Every year the festival calls for film proposal entries from interested filmmakers and activists who have a story to tell. The two selected proposals will win a film grant of RM15,000 each to produce the film.
The selection was based on this year’s theme Pandemik Dua Darjat, highlighting how the Covid-19 has affected society beyond just being a health public crisis.
The virus exposed the ‘pandemic of inequality’ that has long-afflicted millions at the bottom rungs of Malaysian society.
Umashankari Yomarakuro and Evelyn Teh are this year’s grant winner.
While the country went into lockdown for the first time last March for our own safety, families in Sungai Manggis, Kuala Langat were not safe in their own homes: they were locked up at home with a stench they could not escape.
Night after night, the community were assaulted by waves of chemical fog and noise pollution from factories, which were mysteriously in production when the government halted all industries during the first Movement Control Order.
Their troubles had just started when our first MCO ended – the pandemic became a convenient excuse from their local council to delay responding to their complaints.
Even worse, residents told filmmaker Umashankari Yomarakuro and journalist Keertan Ayamany that the giant factory is barely 50 metres from Sekolah Agama Integrasi Sungai Manggis.
The community’s struggle is at the heart of a new film that won a FreedomFilmFest grant this year. Tentatively called, “Can’t Run, Can’t Hide”, the film will tell the story of the community’s resilience in fighting for a safe and healthy environment in their backyard.
The film will be directed and developed by Uma with research by Keertan and Wong Pui Yi. Their proposal won a FreedomFilmFest production grant this year.
The struggle in Sungai Manggis had struck a chord with Uma as she had previously worked on a similar film of Sarawakian natives losing their land to big businesses.
“I became a filmmaker because I want to give a voice to the underprivileged. This story is not just about one community. But it is a part of the global phenomenon of unchecked industrialisation that benefits the few over the many.”
Uma’s team will receive a grant of up to RM15,000 to help fund the film’s production cost as well as guidance and mentoring from experienced filmmakers.
Judges for the film grant had chosen “Can’t Run, Can’t Hide” because of its strong story and a passionate central character, Pua, one of the residents in the fight against the factories. The judges included Oscar nominated documentary producer Poh Si Teng, ex-journalist and Senator Ras Adiba Radzi and scriptwriter Ayam Fared.
Judge Poh Si Teng: The central character sealed the deal for us
“Just watching Pua from the teaser of the film sealed the deal for us as judges,” says Poh Si. “She had a strong voice and you hear her passion in wanting to fight for the community.”
Ayam commended the filmmakers for showcasing how communities can be damaged by industries that are supposedly benign in nature.
“It is an irony that the recycling factory is causing damage to the people and environment.”
But Poh Si and the judges felt there was something more to Pua and Taman Manggis’s story that deserved to be filmed. Pua was inspiring and showed that communities in distress have the agency to fight for their wellbeing.
Uma echoed this sentiment. She wants the film to inspire the birth of “more Puas” in the world.
“I would like this film to inspire other communities who are facing a similar situation. That instead of just keeping quiet and accepting what is done to them, they can stand up and fight.”
Read about the other grant winner, Evelyn Teh, here, for her documentary “GREY SCALE”.