The rain and rush hour traffic on Thursday, the 31st of March, did not prevent a crowd of about a hundred people from attending the launch of FreedomFilmFest 2016. The launch attracted a diverse audience consisting of both local and foreign viewers, filmmakers, students, educators, journalists and the public.

The festival launch began with an opening address by Director Anna Har in which she spoke about the importance of documentary in addressing human rights issues and the progress of FreedomFilmFest over the past 13 years. This was followed by a panel discussion with Indrani Kopal (winner of Best Student Documentary Award at Cannes, 2015), Tijah Chopil (Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Se-Malaysia co-ordinator) and Jules Rahman Ong (filmmaker and independent journalist), moderated by Anna Har. The panel spoke about making documentaries to promote awareness of issues that are rarely addressed and how lives have been changed because of documentaries. Being documentary filmmakers themselves, Kopal and Ong shared anecdotes of their experiences filming documentaries. Kopal shared how documentaries were literally truth on film as the characters and events are non-scripted and whatever is captured on camera is the truth in its original form. Tijah Chopil shared a moving account of the orang asli’s plight in government land grab issues, access to information through media and election voting issues. Chopil said that having access to only national television channels 1, 2 and 3 kept the orang asli in the dark about political and social issues affecting their community and the nation at large. She shared how orang asli were empowered through documentaries uploaded to YouTube and brought from village to village by DVD, leading these communities to now demand their rights through indigenous networks and activist groups. “In the past, orang asli did not know about Bersih rallies. They only knew to vote for the party that provided them with necessities. Through documentaries brought from kampung to kampung, orang asli now realize that they can voice their concerns to the government. Now you can see orang asli at Bersih rallies,” Chopil said.

The panel then officiated the launch of FreedomFilmFest 2016 by unveiling the theme “What Lies Beneath” on stage.

In conjunction with the launch of FreedomFilmFest 2016 ‘Frame by Frame’ was screened. Winning 12 awards in the past year, including a nomination for the prestigious  2015 BFI London Film Festival Grierson Award, ‘Frame by Frame’s debut screening in Southeast Asia. Directed and filmed by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, ‘Frame by Frame’ is set in a modern Afghanistan bursting with color and follows four Afghan photojournalists as they navigate an emerging and dangerous media landscape.

“Eye-opening” and “exceeding expectations” were some of the ways the audience described the launch of FFF 2016.

Call for documentary submissions and grant proposals for FFF 2016 are now open.

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