Why We Do What We Do

Audio_Recording

After 20 episodes, Fikri Jermadi explains why he and Muz do what they do.

When Thoughts on Films first started in 2008, it was little more than a byproduct of boredom.

At the time, Fazil and I were beginning new stages of our respective lives. Fazil just started work in a new company, and I had just relocated to South Korea, waiting for the semester to start. This was almost a month before the start of the semester (as it turned out), and I was stuck inside a little cubicle with no windows I was to call home for the next six months, and so the suggestion by Fazil to do this was very appealing. Of course, somewhat naively we didn’t quite factor in the passing of time bringing in their snow loads of work that piles up over time, but nevertheless we soldiered on.

Over time, Fazil became distracted enough by other things, and I carried on with fairly infrequent posts here and there. I believed in the potential of the site to be something good. We had initially did it as a way of kick starting some proper conversations on Malaysian cinema (well, at least I did). While Fazil was always a little more inclined to look to the West, I was keen to create some kind of content on more Malaysian films. As an aside, we were completely stoked when Dahuang Pictures took notice of our presence and sent us a couple of their films for us to review. This focus on Malaysian cinema grew into an obsession of sorts, and after taking a year-long sabbatical in the middle of 2012, I eventually decided to focus almost exclusively on Malaysian and regional texts.

It was about the same time that I became more interested in podcasts. Podcasts are audio recordings made available for download for the masses from the Internet, covering a wide range of subjects. I became enamored with them, because I am able to pick and choose what I listen to (unlike the radio). When the radio in my car fully failed to function, I didn’t bother to fix it because I had found in podcasts something I was able to enjoy in a more critical fashion.

There were quite a number of them, covering subjects ranging such as films and filmmaking (Scriptnotes), football (Football Weekly, The Football Ramble) and wrestling (Talk is Jericho, The Art of Wrestling). Suddenly, it seems like everyone was doing it. Even in Malaysia, there are a few Malaysians who got in the act. People like Uma and Joe, Khoo Gaik Cheng and Gavin Yap discuss plenty of interesting things on interesting films.

There was, however, one thing missing: none of them are in Bahasa Malaysia.

For this, you must understand that I am currently tasked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). No, this is no related to any pro-Bumiputera agenda or anything like that. Here, I teach a large number of subjects directly related to scriptwriting, and I often share with my students plenty of online and offline material (largely in English, since that’s the current lingua franca of the world) about films and filmmaking. I noticed, though, that quite a large number of them failed to truly grasp the central meanings in these texts for a number of reasons, and one of those primary reasons is language.

My reaction to this depends on my mood. Some days, I rage against this machine, railing against the fact that a significant number do not have any inclination to better themselves by confronting and challenging their lack of understanding about this. Despite the fact that UiTM is actually supposed to conduct its courses in English, many lecturers (including myself) compromise to a certain extent, prioritizing the understanding of topics discussed instead of having to become an English teacher as well at the same time. For my part, I conduct a lot of my lessons in both English and Malay. This was a huge personal challenge, especially since I did not necessarily spend a significant enough portion of my earlier childhood and teenage years in Malaysia, and I did not actually use as much of it when I did come back. I continued, however, to try to better myself (translating songs into Bahasa Malaysia can be fun as well as educational), which is why I sometimes get very angry at some of my students for what I perceive to be a lack of effort to overcome their efforts. If I could do it, why can’t they?

I realised, however, that the answer lies in the question: they are not me, and I am not them. Born and bred in discourses that champions the usage of a specific language at almost all times, is it any wonder that their lack of confidence would shine through when it comes to using another language? Until recently, I also taught at Monash University on and off for the past few years. Reversing their roles, I suspect quite a large number of them would also struggle if they have to express themselves in Bahasa Malaysia. Ultimately there is no right or wrong here, just a mismatch of the skills and abilities acquired thus far for the situation at hand.

Coming back to this, though, I also realised that avenues with which people can gain access to somewhat meaningful film discussions (that does not include who is dicking who) is somewhat limited. Even the podcasts I mention above rarely even talk about Malaysian films on a regular enough basis for my own personal liking.

To that end, the site now evolved to the next stage. Thoughts on Films is a podcast I do with my producer Muzzafar Shah Hanafi. He is a friend I met through a filmmaking workshop, and through the friendship grew a professional working relationship (and vice versa). We spend most of our time together talking about films anyway, and I was glad he was immediately interested in seeking to address some of the issues I mentioned above. Again, like Fazil, he is not as interested in Malaysian films as I am, but between the two of us there is a good balance that helps to cover pretty much all the bases.

We don’t know how many people well-versed in Bahasa Malaysia who are interested in this. We also don’t know how many people are actually that interested in the kind of informal discussions we have about Malaysian films, amongst others. Sometimes we look at a fairly serious issue; at other times, it’s little more than a walk in the park, shooting in the breeze. Essentially, we are talking about something relatively few people care about in a language relatively few people care about. Of course, the positive people we are, we flip that around to “the world’s only film podcast to be recorded in Bahasa Malaysia”. Sometimes, just for fun, we tack on “by not one, but two government servants” to that, or some variations of it. As such, the podcast is done partly as a kind of service to reduce the barriers to those who are interested to gain more access to such discussions and information in this manner.

Some things we’re going to get wrong every once in a while, and, given the upheavals we face in our own personal and professional lives, we don’t know how much longer this can go on. We will soldier on, though, as we always have, for as long as we can, because we believe that the content and space for fun and informal discussions in a critical fashion about Malaysian cinema and beyond is fairly limited. We hope that this site, and more specifically this podcast, can do something about that.

If you’re still reading this at this juncture, I thank you for your support and hope you enjoy what we have to offer. It would be great if you can also help to spread the word about our little effort here.

To think that this all started six years ago out of boredom.

I tell you what…we’re definitely not bored anymore.

Fikri Jermadi strongly credits John August, Marcus Speller, Luke Moore, Pete Donaldson, James Campbell, Emillio Daniel and Colt Cobana for this. Special thanks to Wubcat for letting us use ‘Mind Tricks’. Drop a line at mail@thoughtsonfilms.com, or check out our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Thoughts on Films Episode List

Featured image credit: Wallpaper Motion 

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