Should Malay Films continue to be Malay Films?
One approach that should be continued is the furthering of Malay films as films made in Malaysia. This is because the Malay language is the national language, one that does not exist outside of the Malay Archipelago. It is one that is easily acceptable as a language that reflects Malaysia from any point of view. The non-Malay language can always be used to reflect the position of the language i.e. spoken in the community among people of the same language culture, or in telling about some background information, so long as it can enhance the cinematic impact required by a film.
To this end, the effort to produce Malaysian films should do this two-pronged approach:
- Increase the production of Malay films.
- Building the foundation of distributing Malaysian film that deals with Malaysian issues from the perspective of other races.
The production of Malay films should be increased in quantity and quality. This is because Malaysia is the only country whereby Malay films can be produced. Without Malay films from Malaysia, it can be said that there will be no Malay films in the world. Another reason is that there is still a lot of of other Malay and Malaysian issues from Malaysia, as well as from the Malay archipelago, that can be shown on film. Reducing the production of Malay film and producing Malaysian films on the excuse that Malaysian films have to be multi-racial and multi-lingual will marginalise a film source that is very cinematic and will also diminish the importance of Malay history and culture. It is a culture that may well disappear.
At the same time, the production of Malaysian films from the perspective of the non-Malays should also be encouraged. This will improve the standing of film in society and film as a medium and source of culture that is important to the nation.
National Film Development Plan
An officially-organised approach to build the film industry in Malaysia began in 1980 when the government established the National Film Development Body (FINAS). Since then, activities like as film development, encouragement, control and protection has been taken towards three of the most important aspects of the industry; that is, the production, distribution and screening of films in Malaysia. From the aspect of control and protection, the specific activities to development such as training workshops and financial aid can be said to have achieved their objectives. The Production Aid Scheme and return of entertainment tax, for example, can be incredibly significant to local film producers.
This paper does not intend to provide further commentaries on the success or failure of such programmes run by FINAS. 25 years worth of opinions and debates can be found via other avenues. I will, however, say that the programmes have a long-term impact on the development of the film industry in the future. The subject at hand is film policy. FINAS, in an effort to advance the local film industry, has twice pushed this issue forward. The first was in the years of 1989 and 1990, led by Tun Ghazali Shafiee. The second time occurred in 2004, when the policies were reviewed and improved to become more aligned to the new objectives and concepts of Malaysian film development.
Even though policies for a clear, national film agenda have been formulated, along with the requisite targets and objectives, nevertheless it is difficult to see what shape or form the Malaysian film industry will achieve by the year 2020. In my opinion, there should be a clear and concise 2020 objective to aim for, giving it the same amount of attention and importance as other fields. The entire nation is gearing up to achieve their respective objectives in these fields. As a developed nation, what kind of film industry will we have by then? It would be wise to ensure that we do no lag behind, and set practical objectives (e.g. local films having a 30% share of the market). The main thing is the setting of a schedule, timetable, or master plan for national film development. If such an action plan ever came into existence, all sectors of the industry would have main ‘idea’ to refer to.
Until now, however, we have yet to see such a plan, whether it exists or otherwise.
Increasing Appreciation Programmes for Local Films in a Structured and Holistic Approach
Another step that could be taken by all relevant parties is to increase the number of appreciation programmes in a structured and scheduled manner, so that the attention paid towards local films could be increased. This is of critical importance, seeing how low the audience numbers for local films are. From a national population of 26 million people, we can count a mere 200,000 to 300,000 people who consistently watch local films. Compare this to the Czech Republic, who have around 10 million people, but can depend on around 1 million of them to watch their own films.
If we can increase the number of viewers even by 1 million people, it would certainly change the face of the local film industry. We could also look at other countries and consider how they develop their own films; South Korea, for example, imposes a quota system to protect their local filmmakers.
The current situation is a cause for concern, because the previous generation of film viewers are now at a different stage of their life. Thus, they no longer go to the cinemas regularly. The new generation of film audience members have a different perception and exposure compared to the previous group, and with this comes a different viewing trend. If there is no programme to encourage further appreciation towards our own local films, Malaysian films, Malay or otherwise, will not have a chance. Only through a permanent, holistic, and well-planned approach will the situation improve. We need not look to far for an example of what could be; the current state of newspapers written in Arabic, when it was once the norm, is a sore sight for eyes. Even more galling is the lack of emotions that such a state arouses at the present time.
Increasing and Expanding the Interest towards the National Language
Apart from film appreciation programmes, other approaches can also be taken. One such example is to increase appreciation towards the language and culture of Malaysia, especially in the schools. Ultimately, this can help to increase further interest and fluency in understanding the local films. This should also be carried out in a similar manner to the above suggestion, so that the seed for such an interest can be planted and be allowed to mature. This can also increase the interest within society towards the traditional/Malay arts and stories which will also help along Malay and Malaysian films.
Training Programmes, Technology Networking and ‘Fund’ for Young Artists
Other areas that can be looked at is further exposure and education about all aspects of filmmaking, including providing further training to those who currently active in the industry. We can also work to strengthen relations and networking, and providing practical encouragement for filmmakers to take Malaysian films beyond Malaysia. This networking will help to increase Malaysian film appreciation not just within the country, but also without.
Another important factor is to create a fund for young artists. This fund can be used for various activities, like script development, but with an especial focus on encouraging the number of young directors with quality. Through such efforts will we only find the diamonds in the rough.
This paper does not suggest any one single conclusion, but invites further discussion and dialogue on the matters that I have raised. The issues and problems of the film industry are constantly changing with the winds of time, and so long as there is an effort to improve the making and content of local films, then the sky will truly be the limit as to what we can achieve.
Peace be upon you.