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Freedom Film Fest, 18th November 2018 | Helen Gray

Freedom Film Fest, 18th November 2018

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The FREEDOMFILMFEST has been running since 2003, and this year’s event was co-sponsored by the organisation ENGAGE .  I went along to your show on 18th November held at the Blackroom Theatre & Illustraion, Jalan Lembah 18, Masai 81750, Johor. This small theatre space, with excellent projection and sound, was just a 30 min drive east from central JB, and with no parking problems! Besides, there’s a tiny cafe there which provided a delicious lunch in a box. For my Malaysian readers, you should note that this space is Chinese-centric, so I ate a minced pork dish, but there are plenty of other dining options just around the corner from the theatre. 

The film show ran from 10 am to 6:30 pm, and the documentaries were selected based on topics relating to the promotion of freedom of expression and human rights in Malaysia.  All the films had English, Chinese and Malay subtitles, as appropriate. We watched nine films ranging from 10 mins to 90 mins for the last film, called ‘The Cleaners’ by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck. This was a very thought provoking film about the role of ‘moderators’ employed by Facebook to delete ‘inappropriate' content. Not only did it raise the issue of who should determine what we read on the web, but it also showed the devastating effect on the lives of the moderators themselves who had to watch and assess at least 25,000 clips a day, clips showing violence in all its forms.

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On a lighter note, my favourite film of the day was called ‘Five Tigers’ directed by Por How Heong and Victor Chin. This 30 min film recalled the lives of three young women from Penang in the 1960s who were activists in the Labour Party of Malaya, fighting to make Malaya a better place for everyone. The charming ladies spoke of their experiences at that time, There enduring friendship over the years, and shots were interspersed with old photos from the 1960s. Back in those days, these young ladies were expected to stay at home and could not go out unless accompanied by a male member of the family, so their activism was extraordinary. At that time they all wore their hair in plates, so in order to reduce the chance of being dragged out of a street demonstration by the police, they all cut off their long hair so the police had nothing to get hold of. For How Heong’s mother (the lady in the middle in the photo on the left)  was one of the Five Tigers and she was present at the screening to take questions along with her daughter (the lady on the right). She was a very modest lady given all that she had achieved.



We saw two films dealing with apparent miscarriage of justice: POCA Boy by Sevan Doraisamy, and Menunggu Masa by Seira Sacha Abu Bakar and Sherrie Razak Dali. These films gave an insight into the way the Malaysian justice system can be politically influenced at the detriment of those caught up in the system. Sadly, these injustices occur worldwide, so we were reminded that the same thing could happen to any of us, if civil society sat by quietly and did nothing! After all, Agilandewari Mainthan has been held on death row now for 14 years for a murder for which there is no body, and for an incident where the victim has come forward to present evidence. So, the charges laid against him must be faulty. The film makers are currently re-editing the end of their film to strengthen Mainthan’s claims of innocence as these shouldn’t continue to be ignored, and his family shouldn’t continue to be punished too. Let’s hope the film has the power to change minds in the judicial system.

If you are new to Malaysia, attending film festivals like this gives you a quick insight into matters that are of interest to people in your adopted home. One is reminded of the unequal distribution of healthcare facilities in West and East Malaysia (The Story of Kam Agong by Lawrence Jayara, Agnes Padan and Wong Chin Hor) and the potential time bomb of stateless peoples in Sabah (Aku Mau Skola by Petri Pernama).

All in all, this was a very interesting day. The festival shows other films as well, depending on the location of the screening. The organisers hope to have more films by Johor film makers in the future, but it would seem that the issues raised are pretty universal. I understand that some of these films will be highlighted on 10th December which is Human Rights Day, so look out for further information.

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The auditorium was packed in the morning, but thinned out a little by the last show of the day. Still I felt thoroughly entertained and enlightened, so a day well spent!


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© Helen Gray 2019