26 AUGUST, PETALING JAYA – FreedomFilmFest is shifting lenses for this year’s festival scheduled to be held in September. Festival Director, Anna Har, said this year’s film selections are more varied and expands beyond traditional human rights themes. For the first time the festival will showcase issues relating to sports, caring for the elderly, urban development and multiculturalism.
Themed “Unseen, Unheard, Untold”, the festival aims to give platform to new voices and bring to light perspectives on contemporary issues that are not prevalent in public discourse.
“We often choose themes that are relevant to Malaysia or can elicit discussions about issues in our own context,” Anna said. “It is about time we talked about how to properly care for our elders living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, or how a sport like football could have greater social implications than mere enjoyment of the game itself. Even on known human rights issues, there are still unheard stories to be told especially from communities that do not get much exposure for example those in Latin America, Africa and Easten Europe”.
Now in its 13th year running FreedomFilmFest will screen a total of 26 films. The Academy Award-winning “Citizen Four” on Edward Snowden’s exposé of government surveillance will kick-off the festival on 11 September. For those interested in stories and perspectives from around Southeast Asia, this year’s selection of nine films will not disappoint.
FreedomFilmFest is also proud to highlight five productions by social filmmakers from Malaysia and Singapore who each received the FreedomFilmFest Film Grant of RM8,000. They were among more than 20 applicants who applied for the grant this year.
The grant has enabled Nizam Adnan to make his first political documentary, “Sindiket”. The film narrates the effects of “Projek IC” on the people of Sabah, when undocumented immigrants from Indonesia and the Philippines were allegedly given Malaysian national identity cards. While the issue may have faded from the consciousness of those in the Peninsular, it is very much alive among Sabahans.
Grant beneficiaries Chan Seong Foong and Victor Chin produced “Memory As Resistance” to document the fight by villagers of the 100 year-old Kampung Hakka in Mantin, Negeri Sembilan, in trying to save their homes from being demolished for redevelopment. Told through the eyes of 80-year-old Grandma Kong, the film also serves as an archive of the community’s oral history.
In “Di Sebalik Runcit”, first-time director J. Arrivu Jacob draws attention to the predicament faced by mom-and-pop business owners with the rise of franchise stores and the recent implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The film also explores the potential of ethical consumerism through a young woman who chooses to shop exclusively in small local businesses.
David Buri on the other hand produced “Viral, Sial!” to investigate the cause of a public outcry earlier this year when his colleagues from BFM’s online video show, “Kupas”, released an episode criticising Kelantan lawmakers for prioritising a hudud bill at a time the state was still facing serious social and economic issues. The incident resulted in death and rape threats against the show’s presenter, Aisyah Tajuddin.
The FreedomFilmFest Film Grant was also awarded to Singaporean Jason Soo for his film, “Dark Times”. The film zooms in on the stories of 22 individuals arrested under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) suspected of Marxist leanings and conspiring to establish a communist state. In his film Soo records their testimonies of being tortured and then coerced into implicating themselves, and their friends, on public television.
“The grant recipients are passionate about their work and issues. More importantly they are a part of our community but whose points of view and voices may not be among the dominant,” Anna said. FreedomFilmFest is the only platform for independent social filmmakers, she added, and the festival offers them a wider reach locally, regionally and internationally. It is also a meeting ground for regional filmmakers and their audience.
As this year’s FreedomFilmFestival coincides with the nationwide Malaysia Day celebrations, a special programme is organised for 16 September themed “This Nation is Ours: A Malaysia for All”. There will be a discussion on media freedom, screening of Malaysian themed films by upcoming as well as established filmmakers and a “Malaysia Day Music Evening” showcase to celebrate the positive spirit of this nation through songs. Artists include the legendary Zainal Abidin and Ito from the Blues Gang, along with acts from Sarawak and Sabah.
FreedomFilmFest will be held at PJ Live Arts Centre in Petaling Jaya from 11 to 20 September. It will then tour to Penang, Perak, Johor, Pahang, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore. Passes are priced at RM10 per session, or RM100 for a full festival pass that includes a free FreedomFilmFest T-shirt. Passes are free of charge or by donation for students with valid student cards and senior citizens above age 60.