Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Finas 2.0 and Hollywood...

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, FINAS ACT OF 1981, NEW MALAYSIAN CINEMA THAT NEVER HAPPENED, AND MALAYSIAN FILMS IN POST-HOLLYWOOD IN WORLD CINEMA…
A commentary by Mansor bin Puteh


I dread it each time I watch the Academy Awards and when it gets to the Memoriam section, because I might just notice a name of a well-known Hollywood or American film industry personality and leader, which I was familiar with.



I entered the hall where the show was held which is in the Dolby Theater just to get a feel of it, touring it and the backstage and was the closest any Malaysian film major/maker had come to grabbing an Oscar…

And I was also outside of the Theater last year when the Academy Awards show was being held but was held back by the tall temporary metal restraint that the authorities had erected by the side of most of Hollywood Boulevard where the Dolby Theater is.

But a day before the Academy Awards I had walked on the red carpet that had been laid along the pathway from the sidewalk to the theater, but it was covered under white plastic, lest I and the other visitors would soil the carpet.

I wondered when any Malaysian would be invited to attend the Academy Awards – not as a guest, but as a – nominee for an Oscar for any category?

Unfortunately the opportunities that Malaysia had, were never realized because the Malaysian film industry had other plans and had failed to tune itself to ensure certain Malaysian filmmakers produce works which are unusual and can endear themselves to the Hollywood crowd especially those in the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Science or AMPAS that organize the Academy Awards and give away the Oscars.

Malaysia had indeed lost many opportunities to trust some of its filmmakers and their works because the national film authorities or Finas did not have plans for them to come to that level.

Don’t we have the diversity and uniqueness that can be produced in the form of films that the international and American viewers would find beguiling?

The failure for Finas, which is the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia, to develop the film industry is truly tragic considering how it has been in existence for 37 years and to my rough calculation the government had channeled funds up to RM1.5 or 2 billion.

We marveled at how some from Hollywood had actually tried to come to our region to produce films set here.

But no one in Finas or in the country, except for me who had done any serious study on how Hollywood was created and developed by generations upon generations of filmmakers, activists and mostly scholars and film critics, so that it became what it is today, not only to America but more so to the whole world; never mind the snide comment made by some commentators about how Hollywood had become an extension of the American State Department or Foreign Office.

Why weren’t there any serious study or research undertaken by anyone in Finas or the film industry to see how we can actually benefit from the development of Hollywood so we can have today a semblance of it, that can become an extension of the Old Malayan Cinema, which unfortunately was created by three Chinese businessmen from Shanghai, who came to Singapore to establish the Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Productions Studios in Jalan Ampas and Cathay-Keris Film Productions in East Coast Road?

Why was the haste to draft the bill of the Finas Act of 1981 and the ensuing debate on it in Dewan Rakyat that did not seem to have been too harsh and specific since what was involved was more than the bill that was eventually passed by Parliament, but what the New Malaysian Cinema could do to further enhance the emotional, creative and social well-being of the multiracial population, for which we are blessed with?

I suspect no intelligent question had been asked of the bill and it was passed and what happened was the tragedy of Finas which is now 37 years, that is still on the dole when it could have been programmed to become an independent entity, which can on the contrary become an income-generating agency, outside of the Ministry of Information and Culture then.

Worse, when films produced during the existence of Finas till today are merely for local consumption that most do not thrill the film critics that we used to have anymore because they seem to be a rehash of earlier films produced in the factory style by Hong Kong and Hollywood, and also Thailand and South Korea with some glaring influences from the Bollywood ones.

Ibrahim Pendek starred with Rock Hudson in ‘The Spiral Road’ produced in 1961.

The next year’s Academy Awards will see yet another name in the segment, that often caused those who are attending the ‘Oscar Night’ some anxieties and sadness with the many names and their photos being splashed, one of which will be Milos Forman who died on 13 April this year.

Milos may not be a close friend, but he was a co-chairman of the Film Division at Columbia University in New York City where I had majored film directing at.

But he did take an interest in my personal well-being when I was warded at the St. Luke’s Hospital near Columbia and suggested that I took a year break to recover from the surgery and two others that I had had to take while studying at the university.

Before I went to Columbia I had seen his film, ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ at the Cathay cinema in Jalan Bukit Bintang with a bus full of course mates, for which won numerous Oscars including Best Director for him.

I was at the School of Mass Communications at Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM now UiTM for Universiti Teknologi Mara, majoring in Advertising then and not so many months before I finally got a place to work on a masters’ degree in Film Directing to be the first ITM.

And it was thrilling that Columbia admitted me into their graduate or masters’ program in film without ever requiring me to graduate from ITM, which I found to be strange and unusual.

My application to Columbia which is a major Ivy League university was accepted first before the few others from lesser-known or non-competitive universities started to send their letters of rejection, which made me quite thrill, in fact.

The three years I was at the university, which I am not reluctant to say, is a major Ivy League one, he produced ‘Ragtime’ in 1981 with an earlier Hollywood great, James Cagney. I had just returned from Malaysia where I had a three-month break and immediately went to the set of this film in Downtown Manhattan.

However, after I left Columbia to return to Malaysia, Milos Forman directed ‘Amadeus’ on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that won him another Oscar for Best Director.

I had few years ago, saw in the Memoriam section of the Academy Awards some of the professors who Columbia called ‘instructors’ such as Andrew Sarris, a well-known film critic who wrote for The Village Voice and Samson Raphaelson who wrote screenplays for ‘silent films’.

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