Featuring FFF2019 Film Grant Winner – Albert Bansa

Albert with his community and the film protagonist, Tony (in striped purple shirt) in his community's longhouse
Albert with his community and the film protagonist, Tony (in striped purple shirt) in his community’s longhouse

From 20th – 28th September 2019, FreedomFilmFest (FFF), Malaysia’s leading international human rights documentary film festival will be back in the Klang Valley. This year’s festival takes inspiration from the Malaysian phrase Harga Naik, Gaji Maintain” (Soaring Prices, Stagnant Wages), a theme that we hope will inform and spark debate on issues of wealth disparity in the country.

Each year, FFF award small film grants to first time and/or amateur filmmakers from Malaysia and Singapore who pitch their documentary ideas to a panel of independent judges for consideration. This year we are proud to announce the awarding of two small film grants to two Malaysians who will also receive mentoring and production support from the Freedom Film Network for their documentaries to be fully envisioned and premiered at this year’s festival.

Special thanks to this year’s judging panel, which comprised of MyDocs President Harun Abdul Rahman, Associate Professor of Nottingham University, Thomas Barker and Co-Founder of the Pit-Stop Community Cafe Joycelyn Lee. Thanks also to our film grant sponsors Penang Institute and MyDocs.

On this year’s pitches Harun says,“Once again FFF has managed to discover and nurture new filmmakers with real stories that are important to all Malaysians. The choices for this year’s FFF Grant is as always excellent. It is a difficult task but the two winners stood out in their proposal and pitch. Confident and knowing their story well, both the winners now have the challenge to translate their ideas into the film”

This week we highlight Sarawakian filmmaker Albert Bansa who won one of this year’s film grants for pitching his documentary “Pengidup Aku”.

Pengidup Aku (My Life)

Albert’s documentary will follow Tony, an indigenous Iban from the interior part of Dalat in Mukah, Sarawak who has been working as a construction labourer for more than ten years. The rising cost of living and his low salary make life for Tony difficult, moreover as a single father of two children he is facing hardship.

Albert says that Tony’s story represents the life of many in Sarawak. Due to a lack of employment opportunities and lack of infrastructure in the village, more and more families are now forced to work in urban areas, leaving their traditional lives behind. He says it is increasingly difficult to live in the village as the Iban community’s natural resources and livelihood are now at risk due to the expansion of oil palm plantations.

Film grant judge Thomas Barker says that Albert’s film was “the most conceptually developed proposal that also highlighted the working poor in Sarawak. Albert showed a detailed knowledge of his subjects and promises a film that will develop a story leading up to Gawai as a group of builders work to save money for the festive season.”

Joycelyn Lee says “We forget how ‘progress’ often affects those not in or around the city. I hope Albert Bansa’s documentary will be able to help remind us”

We interviewed Albert to find out more:

FFF: Albert, what inspired you to apply for this year’s film grant?

Albert: “It started with my journey with Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) and the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) and travelling to indigenous peoples villages across Malaysia. I saw almost the same situation, a lack of basic infrastructure, poverty, increasing threats to their rights to land and the source of their livelihood. That’s what caused them to go to work in the town/city because they believe that their life would be much better if they could earn more money. But rarely that is the case because most of them don’t have good education, which means they are only able to work in low paying jobs – manufacturing, construction, plantation etc.

As Malaysia becomes more developed, the majority of indigenous peoples are still poor and it is even worse for those who have become urban poor. They left their villages for a better life, but at what cost? At the same time, I really feel there is a lack of content especially film content about indigenous peoples, except for marketing or tourism purposes which are not showing the true situation of indigenous peoples. So what better way than to make my own!”

FFF: How did you first become acquainted with your film protagonist Tony?

A: “Oh, Tony and I are from the same longhouse. Like Tony, my father worked as a construction worker and I grew up in a “kongsi” house. Since childhood I see their situation, they work hard but earn less”

A picturesque scene of Albert's community longhouse, Rumah Iman
A picturesque scene of Albert’s community longhouse, Rumah Iman

FFF: Why is this story important to you? And to the Malaysian public?

A: “I want to show that there’s more to the issue and situation of indigenous peoples. When indigenous peoples are mentioned, people often think about land rights and related issues such as environmental concerns (logging, mega dam, etc) or traditional music and costumes as shown on TV. My film will show a different perspective of life for indigenous peoples, as everyday workers who depend on a salary because they believe it will lead to a better future. Unfortunately, that vision is still far from being reached. In this film I also want to show that Ibans will never forget their origin, their land and their beliefs no matter where they are and what they are doing.”

FFF: What do you hope this documentary will achieve?

A: My hope is that with this film we will increase awareness of the issue of low/stagnant wages in Malaysia. I mean, what happened to leaving no one behind and all the promises to improve and give adequate living wages?

For the community, I hope this film will be a platform for voicing out their issues. I hope the local government will notice the village that they forgot and that there will be more development coming into their villages with the community taking part. I mean who better to work for this than them? I also hope that this film will be a motivation to others to document their own community. I believe there are a lot of stories out there that are just waiting to be discovered.”

Albert will begin filming his documentary at the end of this month, during the Gawai (harvest) festival. Pengidup Aku will premier at FFF2019 in the Klang Valley from 20th – 28th September 2019. The festival will later travel to other key states in Malaysia including Penang, Johor, Sabah, Sarawak and also to Singapore.

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