Malaysia’s leading annual human rights film festival, FreedomFilmFest (FFF), which will take place in Petaling Jaya from 29 September – 7 October 2018, has one goal in mind this year, to echo the mission statement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls for all member countries to pledge that “No one should be left behind.”
As FFF fans will know, each year we award small film grants to filmmakers from Malaysia and Singapore who pitch their human rights documentary ideas to a panel of expert judges for consideration. A special thank you to this year’s Malaysian film grant sponsors, Penang Institute and MYDOCS.
This year we are proud to announce the awarding of four grants to four filmmakers who will also receive production support for their documentary to be fully envisioned and premiered at this year’s festival in Petaling Jaya. The festival will later travel to other key states in Malaysia including Penang, Johor, Sabah, Sarawak and also on to Singapore.
This week we highlight Malaysian human rights activist and first-time filmmaker Lawrence Jayaraj, who won an FFF film grant for pitching his documentary – “The Story of Kam Agong”.
The Story of Kam Agong
Lawrence was selected for his impassioned film pitch for “The Story of Kam Agong”, which focuses on his family’s struggle for justice after hospital negligence and insufficient maternal care led to the death of his mother-in-law in Lawas, rural Sarawak.
His film, is a deeply personal one, for in 2002 his mother-in-law, Kam Agong, tragically died after giving birth to her eighth child through a complicated caesarean procedure in Lawas. Instead of consulting a Gynecologist when complications arose, the hospital discharged Kam Agong and instructed her to return to her rural village in Long Semado, where she sadly died just 28 days later.
“The story about Kam Agong must be told to everyone, especially mothers in remote places like Sarawak and Sabah where mothers still struggle with pregnancy and poor maternal care. The hospital could have saved her life, but something happened. We [the family members] discovered a lot of problems, a lot of crimes against her. We want to ensure poor mothers, mothers from poor families don’t endure what Kam Agong endured.” says Lawrence.
As a first time filmmaker, Lawrence told FFF that he’s feeling the pressure, but his motivation for change is what spurs him to document his family’s story. In particular, he want’s his film to help push for the new Lawas hospital to be built and fully-equipped. The hospital project has been plagued by problems and delays since RM121 million was approved for its construction by Barisan Nasional in 2011.
“We want to highlight the deplorable standard of maternal care in Sarawak and the crime committed against poor mothers. We want the new Lawas District Hospital to be constructed and fully equipped to handle emergencies. We also want someone, an NGO, probably a politician to advocate better maternal care in Parliament and make it a policy for the future government to enforce.”
This year’s Malaysian film pitches were selected by a panel of judges comprising of filmmaker Tan Chui Mui, R.AGE journalist Elroi Yee and human rights activist and filmmaker Arul Prakkash. Elroi was particularly touched by Lawrence’s heartfelt pitch, “It’s a personal story that this filmmaker persisted with for so long. You know, he had this story, has been telling this story to people and wants to tell this story on film for the longest time and I think that persistence was also what struck a chord with us”, he told FFF.
Over the years Lawrence has strongly campaigned for justice for his mother-in-law and his documentary will intimately tell Kam Agong’s story through the eyes of her husband and their eight children as they advocate for health reform in Lawas and beyond.
Filming is expected to begin at the end of the month and costly flights, overnight trips to Lawas and 4WD transport will take up a large chunk of his budget. If you would like to contribute to any of the costs or support Kam Agong’s family, please contact Lawrence at: [email protected].
“The Story of Kam Agong” will be premiered at FFF 2018 at PJ Live Arts, Petaling Jaya from 29 September – 7 October 2018.
For up to date information on FreedomFilmFest 2018 and the other winning film grant recipients please visit: