to the young and vibrant generation of Koreans to express newer and bolder ideas through cinema and music. Many influential film makers rose during this period. This was observed by critic Martin Roll in his article “Korean Wave (Hallyu) – The Rise of Korea’s Cultural Economy & Pop Culture.”

From then on, the Koreans created K-Pop, K-Drama and K-Cinema that took the world not by storm but sheer tenacity. It took them 30 years to achieve global recognition when they won the Best Film Oscar award – something even the Japanese with their legendary filmmakers  Akira Kurosawa and Shohei Imamura never managed to achieve.

Are the Malaysian authorities willing to withstand the long haul in their bid to win an Oscar? Are they willing to pump in millions into the content industry? Are they willing to lift censorship? Are they willing to fund young aspiring filmmakers to study cinema in the West like the Koreans did in the 90s? Are they really thinking that cinema and content are important revenue earners for the nation in future decades?

The government needs to think properly and manage their aspirations professionally so that monies are not wasted, opportunists are not engaged and made to profit from this and that genuine filmmakers get the boost they have been waiting for since the beginning of Malay cinema in the early 1930s. Yes, Malaysian cinema will soon be 100 years old and we really need to see world class contributions happen before that magical anniversary arrives. – New Malaysia Herald

Note: The opinions expressed in this article is that of the writer’s and does not necessarily reflect the stand of the New Malaysia Herald.

About the writer: Unemployed writer, stressed beyond belief. Waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel to shine on his world. Bad golfer. Wannabe cartoonist.

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