FreedomFilmFest 2018, which concluded its main festival event in Selangor on 6th October was historic on many fronts. Who would have imagined as we began planning the festival at the beginning of this year, that the 14th General Election (GE14) would have seen a new government rise to power for the first time since the country’s independence?
It brought a whole new meaning to this year’s theme “Mend The Gap”, with new hope for greater impact and greater ways of bridging gaps in society through documentary filmmaking. Not only was this an opportunity to hold the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to task on its promises of reforms, but was also a chance for engagement – something rarely seen under the previous administration.
Newly elected YB Maria Chin Abdullah, herself previously a human rights activist and who attended the festival said “It’s really important that FreedomFilmFest continues as it’s the only human rights film festival in Malaysia. We have a new government but we still need the civil society voices and [the government] must be held to human rights standards.”
Changes post-election are evident from increased engagement and outreach at FFF2018. We sold over 5000 tickets, an incredible increase of over 2000 compared to the previous year and garnered comprehensive media coverage from both mainstream and alternative media outlets in Malaysia and across the region. We also brought a record breaking 23 international guests to the festival and showcased 21 filmmakers from Malaysia.
As ever, this year’s award ceremony was much anticipated and our judges were proud to announce winners in the categories of Best Student Film – “Vani: A Flower In The Void” by Eunice Alexander, Best Short Film – “Retouch” by Kaveh Mahzaheri, Best Documentary Short – “Rising From Silence” by Shalahuddin Siregar, Best Documentary Feature – “The Cleaners” by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, Winner of IDFA Pitch 2018 – “The Very Boring Refugee Story” by Elroi Yee and Most Outstanding FFF Film Grant – “Aku Mau Skola” by Putri Purnama Sugua.
FFF2018 witnessed the introduction of a new award category for student filmmakers. A new way for us to foster young emerging talent from Malaysia and Singapore and an opportunity to bridge the gap between generational differences. Some of this year’s most engaged audience members were the students themselves, whose questions and feedback were incredibly enriching.
We also reached out to school students to help bridge the gap on sex education, an issue which is severely lacking in the current national curriculum. A total of 77 school students attended the FFF screening of “Kantoi” by Malaysian filmmaker Adam Zainal and listened to the talk “Teenage Pregnancy: What Next?” in collaboration with the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM) and UNICEF Malaysia. This session lifted the taboos surrounding sex education and provided an opportunity for the students and parents to ask difficult questions and give their feedback.
Our engagement with Orang Asli (indigenous) communities continued this year via a five day workshop with 19 OA young women entitled “Amplifying the Voices of Orang Asli Girls and Young Women”, which focused on the obstacles facing the community in accessing education. The workshop culminated in a multi-arts showcase, which included theatre, dance, shadow puppetry (Wayang Kulit) and digital storytelling. Indigenous filmmaker Shafie Dris also premiered his documentary “Tak Kesampaian”, which also focused on OA rights to education.
FFF2018 continued to screen human rights documentaries relevant to the region. In particular, screenings of the award-winning documentaries “Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower” and “A Cambodian Spring” were enriched by the attendance of film protagonists and human rights activists Agnes Chow (Hong Kong) and the aptly named “digital monk”, Venerable Luon Sovath (Cambodia).
When asked by the audience why he was so calm despite facing police violence in Cambodia, Venerable Luon Sovath humbly told members of the public, “With violence we cannot find peace. We don’t use violence – as Buddha says, if we use violence against violence we cannot find peace.”
During her stay in Malaysia, Agnes partnered with FFF and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)’s “Sekolah Activisme” (School of Activism), by conducting a series of workshops for young Malaysian activists based on her experiences in Hong Kong and in particular her involvement with the famed Hong Kong Umbrella Movement.
We were also honoured to be joined at FFF2018 by award-winning international filmmakers whose documentaries were screened during the festival and whose international perspectives enriched a series of expert filmmaking masterclasses.
Swedish filmmaker Joakim Demmer (“Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas”) shared his expertise via a workshop entitled“Taking Local Stories To the Next Level”, French filmmaker Olivier Pollet (“The Panguna Syndrome”) led a workshop called “Going Beyond a One-Off Documentary by Using New Multimedia Tools” and filmmakers Huang Hui Chen (“Small Talk”), Lau Kek Huat (“Firefly”) and Indrani Kopal took part in a panel discussion entitled “Inspiring Change Through Films: What Does It Really Take?”.
But if you missed FFF2018 in Petaling Jaya, don’t be disheartened as the festival is currently travelling throughout Malaysia and will be in Muar (17th Nov), Johor Bahru (18th Nov), Manjung (1st Dec), Ipoh (1st & 2nd Dec) Singapore (8th & 9th Dec) and in Kota Kinabalu (14th to 16th Dec). The Sarawak leg of the FFF2018 tour took place on the 27th & 28th Oct while the festival traveled to Georgetown last weekend. Further details of the travelling festival and the films on offer can be found [HERE].