“Gafim v Finas: Civil War” & Other Curiosities

VERSI BAHASA MALAYSIA ADA DI BAWAH. SILA SKROLL KE BAWAH.

The-Best-Documentaries-by-Italian-Filmmakers

Last week, the industry was abuzz with controversy. It was revealed on social media that there was some clandestine manoeuvres to remove Datuk Kamil Othman as director-general of the National Film Development Corporation (Finas). Within hours, the real plot was uncovered, that it was Datuk Jurey Rosli, who sent an official letter in his capacity as president of Gabungan Persatuan Karyawan Filem Malaysia (Gafim, roughly translated as Coalition of Film Workers’ Associations of Malaysia) to the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, detailing several “failures” of Finas under Kamil’s directorship.

And a couple of hours later, the plot thickened as several associations under Gafim were rumoured to have left the coalition in protest of Jurey not consulting them before sending the letter. According to media reports, Jurey’s letter detailed the rudderless nature of Finas under Kamil’s leadership, and took issue with how Kamil liked to place the blame on his predecessors.

The Daily Seni has a piece featuring a part of the letter’s content, that claims Kamil was running Finas like a business, and that priority for bumiputeras should be ensured.

I think this whole issue has exposed some interesting facets of the film industry here.

First of all, the fact that there is uneasiness about the changes that have been made, and are still coming, by Finas shows that the industry has been in a mummified state for far too long. Comfort breeds complacency breeds resistance to change. As such, certain “mentalities” from other areas of politics have also seeped into the industry.

Secondly, the industry has been a bureaucracy for so long, it has forgotten that it is, first and foremost, about business – the business of making and selling films.

I interviewed Kamil back when he had just started in his job at Finas, and he told me that he wanted to bring back the business aspect of film in Malaysia, that the subsidies that were enabling some degree of exploitation where producers were making money from the productions and not from the films, had to stop. You can read the rather-long piece here.

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Last Friday, I attended the Tanya Finas session that takes place every last Friday of the month at the Creative Content Pitching Centre. Notice that the name has been changed from “Tanya KP (Ketua Pengarah)”. This is understandable after the Gafim controversy. It’s clear that Kamil wants to change the perception that “Finas is Kamil” and “Kamil is Finas.” During the session, he emphasised that as well, saying that whatever was happening was about Gafim and Finas, nothing personal, meaning it’s not about Jurey and Kamil.

But the sometimes-overenthusiastic outpouring of support for Kamil that night showed people’s perception to be otherwise. Several people gushed about how Kamil had done a great job and some about how Kamil had personally helped them. There was even a petition started to get the ministry to extend Kamil’s two-year contract.

Seeing all this overreaction gave me thought about several things that could result from this. I would mention just one. All this could actually do more harm than good to Kamil.

Let’s take a look back at Kamil’s tenure at MDeC, the Multimedia Development Corporation now known as the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation. It’s often credited to his laying the groundwork and foundation for the animation industry to flourish. The changes didn’t come immediately. Yes, there were some achievements such as Upin & Ipin, but it’s only now that we see Malaysian animation really coming into its own with shows and movies like Boboiboy and Ejen Ali, and still more on the horizon.

Right now, Kamil is still laying the groundwork for the revitalisation of the film industry, and who knows how long it will take before we see some real results? We can answer the question “What has Kamil done?” right now, but as for “Where are the results?”, it’s still a long way to go. So it’s good not to put the cart before the horse.

And now, on to some things that I feel Finas could improve on.

On Friday night, Kamil once again talked about the Oscars, festivals and awards. At one point, he used The Kid from the Big Apple as an example of how winning awards at festivals can do some good for a film.

I don’t quite agree with this. The Macau International Movie Festival is hardly an important festival. What happened to TKftBA was the media hype, more than anything else, that got people interested in seeing the movie.

There are several important points to consider. Not all countries that have won Oscars have immediately seen their films gaining international recognition. And not all countries whose films are successful internationally have won Oscars. Best case in point, South Korea. The Koreans have managed to export their cultural products worldwide, but none of their films have ever even been nominated for an Oscar, let alone win one.

BRENTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Nate Sanders displays the collection of Oscar statuettes that his auction company will sell online to the highest bidder on February 24, 2012 in Brentwood, California. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)

As for festivals and awards, it’s a known fact that exhibitors and distributors are afraid of olive branches. If they see olive branches on a movie poster (meaning the film has won several festival awards), they will immediately regard the film as arty and not commercial. Also, I personally know some excellent film directors who have won numerous awards but have not met with much commercial success. Some are even about to give up completely because trying to make a living by making films is just too difficult for them.

Take, for example, one of my all-time favourite films, the musical-comedy Sell Out! (2007). The film won no less than four awards from Venice, Barcelona and Taipei. And the director Yeo Joon Han’s short film, Adults Only, won no less than 10 awards and was accepted by over 25 festivals. Where did all that land him? Sell Out! failed at the box-office. Meanwhile some films that have broken records have never been anywhere near a festival. And right now, as I write this, Sell Out! is being screened in Singapore; the film still has life after so many years. Even good films still need to be marketed and promoted correctly.

Finas should be made aware of all this, instead of being preoccupied with the Oscars and awards, to the point of embarrassingly sending an atrocious film like Lelaki Harapan Dunia, a film that is disconcertingly unaware of its own racism, for an Oscar nomination. A look through the international trade magazines’ reviews would have provided enough clues as to how LHD would have been perceived by the Oscars committee. Yet Finas saw it worthwhile to spend money promoting LHD to the Oscars.

The thing is, there are quite a few filmmakers out there who know their craft and possess great storytelling skills, but who are not on Finas’ radar. What we mostly hear of are Da Huang and Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia and workshops with award-winning directors who are not commercial filmmakers. At least that’s the perception I get from social media and other avenues, so correct me if I’m wrong. (I’ve even attended one of the workshops that was open to the public.)

I don’t think there’s anything wrong if Finas were to invite, say, Michael Bay to give a workshop (although he’d be pretty expensive). Or even Martin Scorsese, or Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. Or Kim Seong-hun, the director of A Hard Day (2014), a highly entertaining black comedy. I do recall Carl Gottlieb, famed writer of Jaws, giving a talk at Finas some years ago. After all, Finas is looking for a film that will be a big hit, a game-changer with the ability to travel overseas, something like South Korea’s Shiri (1999). So, why focus on festivals and awards?

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The changes that Kamil has implemented in Finas and for the industry are much welcome. The streamlined processes mean it’s much tougher for those who never bothered to train in or learn the art of filmmaking to exploit the system for a quick buck. The idea is that you have to pay your dues first, which is fair. This will go on to ensure that films are of acceptable quality, and that those with real passion for filmmaking have the means to make their vision come true.

Instead of gushing idolatry for Datuk Kamil Othman, we should apply some level-headedness, and see that it is Kamil’s duty after all to help the industry and to develop it, commend him for carrying out his duty well with a strong vision, and that it would be interesting to see how the industry would progress if he is given another two years on this path.

But most importantly, as Kamil himself said that night, we must give criticism where criticism is due, because only then would Finas know how it can further improve.

 

VERSI BAHASA MALAYSIA

Minggu lalu telah berlaku satu kontroversi dalam industri filem negara. Awal minggu lepas, orang sibuk mengatakan ada pihak yang ingin melihat ketua pengarah Finas Datuk Kamil Othman dilucutkan jawatannya. Dalam hanya beberapa jam kemudian, media sosial telah digegarkan dengan berita tentang Datuk Jurey Rosli, presiden Gafim, yang dikatakan telah menghantar surat rasmi kepada Kementerian Komunikasi dan Multimedia untuk mengadu tentang kelemahan kepimpinan Datuk Kamil.

