An email popped into our inbox recently, an invitation to the screening of a documentary called ‘Future Expressions’. It seemed enticing, and Muz and I were keen on attending, but our schedules did not allow for that to happen. Living in the second decade of the 21st century as we are, such physical limitations can easily be overcome by virtual means, so I asked for an online link without much hope.
Lo and behold, a link did pop into our inbox, which was quite exciting. We should send a missive to Arivind Abraham, see if we can watch the intriguing feature film, ‘5:13’ (without paying any money, of course. Because we’re skint).
Directed by Gary Liew, ‘Future Perspectives’ is a production of Seeing Eye Films, and looks at…Malaysia. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, and we’ll get to the reason why near the end. This film is essentially a discussion of the ideal and the idea that is Malaysia. It’s always a worthy question to ask, especially if you get the right people in the room to spark that discussion, and that’s what the filmmakers tried to do.
To that end, we have six artists: Jo Kukathas (stage actor), Anurendra Jegadeva (fine artist), Russell Curtis (singer), Suhaili Micheline (dancer), Nathaniel Tan (writer) and Douglas Lim (comedian and TV host). Those are different professional backgrounds to spring from, so I expected a fairly robust conversation to take place, even if I don’t know all that much about every single one of them.
As it turns out, neither did many of the participants themselves, and in the documentary we are introduced to the different artists separately. Additionally, there are also snippets of them enjoying each other’s works, which is a unique plus. It suggests, at least, that these really are six strangers brought together for an expressed purpose.
What is that purpose? In short, it is to discuss some of the issues afflicting Malaysia in the present, to understand how the future can be better shaped. The title gives that away, but a lot of focus was also given to the zeitgeist; it’s difficult to know where you’re headed if you don’t know where you’re coming from.
My first impression of the film is that it was incredibly well-edited. I had been thinking about how I can make 30 minutes in my schedule when I would be able to sit down and watch the film without being interrupted. I know it sounds crazy, but half an hour is a short period of time to truly plan for (at least for me), so as the kid with plenty of change in the arcade said, I just tried to slot it in whenever I can.
However, any thoughts of time being dragged out was gone within the first few minutes. I can see that a lot of thought had been put into getting the right kind of footage for this documentary, with enough angles and B rolls to keep the editor, Sebastian Ng, busy.
There is one major thing I have to point out that the filmmaking team may not necessarily like. Opinions presented in documentaries are incredibly difficult to judge accurately, precisely because while the topic may be set by the director and producer, they are not completely in control of how the subject matter is to be portrayed.
This is to say that the director can’t force interview subjects to say something he or she may not wish to say. In that sense, the director retains some authorial authority over the presentation of what was recorded (they can edit stuff out), but even less of the same authority over what was actually said. Is that an issue here? I don’t know, because what was said in this documentary is fairly…alright. It’s quite uncontroversial for me, in spite of what Seeing Eye’s promotions of the film may have intimated (the term ‘uncensored’ was used on their Facebook page in promoting the film, and the poster itself was eye-catching for the same reason).
Largely, what was being spoken of is a wish of realising a more united Malaysia, doing away with the superficiality of race, amongst others. The writer Nathaniel Tan suggested that the abolishment of race-based parties overnight would lead to a longer-term eradication of racial disharmony. That’s not illogical, but the focus on factors such as race and religion (amongst others) is to the detriment of more critical discussion on others. Personally, I think the elephant in the room is class, in that not as many commentators (within and without this documentary) has addressed it more extensively.
I may be castigated here, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that all of them appear to be from a similar socio-economic class, perhaps with at least a part of their life spent overseas. This may allow for the development of a more unique perspective in relation to many others in Malaysia, but put six people of the same prism (or any prism, for that matter) who advocate for much of the same thing, and what you get is little more than propaganda.
For sure, I agree with many of the points being made, but I am also incredibly aware of the relative luck I had in being born into and shaped by fairly similar discourses and ideologies. At the same time, I also believe that no one group (racial, religious, socio-economic or otherwise) should be given the monopoly to dictate what (or how) Malaysia (and Malaysians) should (or should not) be.
For example, Jo Kukathas talked about how some people were critical of those who tried to develop a local comedy scene, as such efforts are not likely to succeed since Malaysians wouldn’t laugh in this context. Cue shots of audience members at a stand up show bellowing with laughter. Cut back to Jo Kukathas, who shrugged her shoulders, as if a segment of the middle class Chinese Christians who live in Damansara attending a comedy show at PJ Live Arts is representative enough to render such criticism irrelevant.
The important caveat to the above, of course, it is an incredibly difficult form of judgment to make accurately (not all Chinese are Christians [even the ones with names considered Christian by some], not all of them live in Damansara, etc.). That’s because the truth is complex in and of itself. Even a review such as this is probably not entirely representative of what this film is like, offering only the subjective opinion of someone who cares enough to write about it.
It is because I felt strongly about the very same issues that I feel ‘Future Expressions’ could have pushed the boat out a little more. Had there been a crow amongst the pigeons to add a little more variety in articulating slightly more alternative perspectives, it would have added more intellectual conflict that would have truly drawn me in. Then again, perhaps Gary had intended to merely present a specific perspective, rather than represent every Malaysian under the rainbow.
That is his right, but I still maintain that at least one slightly different voice would have added a little more colour to this film. In essence, I am busting the film’s balls for what it is not as much as what it is, a recap not only of the film but also of my reactions to the film. Again, I remind you of the trickiness of examining a director and his viewpoints through his texts, even more so when we’re exploring them through a more non-fiction genre such as this.
Nonetheless, ‘Future Expressions’ is a very hopeful piece, an almost utopian voice in the apparent dystopia that is Malaysia. Ours is a society with relatively little appreciation for its own arts, so kudos to the filmmakers for providing a voice in this form to those who practise it. To that end, this film is a critical addition to the local film scene, but its true potential will only be fulfilled after the film itself; I suspect the discussions that follow any screening is likely to be just as interesting, if not even more so, that the film itself.
What kind of discussion that will be (and how long it will run for), though, is a stronger reflection of you and how often you frequent Coffee Bean.
Or Starbucks. Maybe.
Fikri had a similar idea, but this film makes his seem a little more boring. Check out our interview with Sebastian Ng here and here. Seeing Eye Films is a new-ish production company, whose upcoming slate includes ‘Xing’, directed by Bradley Liew, who we interviewed here.
Featured image credit: Teach For Malaysia