Friday, May 19, 2006

MALAYSIAN CINEMA—Censorship in Malaysia

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.


Brian Darr said...

Great round-up, Michael! All these developments are very depressing news for Malaysian filmmakers, but I see they still soldier on. Yasmin is about to start shooting her next film, Muhksin, and Amir reports that the Last Communist has become a surprise hit in Singapore. It's seemingly another example of the trend of censorship or denunciation of a film making it all the more viable in the marketplace. In the case of censorship, the neighboring country's marketplace, and probably the black marketplace too. When I was living in Thailand and Anna and the King was banned from theatres, it became a popular bootleg item. I actually saw it in the theatre though- on a trip to Malaysia. Of course it was a letdown, but I bet Amir's film won't be. I wish I could be in Seattle next month to see for myself.

Trinketization said...

Yep, good round up. This is worth pursuing further, especially the connections btw the emergency eras attacks on communists and politics in contemporary Malaysia where the spectre of 9/11 and the global war of terror turns us all into detention camp inmates (I tried to make some similar links in the Weekly Worker). Red Salute.

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks, guys. I'm heartened to know others care about this situation as I do, albeit from different perspectives. I wish I could see "The Last Communist" in Seattle as well, though I should probably attend to all the movies at home!

Michael Guillen said...

Over in the Twitch Forum, I found this entry, which I can't verify with a specific url, but, I found it hilarious nonetheless. I suspect it's Amir himself spoofing the censors:

Linguists call for ‘Da Vinci Code’ ban

THE Malaysian Linguistic Association (Malas) has echoed calls by other parties to ban the controversial movie "The Da Vinci Code." The film is an adaptation of a best-selling novel that deals with some aspects of the Christian faith. But the objection by Malas has nothing to do with theology because "we don’t even know who Theo is", says its president Ambi Mohan.

The association’s chief objection is, instead, linguistic.

"For too long we have sat by and allowed language to be polluted but we have decided that enough’s enough. The Da Vinci Code should be banned because we don’t want to encourage youngsters to use ‘da’ as a lazy shorthand for ‘the’.

"We see this in rap lyrics," he claims.

"All this talk about ‘hanging out with da hoes’. You should be hanging out with THE hoes. This sort of begs the question of why someone would want to ‘hang out’ with gardening implements to begin with, but I am not here to question lifestyle choices, merely spelling, grammar and semantics."

He said the association might reconsider its protests if the filmmakers changed its name to The The Vinci Code.

"But even this is problematic because having two ‘thes’ in a row look ugly. So the film should be called The Vinci Code."

The film’s producers could not be reached for comment.

Amir, if that's you work, take a grand bow!!