Dan beberapa jam selepas itu, terdapat berita bahawa beberapa persatuan telah menarik diri dari Gafim kerana tidak senang hati dengan tindakan Datuk Jurey yang tidak berunding dengan mereka sebelum menghantar surat itu. Menurut laporan media, surat Datuk Jurey adalah berkenaan dengan bagaimana Finas di bawah pimpinan Datuk Kamil tidak mempunyai halatuju yang jelas dan bagaimana Datuk Kamil suka menyalahkan ketua-ketua pengarah sebelumnya.

The Daily Seni telah menyiarkan sebahagian dari surat itu yang menyatakan bahawa Datuk Kamil seolah “menerajui sebuah syarikat dan bukan agensi kerajaan” dan Finas patut “dipantau bagi memastikan agenda pembangunan filem Malaysia terlaksana dengan mendahulukan kepentingan rakyat manakala memperkasakan bumiputera diberi keutamaan.”

Saya rasa kontroversi ini telah mendedahkan beberapa aspek industri perfileman negara yang tidak mendapat perhatian sebelum ini.

Industri kita telah lama tidak mengalami perubahan, dan ramai yang terlalu selesa dengan keadaan sebegini. Sebab itu ada sahaja orang yang memberi tentangan terhadap segala perubahan yang cuba dibawa oleh Finas sekarang ini. Dan apabila terlalu selesa dan puas hati dengan apa yang ada, maka mentaliti yang berunsur politik juga mula meresap ke dalam industri.

Industri kita juga telah terlalu lama bersifat seperti sebuah birokrasi walaupun filem sebenarnya adalah hal perniagaan berkaitan dengan jual beli.

Saya pernah menemuramah Datuk Kamil semasa beliau baru memegang jawatan ketua pengarah, dan beliau telah menyuarakan keinginannya untuk mengembalikan aspek perniagaan ke dalam industri perfileman, kerana subsidi sering disalahgunakan oleh pelbagai pihak untuk mengaut keuntungan dari kerja produksi dan bukan dari penjualan filem. Anda boleh baca temuramah saya di sini.

Pada petang Jumaat yang lalu, saya telah menghadiri sesi Tanya Finas di Creative Content Pitching Centre. Sesi sebegini dulunya dipanggil Tanya KP, tetapi telah bertukar nama. Ini mungkin kerana dengan tercetusnya kontroversi Gafim, Datuk Kamil ingin mengubah persepsi bahawa “Finas adalah Datuk Kamil” dan “Datuk Kamil adalah Finas.” Semasa sesi itu, Datuk Kamil seolah mengesahkan perkara ini apabila beliau berkata hal antara Finas dan Gafim itu bukan hal peribadi antara beliau dan Datuk Jurey.

Tetapi nampaknya lain pula persepsi orangramai apabila mereka terlalu ghairah menyuarakan sokongan terhadap pimpinan Datuk Kamil. Ada yang memuji beliau kerana menjalankan tugas dengan begitu sempurna dan ada yang berterimakasih dengan beliau kerana telah banyak memberi bantuan. Juga ada petisyen untuk mendapat tandatangan sokongan supaya kementerian melanjutkan kontrak Datuk Kamil selepas dua tahun.

Reaksi orangramai yang kadang-kadang agak keterlaluan ini mungkin boleh menjejaskan reputasi Datuk Kamil, walaupun mereka ingin berbuat baik terhadapnya.

Begini, mari kita lihat kembali zaman Datuk Kamil di MDeC. Beliau telah membina asas untuk kejayaan industri animasi negara. Akan tetapi kejayaan itu tidak dicapai dengan serta-merta. Ia mengambil jangkamasa yang agak lama. Memang pada mulanya sudah ada siri Upin & Ipin dan lain-lain, tetapi hanya sekarang kita mula melihat kejayaan besar seperti siri dan filem Boboiboy dan juga siri baru Ejen Ali, dan banyak lagi yang akan datang.

Pada masa ini, Datuk Kamil masih lagi membina asas untuk perubahan positif dalam industri perfileman. Dan tiada siapa yang dapat menjangka bilakah hasil usahanya akan dapat dikecapi. Jadi, soalan “Apakah yang telah diusahakan oleh Datuk Kamil?” boleh kita jawab, tetapi soalan “Apakah hasilnya?” masih lagi menjadi tanda tanya. Oleh itu, janganlah kita terlalu ghairah atau beremosi.

