How we organised a Malaysian cinema programme for Urbanscapes in four weeks
LAST week at arts festival Urbanscapes, The Daily Seni curated a local film program which we wanted passers-by and local city folk to watch. From a hilarious 2009 murder mystery directed by Bernard Chauly to a screening and discussion of East Malaysian films, (1+RE)DISCOVER took place over five days at the Urbanscapes House on Jalan Hang Kasturi.
Our aim was simple: we wanted people to discover and rediscover what makes Malaysian cinema so special. Despite generally poor public opinion on local films, we hoped to prove that Malaysian talent still exists, and it needs continued support in order to thrive.
During the screenings, we invited special guests including Puteri Gunung Ledang director Saw Teong Hin, Sabahan film activist Nadira Ilana, and even heartthrob Raja Syahirann.
But behind the scenes, it was a whole different world. Assuming there’s interest in reading an honest account of how we put together our five-day film programme, here’s an honest account of the entire process!
Week 1: The fateful phone call
“Do you want to curate films for us at the Urbanscapes House,” innocently asked Ariff Kamil.
Having debuted his How I Learnt To Accept Reality By Sleeping Through It (Anak/Benih) last year at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) under the direction of Christopher Ling, the Sabahan playwright was the last person we’d expect on the Urbanscapes team.
Why not, we thought. Three years in the media business and counting, we probably had enough knowledge and networks to pull off six days of programming spread across two weeks. Or at least that was the initial idea.
“Great, just send us an outline of the programme and we can figure out costings and other stuff,” Ariff responded in his trademark calm.
So it seemed we’ve just landed ourselves a second event, hot on the heels of our performing arts festival BINTANG X BULAN back during mid-April.
These screenings were due to happen in slightly less than four weeks, but how hard could it be? After all, it’s just a matter of choosing films and playing them and roping in somebody from the production team, right? Right?
Week 2: Brainstorming for programming
The Daily Seni is a highly-democratic establishment. Introduced to the Malaysian media scene by local actor and producer Bront Palarae, we exist to provide attention to deserving local talent as well as to serve as a fair voice of the industry.
But all of it is done by a tiny group of people in our headquarters without much external support, so voices are taken seriously. If you’re part of the team, you had better have a voice.
Putting together our as-yet-untitled programme was a matter of collecting ideas, deciding what works, and adding them to the list. Our managing editor Deric believed Shamyl Othman‘s delirious Rembat (2015) would fly well with the sort of people who go to Urbanscapes, while our editorial assistant Shufitri insisted on Pisau Cukur (2009).
Our managing director meanwhile wanted to show the trailer of upcoming release Pekak (2016) as part of the program. The film, slotted for a 1 September 2016 release, was a gritty black comedy about illicit substances, naughty young people, and a deaf pusher. The trailer had not been shown to the public yet.
Uh oh, a premiere. But our managing director is also none other than Bront Palarae, so we knew he’d score.
We then scored FEEFO.TV‘s Hey Orang Kita so city folk can have a look at this top-notch Malaysian web series. Starring Takahara Suiko, Talitha Tan, Raja Syahirann and Christian Palencia, this was something for the indie millenials.
Rounding out the programme with more cerebral content was Nadira Ilana’s Across The Sea: East Malaysian Shorts program as well as Tan Chui Mui‘s Malaysia In Shorts.
The spare day would go to a music video retrospective curated by Shufitri.
“You need to see this, look, it’s so risque! And it’s Nabila Huda!” he gasped with his eyes on the Kroll Azry-directed music video for Monoloque‘s “Kupu-kupu Malam”.
We also settled on naming our programme (1+RE)DISCOVER — a title we coined within minutes judging from our line-up. Indeed, our programme seemed perfect for those new or familiar with Malaysian cinema.
Things seemed to go pretty well, and we were pleased by how easy it all seemed. Now we just needed to get together our guests.
Week 3: All hell breaks loose
Sure enough, a whole lot of terror cropped up within days. Amidst preparing for and executing BINTANG X BULAN at Minut Init, we had to deal with things we’ve completely forgotten: screening rights, fees, tokens, available dates.
Upon dealing with Chloe Yap from Next New Wave to obtain Malaysia In Shorts, it became apparent that we also don’t know that much about our space. Citing last year’s Filem-Filem Underground at Dataran Merdeka as our inspiration and potential blueprint, we quickly noticed Chloe wasn’t too thrilled.
“Will the space have people walking in and out? Is it conducive for screenings?” were some of the questions Chloe asked which we couldn’t quite answer. So we made a note to visit the space once our festival was done.
Urbanscapes also returned to us, suggesting we condense our programming to five days to run from the Labour Day public holiday until Friday.
This messed up with our dates so we dropped Malaysia In Shorts from our line-up, as we weren’t confident in our venue as yet. On the other hand, the date change also helped push our screenings a week back, which soon turned out to be extremely helpful.
The worst of the lot was possibly the features section.
As both of our chosen films were by Red Communications, we simply referred to Lina Tan, managing director of the production house.
“You need to consult Primeworks as they are the distributors,” she noted helpfully. “If you need any help however just call me, here’s my phone number.”
