Tuesday, January 5, 2010


By Mansor Puteh

Today, exactly 29 years ago, I was in Paris for the first time.

I did not return to the city or country since then, as my activities did not take me there for anything. But today, my early film, ‘Seman’ (A Lost Hero) which I made in 1988 after spending three years on it, will be shown at the Pompidou Center in its first screening. The second screening will be on 29 January.

This film was shown in few other festivals abroad where it was also nominated for best film in a festival in Portugal which I attended. The film which won the award went to an American independent film where there are a lot of sexual scenes showing a woman masturbating openly called ‘A White House’.

Other than that, it was also shown in special screenings in London and Manila in 1988 and 1989, respectively. And it was also shown on Astro few times, and became quite a hit amongst the film students where it was shown few times at the local film schools. It was also shown on satellite television in Malaysia, so some people go to see it.

I’m not sure after its screening in Paris today and on 29 January, there would not be any more surprise invitations for this film to be shown to the other audiences anywhere in the world.

That this film was meant to be my master’s thesis for my university in New York City. But for some strange reasons I declined to submit it and want to wait a while more before I can come up with a new film to show to the faculty and be done with it.

And my film is not the only film from Malaysia to be invited for two screenings each at the center; there are 50 more films from Malaysia as well as Singapura which have been selected by the organizers for the screenings which would last for three months, called, ‘Malaysia, Singapura: A Retrospective’ organized by the center.

Many old films made by the studios in Singapura will be shown during this time. The program started on 16 December with the screening of Hussain Hanif’s ‘Jiran Sekampong’, or ‘Friendly Neighbors’. Unbeknowst to the organizers and many, this film is basically an exact remake of the popular American television drama serial, ‘Peyton’s Place’, which was also shown on Malaysian television once.

Unfortunately, for a film retrospective program of this nature, which is massive, news on it is almost zero. There is no write-up on it in any Malaysian newspaper and there is also no mention on the entertainment programs on television, much less a discussion in public forums.

The organizers didn’t realize how this program which they are organizing which highlights films from the two countries could become an interesting discourse; that they had chosen Malaysia and Singapura to highlight should be a cause for celebration knowing how prestigious their center is not only in France but throughout Europe.

It seems that the French do not know much about self-promotion as much as the Americans who know it best; they now get the others to do that for them, so their films are now being promoted and distributed worldwide by the others who didn’t know better how they have now become their lackeys.

So the Americans now have a lot of time to sit back and see which other countries to destroy and blame the others for wanting to retaliate like they are telling the Americans and their allies that they are not to be taken for granted and be used as targets for their new weapons of mass destruction.

When I was in Paris in January, 1981, I visited the Pompidou Center but did not enter the building to see what they have inside, if there are exhibitions. I saw crowds of people trying to enter it, so there must be something wonderful happening in its premises.

I was only contented to be there, and to be able to see the building and take some photos of it from a distance. I managed to walk about around it and see street performances. That was that with the center for me. Maybe later, I thought.

And true enough some 29 years later I managed to get my old film shown in this center, to a crowd which I expect to be predominantly French, who may not have seen any Melayu film from Malaysia.

The center also selected some videos made by the Chinese videomakers from Malaysia who express their feelings for the country and in relation to their status as the Chinese diaspora. So no wonder, their videos managed to attract considerable attention in festivals in the Far East and Europe, where such videos are still considered to be rare.

I can bet in time soon, such videos will not be regarded as they are still today, if the festivals abroad have gotten used to seeing them, since they tend to look like each other with the same type of characters and themes favored by the videomakers.

‘Seman’ was first shot in 1985 and it took only 12 days of filming in some parts of the country. And in 1986, we went to Japan to shoot some scenes in Tokyo, inside the Shinkansen bullet train and also in Hiroshima when we arrived there two days after the Hiroshima Day of that year.

We had earlier wanted to go there during this time, so we could shoot the footage at the Hiroshima Memorial Park with the almost destroyed building in the center and being surrounded by a huge crowd, but we changed our mind when we felt we might not be able to find a nice budget hotel to stay at.

We ended up putting up at the local YMCA which is not too far away from the Hiroshima Memorial Park. And when we got there two days after the Day, there was no crowd, so we were able to shoot anywhere we liked, and managed to get interesting footage for the film.

Nordin Kardi played the lead part in this film. At that time he was a lecturer at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) now Universiti Putra Malaysia, named after the first prime minister of the country.

And now Nordin is not only a Tan Sri (a honorific title) but also a vice-chancellor of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM).

I got many of my friends from the Melayu theater to play parts in the film. They had not been discovered before, and had not acted in films or television. But many of them were later active in the industry and continue to be till now, with most of them being recognized nationally as serious actors who are adaptable to play many differing parts.

Coming back to the 51 films and videos from Malaysia and Singapura in the program at the Pompidou Center in Paris, I am sure there are many people in both these countries who will now be able to see them for what they are; that the old Melayu films which many Malaysians are proud of to claim as their own, are actually films of Singapura.

They were made by studios in Singapura who were owned by Chinese Singapurans. The only element that is found in many of these films is that they were directed by Malaysians.

So it is not fair for Malaysia and Malaysians to claim these films as our own. They are not our film heritage, but that of Singapura’s. And there should not be any dispute on this, as what is happening at the Center in Paris is proving.

It is just too bad that the center is not organizing any forum to discuss this with the audiences there, so we can bring up such issues and be done with it, once and for all.

This is not such a small issue; it is a major one since it affects ownership of intellectual and creative properties, for which Malaysia and Malaysians cannot claim to be theirs.

There is still time for the organizers to come up with such a forum and have it during the program which ends in March.

There’s no point for them to bring in 51 films and videos from the two countries at huge expense, without having even one forum to discuss an interesting issue concerning the works so that we can look at all of them in the proper perspectives so we know where they stand and how important or at least interesting they are and should be to many, and especially to those who do not care to find out which is which.

Many of those who might have seen the films would not have much of an idea on how they came about and be able to see them in its proper context.

But I thought it was good for the Center to have such a program for their audiences that stretches for three months and for linking the cinemas of the two countries since its early history is linked tightly and it is difficult for the early Melayu films to be discussed without relating it with them.

In recent years, the cinemas of both countries had changed drastically to signify the differences that each of the countries had acquired so Singapura and Melayu films can be distinguished as one are mostly in Melayu and the other, Chinese.

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