The Award Goes To… – 26th Malaysian Film Festival (part 2)

Having sorted out most of the technical awards, Fikri Jermadi casts his eyes on the remaining categories of the 26th Malaysian Film Festival in the final part of this (in)complete guide.

Moving on to the more artistic part of the filmmaking process, we now look at the Best Original Story category. ‘Penanggal’, ‘Sembunyi’ and ‘Rock Oo!’ reappears, along with ‘Tokan’ who we last saw in the Best Score category. A pleasant surprise is the nomination of ‘Psiko: Pencuri Hati’. Amin Shakib’s story provided the basis for Ayam Fared’s script (which unfortunately wasn’t nominated). In the review, I noted that “it tells of a good story in a very good way”, of how “meaning can be inferred from the withholding of information or direct answer to a question.” We see a lot of this in the film, and not a lot of it elsewhere, and I thought it was worth pointing out. I don’t know whether it would win against the other heavyweights here, but it would be lovely to see some of what I noted above being justified with a trophy or two.

Fikri actually had a very similar shot taken in Phuket once.

You can’t really talk about the story without the script, and a strong variety is detected in the Best Screenplay category. The likes of Ellie Suriaty Omar and Syamsul Yusof makes a strong jump from in front of the camera to the…well, computer screen, with their commendable work on ‘Penanggal’ and ‘KL Gangster 2’ respectively. Consider Ellie’s relative inexperience behind the cameras and in front of the computer screen (in this context). As for Syamsul Yusof, I’m reliably informed that he spends a short but incredibly intense period of time working on them, which in all honesty is a great plus, but I think the stand out choice here is Nik Amir Mustapha’s ‘KIL’. My love for the film is very strong, and while I respect the work of Mamat Khalid’s ‘Rock Oo!’ and the ‘Sembunyi’ script by Alfie Palermo, perhaps my bias could be blamed for making me unable to see a winner beyond Nik.

Moving on to the front of the screen, a number of veterans pop up in the Supporting Performance categories. As a way of proving my point, especially in the female category, I’m going to be very superficial and say that only Nell Ng did not look like she would be considered as a veteran performer. She, along with Ruminah Sidek, was nominated for her performance in ‘Kolumpo’, a film that’s so elusive to find after its cinematic run. Normah Damanhuri and Umie Aida received nods for their performances in ‘Penanggal’ and ‘Sembunyi’ respectively, but the most wonderful and deserving of performances must be noted from Anne James. I don’t know whether her relatively limited role in ‘KIL should actually qualify her for this, but my lord, it was a most wonderful performance indeed. “She milked every single frame she was in” was what I thought of her performance, and it would be a great breakthrough not only for her but for mainstream English theatre performers in Malaysia if she would emerge victorious here.

7n_feldascreenstanda00Younger faces can be see in the male category, with Azad Jazmin (‘Kolumpo’), Shanaaz Ahmad (‘Juvana’) and Zizan Nin (‘Tanda Putera’) flying the flag for the younger ‘uns. However, in their path stand two stand out performers in Khir Rahman, who’s nominated for ‘Rock Oo!’ and Rosyam Nor, whose complete and utter transformation in ‘KL Gangster 2’ was noteworthy. It was his comeback role after a minor sabbatical from the front of the camera as well, and it left a deep impression in me. This is what I wrote of his performance there: “Here, when he says that he’s going to kick someone in the nads, making it travel out through his mouth and make them eat it again, I would actually believe him (and guard my nads ever more tightly).”

Moving on to the lead performers, a number of familiar names and faces pop up, such as Diana Danielle for ‘Sembunyi’, Lisa Surihani for ‘Istanbul Aku Datang’ and Sharifah Amani for her role in ‘Psiko Pencuri Hati’. Ummi Nazeera is also nominated for her role in ‘Penanggal’, but the great surprise here is the name of Kalpana. Kalpa-who? I have no idea who she is, but she is nominated for her role in ‘Dhusrajanam’. What’s the film about? I don’t know. Silly me, the supposed expert on Malaysian films and cinema. Still, we can’t know everything, right? What I do know, after having wiped the egg from my face, is that this is a groundbreaking nomination. We don’t usually enough mainstream recognition of films not produced in the national language for a variety of reasons. It’s a fairly sad state of affairs, but it makes this selection that bit more improbable and great to behold at the same time. Will she win? I don’t know, but I bet she already felt like winning by being nominated. I hope this will open the door to greater recognition of the good work done by people on non-national languaged Malaysian films.

Dinner can be uncomfortable with your present, future...and past.

We come back to more familiar selections for the Best Actor award. The likes of Rusdi Ramli (‘Tanda Putera’), Faizal Hussein (‘Longkai’) and Bront Palarae (‘Psiko: Pencuri Hati’) are nominated, along with ‘Penanggal’s Azry Iskandar and Syed Hussein, also of ‘Psiko: Pencuri Hati’. It’s not all that common for two leading men to be nominated from the same film in any country, so it’s only a good mark of the good work did by both Syed and Bront. Credit must go to Nam Ron, whose directing brought out a lot of the great stuff from both Bront and Syed. I think his extensive background as an actor is key here, and I’d love to spend a day on set just to analyse how he directs his actors.