Very soon, we were in touch with Primeworks. Unfortunately, this was when reality sunk in.
“Is it going to be a public screening? Are you charging for entry?” asked Lyn Nasihin from Primeworks Distribution.
No, we answered. It’s free, and it’s for everyone to learn about Malaysian films.
“There’ll be a screening fee of RM500 plus GST,” responded Lyn.
Stumped, we tried to find ways around the fees. But as we aren’t a tertiary education establishment nor an NGO or charity organisation supported by Primeworks, they cannot give us an exemption. Fine, we’ll source the money somehow.
“Rembat is also currently being licensed to TM, we’ll need their okay before granting you the approval,” Lyn continued. Oh dear.
This approval process would eventually end up dragging for a bit — we don’t know if it even began. On Friday, when we heard that Primeworks was only about to issue a request to TM for rights to screen Rembat, we thought, screw it. Sorry Shamyl, but there’s no way this was going to be done in time given that Sunday was Labour Day and Monday was a public holiday.
We already had Pisau Cukur in the bag (or so we thought) so we needed an alternative and we need it fast. Doing the unthinkable, we immediately approached Current Pictures for their latest, Redha.
It was a long shot, given that Redha was still generating buzz and playing in a few cinemas in the country, but they were organising their first screening in Kelantan. We wondered if the team would like to screen their movie and engage the public in a discourse on filmmaking.
Imagine our surprise when producer Ku Mohamad Haris not only welcomed our request, but upon receiving the green light from director Tunku Mona Riza insisted we channel our proposed screening fee of RM500 to the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM).
These guys had taken out a massive loan from Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) to enlighten the masses on autism with their RM3 million film. It didn’t break even at the box office and they’re going to have to deal with repayments, but these folks stuck to their guns in channeling as much good as possible to their original cause.
The choice to forego their fees for charity showed a stunning commitment to their vision, but we were mostly thrilled that these guys saved our programme.
We now have a full-lineup which was just waiting for little details to come through, such as event pages and posters. Are we actually done?
Week 4: Almost there…
Soon enough it was Monday, (1+RE)DISCOVER was due to begin in eight hours, but there was just one glaring omission.
We didn’t have Pisau Cukur. Not in any format to play at our screenings, physical nor digital.
For some reason, communication with Primeworks simply fell through over the weekend; emails and calls went unanswered, and we were left without a file to screen despite obtaining approval the previous Friday.
After panicked phone calls to friends and family, Shufitri was sent around town to look for the DVD. He first dropped by Speedy Video at Mid Valley because it was one of the biggest in the country. But seeing that the local DVD industry has shrunk to fit two shelves, we didn’t have much luck.
At the same time, Deric got in touch with Lina again. Within half an hour, we were at the Red Communications office picking up Lina’s backup copy of Pisau Cukur and talking to video editor Sharon Chong about Gantung, a ridiculously exciting project we cannot talk about just yet.
We also found out that the Hey Orang Kita team would be bringing along all four of their lead actors to perform a live gig during our closing night. From this point onwards, everything sailed so smoothly, we were in disbelief over the next couple of days.
On Monday, locals and backpackers showed up for Pisau Cukur, and all of them stayed riveted until the very end. Most entertained of the lot were Deric and Shufitri.
On Tuesday, Redha pulled in a strong crowd and chairs had to be added. A group of young filmmakers even stayed back past closing to get advice from Tunku Mona.
On Wednesday, director Kroll Azry stunned our Synesthesia panel comprising Saw Teong Hin, Virginia Kennedy and Thiyagaraja with his dark comic sensibility and shocking stories from the Pekak shoot.
On Thursday, Nadira Ilana brought along four East Malaysian filmmakers to discuss non-semenanjung Malaysia, bringing heritage to the forefront and educating attendees about East Malaysia’s exceptionally-unique but much sidelined culture.
On Friday, the Hey Orang Kita team dropped by to close our screenings, and all four leads performed acoustic covers and originals for a magical end to the five-day programme.
Today, we want to thank everyone who were involved in our screenings, from organisers to guests and audience members. We also want to thank our staff, every one of whom volunteered in order to afford the entire programme.
The support we received was not only worth the time and effort, but proved that Malaysian cinema still had its appeal. As seen through the random walk-ins and loyal visitors, the local film industry is not without an audience.
What stood out the most for us throughout (1+RE)DISCOVER was how much our talents also shine.
Rafidah Abdullah‘s witty writing in Pisau Cukur still takes our breath away a decade later, while the quality Kroll Azry was capable of delivering on shoestring budgets was utterly inspiring. These are examples of world-class creatives who make the most of opportunities, and would go far with the right support.
If we had a chance to do it all over again, we probably wouldn’t change a thing. From our film line-up to special guests, everything fit within our vision to help those visiting Urbanscapes chance upon local content, and hopefully even stay.
We’ll be back with more programmes like this. Until then, we hope you too continue to (1+RE)DISCOVER Malaysian cinema.
(1+RE)DISCOVER ran every night at 8:00pm from 2 – 6 May at Urbanscapes House, 2 Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur. Read about (1+RE)DISCOVER from our previous write-up and look up photos on social media through our Twitter !
Leave a Response