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 filmmaker Low Watan, of the Rumah Attap Library and Collective, who won an FFF film grant for pitching his documentary – “In The Dark”.
In The Dark
Meet Malaysian filmmaker Low Watan. Watan has a background in anthropology and believes that visuals have the power to change society. He is also one of the winners of this year’s FFF film grants for his upcoming documentary “In The Dark”, which follows the daily lives, hopes and dreams of the visually-impaired who live and work amongst the hustle and bustle of Brickfields, KL.
Watan is part of Rumah Attap Library and Collective, which runs a project, “Archive of the Other” to collect stories of people who got left out of KL’s history and development. It was through this project, Watan tells us, that he met and became friends with the blind communities working in Brickfields.
“Through my time spent at Brickfields, I became friends with the blind people from the community. I witnessed first hand how they live their daily life and at the same time, how they are excluded from our daily life. That’s when I started researching on past reports, journalism, documentaries and films that were done on the blind. What I learned is this – the narrative is always either really sad, or really inspiring and the audience usually just feel sympathetic after watching, rather than wondering why it happened. I found it’s limited and problematic, it does not do justice to the complexities and richness of their lives.”
For Watan’s key protagonists Ken and Penny, the main difficulties are not because of their physical impairment, but due to the social challenges that often exclude them from participating in public life and the work place. Watan hopes his film will highlight this issue and be a catalyst for changing public perceptions.
“After I came to encounter blind people, I’ve come to understand something and I hope this can also be understood by more people…as compared to their physical impairment, what affects and limits the blind more are obstacles. Most of the time our society fails in distributing its resources and the people living in it lack cultural understanding. This is what I hope people can take away from my film.”
So what else does Watan hope that viewers will take away from his documentary? “None of us have magical powers that will heal the blind, but as we understand more of the obstacles, the reason that truly separate ours lives and theirs, our awareness can help to create a respectful and caring society, one that will actively attempt to removes the walls and obstructions that set apart communities into ‘those who can see’ and ‘those who can’t’.
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. Tan Chui Mui told FFF that she was touched by Watan’s film pitch, “To have someone tell you the story, maybe just a normal story, a common story and evoke you emotionally, that is still rare.”
In The Dark 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: