What is a social documentary? Can anyone film it? What is the process like? Here’s what Seong Foong, director of ‘Memory as Resistance’ (2005) and J Arrivu Jacob, director of DiSebalik Runcit (2015) have to say about filming social documentaries.

In 2015, Chang Seong Foong and Victor Chin banded together and filmed a documentary on the plight of the historic Kampung Hakka, Mantin, Negeri Sembilan villagers. Their story revolves around an 80 year old Grandma Kong who has lived in this village her whole life and now faces the threat of her village being demolished as a results of a questionable land grab by local officials and a private developer. Seong Foong and Victor are not filmmakers by profession nor have they been trained in film. They are first and foremost activists working with the Kampung Hakka community for three years and was moved by the personal and collective stories and plight of the villagers in their day to day challenges for survival and livelihood.

Image source: Poskod.my

Not too long after, they found film as a platform to give the plight of Kampung Hakka villagers a voice. Social documentary, which is a form of documentary based on the issues faced by different clusters of society, has proved to be an effective medium in creating awareness on social issues as well as ensuring important stories are documented for historical benefit.

Documentaries can expose a social issue which in turn can generate advocacy and action to improve the plight of the community,” Seong Foong says. “The profiles in the documentary can also feel as sense of validation that their struggle is understood and supported by a wider audience.” For more than a decade FreedomFilmFest has provided a platform for veteran and amateur film makers to produce documentaries on social issues close to their heart. Echoing FreedomFilmFest’s belief in the power of film, Seong Foong says of social documentaries “This visual medium is highly effective and popular in mobilising support and action on various social and political issues that otherwise may not surface. It gives a personal face and emotion to these issues as well.”

Seong Foong encourages others to use social documentary filmmaking as a channel to allow their voices to be heard. “Its not just the technical know how but also the believing in the story you want to tell and finding the best way to do it … capture not just the visual but also the emotion to move and mobilise action and thought!” she says of documentary filmmaking.

Another beneficiary of the FreedomFilmFest annual grant 2015 is J Arrivu Jacob, an engineer. His documentary ‘DiSebalik Runcit’ (2015) sheds light on the plight of local sundry shop owners as chain hypermarkets flood the market. “If we want to help the plight of a community, we need to make sure the general public understands the problem and realize how it will affect them. A good documentary will make people think and come to awareness of the plight,” he explains. His dream, he says, at the time of making the documentary was to make a full feature film. On top of that, he also had empathy for grocery shop owners and their plight. “So, when I came across FreedomFilmFestival, I gave a try and managed to come up with the final product, Disebalik Runcit.” J Arrivu Jacob encourages other young people to try documentary filmmaking urging them to “follow your heart” in the process.

The FreedomFilmFest annual documentary filmmaking grant is open til Aug 1 2016. Catch Seong Foong and Victor on BFM 6pm tomorrow to learn more about Memory as Resistance and FreedomFilmFest 2016.

For more details, visit www.freedomfilmfest.komas.org

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