Di sini ingin saya mengulas beberapa perkara tentang Finas yang saya rasa boleh diperbaiki lagi.

Semasa sesi Tanya Finas, Datuk Kamil sekali lagi bercakap tentang Oscars, anugerah dan festival filem. Beliau juga menggunakan The Kid from the Big Apple sebagai contoh bagaimana kemenangan anugerah di festival filem boleh menguntungkan sesebuah filem.

Saya kurang setuju dengan perkara ini. Macau International Movie Festival itu bukanlah festival ternama di dunia. Kejayaan filem itu di box-office tempatan adalah kerana media hype.

Ada beberapa perkara yang perlu kita teliti. Jika sesebuah negara memenangi Oscar, tidak semestinya filem-filemnya akan terkenal di pesada dunia. Dan ada juga negara-negara yang tidak pernah dianugerahkan Oscar tetapi filem-filem mereka laku di seluruh dunia. Contoh yang terbaik ialah Korea Selatan. Filem dan siri TV Korea sangat popular di seluruh dunia tetapi Korea Selatan tidak pernah mendapat nominasi Oscar pun.

Dan perihal festival pula, ramai pengedar filem dan tuanpunya panggung tidak senang bila melihat “dahan pokok zaitun” (simbol anugerah festival) di poster sesebuah filem. Bagi mereka, ia menandakan kekurangan elemen komersial dalam filem itu. Secara peribadi, saya kenal beberapa orang pembikin filem yang telah memenangi banyak anugerah festival, tetapi filem mereka kurang mendapat sambutan di panggung. Malah, ada yang sudah hilang harapan dan tidak lagi mahu terlibat dalam pembikinan filem yang tidak memberi pendapatan yang cukup.

Contohnya, filem komedi-muzikal Sell Out! (2007) yang saya rasa antara filem Malaysia terbaik pernah dihasilkan. Filem ini meraih tidak kurang dari empat anugerah dari Venice, Barcelona dan Taipei. Pengarahnya, Yeo Joon Han, juga pernah menghasilkan filem pendek bertajuk Adults Only yang memenangi 10 anugerah dan telah di tayang oleh lebih dari 25 buah festival. Apakah manfaat yang beliau dapat dari semua ini? Sell Out!, malangnya, kurang berjaya bila ditayang di panggung. Kita harus juga ingat bahawa ada filem yang memecah rekod box-office yang tidak pernah ke mana-mana festival. Pada masa ini, Sell Out! sedang ditayangkan di Singapura untuk sehari dua. Nampaknya filem itu masih “bernyawa” selepas sekian lama. Filem yang bagus juga perlu dipromosikan dengan baik untuk mendapat sambutan di panggung.

Finas patut sedar dan prihatin tentang perkara-perkara sebegini, dan tidak terlalu sibuk mengejar Oscars dan anugerah festival, sehingga secara kurang teliti menghantar Lelaki Harapan Dunia, sebuah filem yang mempunyai unsur rasisme tetapi tidak peka akan kejahilannya sendiri, ke Oscars untuk cuba mendapatkan nominasi. Kita hanya perlu meneliti ulasan majalah-majalah dan media filem antarabangsa tentang LHD untuk mengetahui pendapat orang luar terhadap filem itu. Sayangnya, Finas telah berbelanja untuk mempromosikan LHD kepada Oscars.

Ramai lagi pembikin filem tempatan yang berbakat dan berkemahiran tinggi, yang mungkin tidak disedari Finas. Bila ia berkaitan dengan Pitching Centre dan filem, kita kerap dengar tentang Da Huang, Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia, dan berbagai workshop yang dianjurkan, yang mengundang pembikin filem luarnegara yang bukan komersial. Sekurang-kurangnya, itulah persepsi saya bila melayari media sosial. (Saya juga pernah menghadiri sebuah workshop di Pitching Centre.)

