PETALING JAYA: Award-winning director Shuhaimi Baba has defended the organisers of Festival Filem Malaysia (FMM) against charges of racism, saying the separation of awards into Bahasa and non-Bahasa categories was a development from the history of Malaysian filmmaking and had nothing to do with communal sentiment.
Speaking to FMT, Shuhaimi said FFM had always been a festival for Bahasa Malaysia films because there were no non-Malay movies until quite recently. Contenders for the awards included non-Malays because they too produced movies in Bahasa, she added.
Furthermore, she said, the Malaysian Film Development Corporation (Finas) was mandated to organise a national festival for Bahasa Malaysia films.
“Finas should sue for being accused of being racist,” she said. “What is so racist about using your own national language?
“Racism, segregation, racial profiling – these are all political words. We are not in the old South Africa or Mississippi. Leave the industry out of it.”
She said her personal view was that Finas should not cram talents into one festival.
“Have another prestigious independent film festival for all in whatever language. The more talents given opportunities for recognition the better.
However, she said, Finas needed time to plan new programmes because “there’s a new captain on board.”
She pointed out that the categorisation of awards by language started becoming an issue only after a noticeable increase in non-Bahasa films and the talents involved.
“I was in the jury last year and sent a report to Finas regarding the unhappiness over the awards, but the main complaint was that it was not enough to have just one category – the Best Non-Bahasa Melayu Film.
“So suggestions were made for more major awards, and we added the two major awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay for non-Bahasa Malaysia films.”
She said that the only way to make the two language categories equally prestigious was to add more awards to the non-Bahasa category, but she added that this wasn’t Finas’ call.
She also said that most of those who had expressed unhappiness with the awards actually didn’t mind being in a separate category.
“Most of the unhappiness is from the actors and the technical teams. To them, only the producer benefits from the Best Film category. They don’t get anything.
“You see, everybody wants recognition and the cash awards of course, but then, other than the three main awards which have been replicated, all 24 categories are open to all talents and all films.”
Haris Sulong, who produced the acclaimed film “Redha”, agreed that there was nothing racist about the FFM awards.
“The FFM has had a long standing effort in celebrating the national language; so I wouldn’t say that it is racist to have these non-Bahasa categories, especially since the PFM (Film Producers Association Malaysia) has already specifically outlined the rules before,” he told FMT.
“In fact, previously non-Bahasa films weren’t allowed to enter the competition. It’s funny that this issue arose only after their inclusion.”
However, he said that it would be “nice” to see a more open and inclusive film festival.
“I’d like to see an independent film festival where it does not matter what language the movie is in as long as the filmmaker is Malaysian. It can have a category for feature films, short films, as well as for YouTube filmmakers.”
The FFM would naturally “die off” if such a new festival were to gain traction and become vibrant, he said. “Invite big names like Martin Scorsese and automatically your festival will become bigger.”
He cited an independent film festival in the Philippines that featured a panel of judges from Spain, Taiwan and France.
“These people don’t know who you are; so there are no special interests when they judge your movies.”
Meanwhile, some industry sources say that 70% of the movie “Ola Bola” was Bahasa and therefore met PFM requirements.
They say that this is what was being questioned by Penulis when it alleged that a racist attitude was apparent in the categorisation of films by language.