Thursday, June 7, 2012


By Mansor Puteh

Many people have learnt, much to their surprise how Iran could win its first Oscar for best foreign film in the last Academy Awards.

Other than to wonder how it could happen, especially when it also gunned down another strong contender in the same category, a film from Israel, not much has been discussed about 'A Separation' directed by Asghar Farhadi, who held the Oscar in his hands and brought it back to Tehran.

One of the most interesting facts which should be mentioned and repeated concerning this film is how on earth such a film which cost a mere US$500,000 could have won such an award.

Never mind, the other awards it had earlier won in international film festivals in Europe, but unfortunately, which did not cause it to be known in Malaysia until it won the Oscar.

Many Malaysian film directors cannot wonder let along comprehend how a film which cost this much, could not only go very far and win such awards, whereas there were many Malaysian films which had cost much more had not left the country, and once they were shown in the cinemas, were left forgotten.

And in this regard who in Malaysia will be our bet to bring in an Oscar? Can such an occasion avail itself when we can see the director lifting the trophy high over his head?

Malaysian films have not become a major hit in the international film circuits, where there is a potential for it to be given not only recognition from the peers, but also the possibility of them being marketed in countries which had never known Malaysia before.

'A Separation' was reported to have made US$13 million in America and some other countries.

Yet, all of it is entirely in Iranian and the viewers in the other countries had to depend on the subtitles to follow the story, which can be discussed and debated and looked at from many perspectives, including one which says how the old man in the film represents Iran, and so on and so forth...

But the truth is that this is what the west had clamored for Iranian directors to produce for them.

And only now has a director from Iran managed to offer such a feast to them, which ended with an Oscar win.

The only lesson that Malaysian filmmakers can learn from this is how they should go beyond the borders and deal with local issues by presenting them in a wider perspective by infusing universal values in them.

Only in this way can Malaysian films be accepted and recognized.

It is sad how all of the directors that we have today are still so aloof to the dictates of the international film fraternity, so no wonder they are left to their own device and not about to go anywhere.

So no wonder too, most of them are still in awe of the achievements of past directors who they claim to be irreplaceable and with the intellectuals indulging in amateurish analysis of the Old Malayan Cinema and whatever it was said to have achieved by repeating the same ‘facts’ each year or whenever they could do it.

Malaysian Cinema can and should not look back; if there is a need for it to progress and develop, it would be wise and good to look at what we have.

Giving more similar recognition to past filmmakers is like trying to light spent matches has become a favorite pastime for many, yet, over the decades since the collapse of the studios in Singapore and in Malaysia, the authorities do not seem to know where to look at.

They assume by looking at the back, they could see the vision of the future of the Malaysian film industry.

They are wrong.

They have only fallen into the trap of some shrewd Chinese businessmen/film producers who had managed to turn the tables on their personal fortunes by introducing the element of emotions into the thinking of the powers that be, so much that the films they produced then which are mostly in black-and-white have become alive.

This has managed them to continue to earn income from them without them having to do much other than to prolong the sentiments many Malaysians today still have them.

When in the past, these films were almost relegated to the dustbins of the local film industry, never mind the dustbin of the world cinema, where most, if not all, new Malaysian films are relegated, once they had gone through the local circuit for a limited run.

So it seems old filmmakers simply do not die; they also do not slip away.

They can be used again and again for the benefit and delight of those who can still manipulate their works and to use them for reasons other than artistic or intellectual ones.

Therefore, there is no ‘separation’ between commercial crass and history or sentimentality as the later are highlighted all the time, so the new generation of filmmakers in Malaysia are often relegated to second position compared to those who had passed on.

In other countries, including Iran, they do not waste their time to rewrite the history of the film industry but aim to write new ones.

And with each generation of their film directors, they create more interesting ones, with their last achievement is to haul the coveted Oscar…

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