Saya rasa tidaklah salah jika Finas menjemput, contohnya, Michael Bay untuk menjalankan workshop (OK, ini mungkin mustahil kerana Michael Bay akan minta bayaran tinggi!). Ataupun Martin Scorsese, atau pengarah Whiplash Damien Chazelle. Atau Kim Seong-hun, pengarah filem A Hard Day (2014), sebuah black comedy yang sangat menghiburkan. Saya masih ingat lagi, Carl Gottlieb, penulis terkenal yang menghasilkan lakon layar filem Jaws, pernah mengadakan seminar di Finas. Jika Finas ingin melihat sebuah filem tempatan yang cukup komersial dan boleh dieksport ke luar negara, seperti filem Shiri (1999) dari Korea Selatan, mengapa harus memberi tumpuan hanya kepada anugerah dan festival?

Segala perubahan yang telah dilaksanakan oleh Datuk Kamil di Finas setakat ini adalah amat memberangsangkan. Proses-proses yang telah diselaraskan menjaminkan sistem dalam industri perfileman negara tidak akan dieksploitasikan lagi oleh mereka yang hanya ingin mengaut keuntungan dengan menggunakan industri filem sebagai skim cepat kaya. Sekarang ini, sesiapa yang ingin menceburi bidang perfileman harus menjalani latihan ataupun mendapatkan pengalaman yang secukupnya. Ini akan memastikan kualiti filem tempatan terus meningkat dan mereka yang benar-benar bersemangat untuk berjaya dalam bidang perfileman akan mendapat peluang secukupnya.

Dan janganlah kita hanya setakat memuji Datuk Kamil dengan setinggi-tingginya. Kita harus lebih waras. Memang menjadi tugas Datuk Kamil sebagai seorang ketua pengarah untuk membangunkan industri filem tempatan, dan beliau memang telah menjalankan tugasnya dengan sangat baik setakat ini. Dan memang juga kita ingin lihat apa lagi perubahan dan peningkatan yang beliau mampu jayakan jika dilanjutkan kontraknya.

Tetapi yang paling penting, seperti kata-kata Datuk Kamil sendiri, kritikan juga harus diberi jika ada kekurangan, supaya Finas boleh memperbaiki lagi apa yang perlu.

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6 responses to ““Gafim v Finas: Civil War” & Other Curiosities

  1. Allan, apa yang lacking dalam penerangan Kamil adalah cara utk mengerakkan jentera untuk kejayaan mutu filem atau drama negara. I think people can talk about this and that and buat teori ini itu.. but never did they try to tell us how to do it.. how will they do it. To get an oscar.. .hhmmmm… probably spent a lot of money and do lots of lobbying… Maybe.. , may be lah… we get nominated… and if we, the govt or some people create some controversy on mostly human rights and islam, probably we stand a better chance to get an oscar. Getting an oscar is an ambition… satu cita cita saja… Bukannya satu perjuangan.

    Kena ada perancangan mendalam. First….. beri layanan sebaiknya kepada bakat bakat yang ada. This is very important. He has to understand too, bakat besar ni berbeza dengan bakat akademik. Orang bakat akademik, pandai cakap, pandai format….. menulis/mengarah hancur. Orang berbakat besar ini …. well, bakat besarlah.

    Finas ni dikeliling oleh ahli akademik sahaja. Bakat mereka cuma sederhana. Mereka yang berbakat dalam industri melarikan diri jauh. Kerana sistem yang ada..

    This thing first….. all great rulers zaman dulu kala, menyembah nyembah mencari bakat besar utk bantu bangunkan negara…. Finas cuma menanti di rumah saja…

    That’s the first thing to do…. the others probably ada jodoh kita sembang lain kali… p/s (I was a reporter with the Star in the early 90s. Entertainment desk, under gerald and sujesh..)

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  2. Nice piece, but of all names mentioned for Workshop, I think Lasse Halstrom suits us better. Decent filmmaker with decent budget who focuses on good storytelling for the masses(not straight/hi-brow art-house), which what we really need. Just my 2cent.

    Like

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