In the Best Director category, the same five films nominated for Best Screenplay were chosen, with only Kabir Bhatia taking over from Alfie Palermo as the true ‘auteur’ of ‘Sembunyi’. Again, they are very different films made for different purposes. Syamsul’s work has consistently established him as one of, if not the top action film director in Malaysia, which is no mean feat. The satirical nature of Mamat Khalid’s ‘Rock Oo!’ always shines through many of his films, though, as I mentioned before, I did not watch this particular work of his. Kabir Bhatia’s technical direction can never be ignored either; I wrote that his works are “beautiful and beautifully-integrated ensemble pictures” that “promises to be an aesthetically pleasing experience”; ‘Sembunyi’ is “a film that has been produced with the very highest of technical qualities.” This, though, is a directing award, and again, I simply can’t look beyond ‘KIL’. Going back to my review of that film, I wrote that “the treatment of a subject matter that is potentially sensitive for some is worth lauding simply because it was well done by a capable first-time director.” I stand by that assessment made over a year ago.

The cat is not away after all...The award for the final film hinges on that criteria. Are films then awarded for the stories they told, or the production qualities we see on the screen? I’m inclined to say both, but I am aware that reality may not necessarily work in such a fashion. If the former is the main criteria, then this is a no contest with ‘KIL’ a clear winner. If the technical qualities of filmmaking is to be considered (still an art difficult to get right), then ‘Sembunyi’ and ‘Penanggal’ have more of a chance. Whatever it is, the remaining nominees of ‘Rock Oo!’ and ‘KL Gangster 2’ are also worthy nominees, making this an interesting battle.

A final word on the festival, then. The Malaysian Film Festival is a much maligned event by many. There are many reasons for that. The lack of consistency from one year to the next, with a strong lack of support for a long time from those not nominated, showcases the very worst not only of the Malaysian film industry, but of society as a whole. More to the point, a number of very redundant categories bloats the event. I noted this by not passing my analysis on them here; the presence of a category such as Pelakon Harapan (probably best translated as Best Newcomer) and Best Poster reeks of the kind of awards people mete out to encourage participants at an end-of-year school fair.

The fallacy of these category’s nominees, too, is clear for all to see. Some are not so bad; Nik Amir Mustapha, for example, is nominated as the Best Newcomer Director and Best Director, which is not untrue, while Elly Suriaty, Esma Daniel and Syed Hussein are fairly new names in the director’s seat as well. However, ‘Psiko Pencuri Hati’ is Nam Ron’s fourth feature film as director. His previous works were more independent, such as ‘Gadoh’ and ‘Jalan Pintas’, but his first directorial effort, ‘Gedebe’, was described by Zakaria Ariffin in his book ‘Karya dan Karyawan’ as possibly the finest Malay film of…2004. That’s ten years ago, ladies and gentlemen, so a disgrace that was first truly highlighted with James Lee’s victory in the same category with ‘Histeria’ half a decade ago (by which time he had already directed 8 feature films) is continued. The lack of certain names have also left me perplexed (I feel Redza Minhat deserves a nod somewhere), but most award shows will always have that effect on you; there’s always someone who misses out one way or another.

The AGM for the theatre club was volatile.

The same can’t be said for the separation of non-national language films. I wonder whether there is a certain threat felt by some in the rise of Chinese and Indian films in Malaysia. Certainly, ‘The Journey’s great box office success has set a lot of people on high alert, but the fact remains that these films deserve to be seen as Malaysian films. The organisers will always have their own reasons, and that is their choice, but any film award that purports to celebrate the very best of Malaysian cinema will lack credibility if they don’t actually acknowledge the very best of Malaysian films.

One criticism I don’t entirely agree with, though, is how this is considered a festival when it’s little more than an awards show. Al Jafree of The Daily Seni have pointed this out, and while I appreciate his perspective, I feel that his logic of “other people have it done that way, so we should too” is not strong enough. A festival of any sort is a celebration of a certain kind. While film festivals have conventionally been seen as a screening event over a period of time followed by an awards night, I don’t believe that there is only ever one way of doing things. I certainly don’t subscribe to the idea that we should do it that way just because everyone else does.

There are reasons to rebrand and reconsider this event more critically, but I feel that it is just as constructive (and perhaps even more so) to look at the films and filmmakers being showcased in the 26th Malaysian Film Festival for the right reasons. The date of the event itself is currently undecided for a number of reasons. For my part, when it does take place, I feel it promises to be an interesting event worth following.

Part one of this was posted here. The 26th Malaysian Film Festival will take place on 1st November 2014.

Feature image credit: Linkology

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