When Dave Hudson alerted via the Greencine Daily that Amir Muhammad's latest film The Last Communist was banned in Malaysia, I was disconcerted and meant to write an entry, but was overtaken by reportage from 2006 SFIFF.
The Last Communist had its world premiere at last February's Berlinale. Russell Edwards reviewed it favorably for Variety, complimenting Amir for blending "humor, humanism and sleight of hand . . . to create something out of virtually nothing." Greencine's Berlinale correspondent David D'Arcy described it as "an odd mix" and noted: "The documentary is not alone in raising the issue of just how one goes about making a documentary today. At the core of this film is an absence." Ekkehard Knörer, reporting to Die Tageszeitung, conjectured that Amir had broken the rules of documentary films, "to save its heart and soul", thereby creating "something completely different." Tony Rayns, reporting to Sight and Sound, claimed The Last Communist was by far the "smartest and wittiest" from the Berlin Forum and called it an "essayistic delight" that confirms Amir "as the only visible heir to the Chris Marker tradition." Further favorable reviews came from Christoph Mayer at Sign and Sight, Thomas Hadjuk of Film Kritiken, and only a couple of weeks ago Ben Slater—reporting from the Singapore International Film Festival to the Greencine Daily—found The Last Communist, despite some reservations, to be "a truly fascinating tale", adding that "Amir deftly uses this 'lost history' to raise pertinent questions about modern 'Malaysia' and the post-9/11 specter of the terrorist."
So in the face of such international acclaim, why then censorship? Amir has commented from the frontlines on his blogsite for the film and has received considerable online support.
This morning The Great Swifty forwarded Yasmin Ahmad's New Straits Times article likewise protesting the censorship of The Last Communist and recent backlash criticism against her own work (Sepet, Gubra), both allegedly engineered by the Malaysian newspaper Berita Harian, whose editorial policy relishes in its reactionary racism. Ahmad quotes George Bernard Shaw: "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
I wish Amir and Yasmin and all future Malaysian filmmakers strength and fortitude in the years of censorship to come.
05/21/06 ADDENDUM: For continuing updates on the Malaysian censorship issue, Fathi Aris Omar has taken it upon himself to keep everyone abreast of developments on his blogsite Patah Balek. His first update went up on May 11 and his second (which includes this entry) went up today (Malaysian time). Of course, Amir tracks the life of the documentary on his own blogsite.