Friday, March 22, 2013


By Mansor Puteh

Normally, watching the Academy Awards show live is fun, especially if you are in the film industry or a film buff.

One can see which film and which filmmaker involved in the nominated films win which Oscar, without having to wait for the news to be reported by the local media the next day.

No doubt it is the most watched live show in the world attracting eight hundred million viewers from more than 120 countries.

So being one of the viewers who get the chance to watch it through satellite television is interesting as much as it is fun.

It is also fun for me, but up to a certain point, when it can become quite an anxious moment.

The part or segment in the show which I now dread to watch through is the ‘In Memoriam’ section.

The last Eighty-eight Annual Academy Awards ‘In Memoriam’ had one of my professors who had passed away, which I only knew while watching the show.

Andrew Sarris, died in June, 2012 at the age of eighty-one years. He taught History of Motion Pictures in my first semester studying at the Film Division, School of the Arts of Columbia University in the City of New York.

My first professor who died and who was mentioned in the same ‘In Memoriam’ section of the 1984 Academy Awards show was Samson Raphelson.

He was eighty-one years when he taught The Screenplay course which I took. He started his career in screenwriting during the Silent Era for some of the most prominent directors, while his wife was a danger with a popular group at that time.

In 2005, another of my professor, Frank Daniels died, and was also mentioned in the same segment of the awards show.

Frank or Frantisek was from Czechoslovakia and had established himself as a screenwriter in his native Poland.

He later went to head the School of Cinema Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles before going to Sundance Film Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah.

One thing I liked about him was when he, as co-chairman, declared that the final examinations were canceled.

All the students were shocked, and relieved.

Frank later said that the students were all smart; otherwise, they would not have been admitted into the university, and because of that the examinations were irrelevant.

I liked to play truant for his Screenwriting course, but despite that he never failed me for the assignments he gave to the students.

There were few others who appeared in the same segment which I might have missed, since I did not watch the show live and whose names were not mention in subsequent reports in the media here.

But they were all important film personalities in their own right, and who went on to teach at Columbia where I was fortunate enough to be the only Malaysian student to be admitted to study film at.

I remember receiving the offer of admission to work on my Masters of Fine Art in Film Directing at the university, when I was in the final semester working on my Diploma in Mass Communications at the School of Mass Communications or Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM), which Columbia had not known yet then.

I don’t think there was any student from ITM, now UiTM or Universiti Teknologi Mara in Shahalam, who had managed to gain admission into any of the Ivy League university while still studying and had not graduated yet.

And I also did not think it was right or good for ITM or Mara Institute of Technology to be renamed Mara University of Technology.

In Malaysia an institute of technology is always seen to be inferior compared to a university.

But don’t they know about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT which still retained this name without ever wanting to change to a university? If those at ITM knew a bit more about MIT, then surely they would not have agreed to the change of name of the institute of technology which could be a university too without it ever been called one, so ITM is still ITM without it being changed to UiTM.

However, there were also other segments in the Academy Awards which thrilled me, such as when someone I knew personally had won an Oscar nomination.

And each time I returned to the school I would see notices posted on the bulletin boards announcing how students of the school had won Student Academy Awards which also gave the Oscars.

In fact, even when I was studying, one of my professors won an Emmy for best editing for a documentary.

I watched him live on television in my boarding room on campus, and the next day when he returned to the school to teach, he did not brag about his winning the Emmy, and the other students, too did not go out of their way to congratulate him on his win.

This is what I liked the most studying film at such a school where the professors and students did not look back; they only care to look forward.

The other thing I also liked a lot is when all the professors, associate professors, adjunct professors and doctorate holders, did not care to call themselves by their posts; they refer themselves by their own names, mostly their first names.

And those who had received honorary doctorates from the university or the others also did not paste their titles before their names.

I can say that I had benefited tremendously from my experience studying at the school, where the professors are called ‘instructors’ and they frown being called ‘professors’ or ‘doctors’.

Yet, some of their ‘instructors’ do not have masters’ degrees or doctorates. Andrew Sarris only had a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia as did the many other ‘instructors’.

And Columbia University is often in the top dozen most important universities in the world. It is a university which started at the King’s College with eighteen students in 1754, but which went on to join the Ivy League together with the other seven universities – Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and UPenn.

And the faculties are mere departments, with each of them having a chairman and the school, a dean, all of whom did not have airs of importance about them.

The Film Division then had two chairmen, Frank Daniels and Milos Forman. It is the Milos Forman who won Oscars for best director for ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Amadeus’. Milos is now semi-retired and eighty-one years old.

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