Monday, July 1, 2019



This year, 2019 is the fortieth anniversary of Finas. But unfortunately, there is nothing for this corporation and country to celebrate.

In 1982, when I first met the first director-general of Finas, Ismail Zain at the first headquarters of Finas in Jalan Ampang Hilir, he said ‘Finas was facing ‘teething problems’.

Forty years later, Finas is still facing ‘teething problems’. The first headquarters of Finas is now a kindergarten for the affluent.

Finas’ annual highlight was to organize a celebration to commemorate its establishment on 26 July each year, at huge costs, until I pointed out to them that no government agency did that and it was immediately cancelled.

The other thing that also needed my views was when the ministry and Finas chose 29 May, as Hari Seniman or Artistes’ Day, which was celebrated with entertainment shows, until I pointed to them that it was the day Legendary Film Director/Actor/Singer, P. Ramlee died in 1974, and it should not be ‘celebrated’ in such fashion; so the shows were cancelled to make way for more subdued events such as forums, etc.

Finas, unlike the two major studios in Singapore during the era of the establishment of Old Malayan Cinema never drew attention to themselves other than to the achievements of their artistes, either when there was a box office hit or a critical acclaim that any of their film had managed to achieve.

Most Malaysians, including those in the film industry are not aware that this year is exactly forty years that the Finas Act of 1981 or Akta 244 was first being mooted and a special committee formed on 26 July, 1980 to the draft the bill passed by parliament to allow for the establishment of the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia or Finas in 1981.

An amount totaling RM14 million was allocated under the Fourth Malaysian Development Plan to allow for Finas to operate.

This is a huge amount that is now equivalent to RM60 million.

Even at that time it was large and could finance the production of a typical film in Hollywood and if the Malaysian government had done that and if the film had made money, other than to also help with its image for the promotion of the country, then surely the value will be immeasurable thus rendering further efforts to promote the country to encourage tourism, unnecessary.

Unfortunately, this did not happen and Finas today, even as it approaches its fourth decade of existence is nowhere near where it was when the idea to form it was first established.

I had in fact, gone way ahead of the government move, by being the first Malaysian to study film directing at a prestigious Ivy League university –  Columbia University in the City of New York then.

And it was done at my personal desire and interests to help development by pursuing a master’s degree in order that there could be a stronger and more direct relationship between the Malaysian film industry to a major film school at such a university which happened to be the first university in America in 1912 to offer a course in film, which is screenwriting when even the film industry, known as Hollywood had not yet come to such realization that film courses could be offered to anyone wishing to pursue a career in film.

And I had actually written to the then deputy prime minister, Datuk Seri (then) Dr. Mahathir Mohammad about Finas and the film industry, and to my surprise received a personal reply from him with his signature in March, 1979.

I was in my second semester at Columbia and was staying in a dormitory, Harmony Hall with a Columbia university address, so it was very impressive even by American standards so it should be easier for many in the country to relate and appreciate especially when I needed to apply to be a member of any public library, etc.

Unfortunately, the reply I got from Dr. Mahathir was not positive and encouraging; it merely said that the Malaysian government was trying to establish Finas, but it did not say how I could be of any help in drafting the bill that would be sent to parliament.

And because of that the government had allocated hundreds of millions of ringgit since 1981 to today, and the amount may very well be around RM1.5 billion and engaging hundreds of staff all of whom had not been given any specialized training in film abroad or even in Malaysian universities so the could be more professional and productive than they could.

I could be the only person to offer the best solutions to the problems that beset the film industry at that time; and caused Finas to become a mini-Hollywood that does not depend on American government funding, but who, on the other hand, can offer immense financial returns to the government coffers every year, and trust the industry to become more than for pure and puerile entertainment that it was then as it is still now today.

This is sad.

And the sadness is compounded by the fact that it is not just money or financial investment alone that had driven the Old Malayan Cinema to develop in the way it did, when only three enterprising Chinese entrepreneurs from Shanghai namely, Run Run Shaw and Run Me Shaw and Loke Wan Tho came to Singapore to establish their Malay Film Productions Studios at 8 Jalan Ampas and East Coast Road in the 1938 to later establish when can be referred to as the Old Malayan Cinema.

No study has yet been done as to why the two Shaw brothers and Loke Wan Tho had come to establish the two studios in the first place and started to create from almost nothing a whole system with their strings of cinema-halls throughout the country and a distribution network that allowed most of their films to be received well by the audiences which were not just from the Malay community but from the others, too, to make film viewing a favorite pastime for the multiracial crowd.

One cannot imagine what would have happen if the Old Malayan Cinema then had not been created; that there could certainly be more racial clashes and discontent.

And one can easily observe how the New Malaysian Cinema today has not been established and developed in the same way as the Old Malayan Cinema which the three founders of this Cinema had never envisaged to see, but which happened anyway.

And the committee that was formed to draft the Finas Act which was only approved by parliament in 1981 surely did not comprise of experts in the history of the Old Malayan Cinema or of Hollywood to know what they could include in the Bill and Act that could be formed as a basis for the resurgence of the New Malaysian Cinema.

And no one was sent out to go to the right places in the world of the cinema especially to Hollywood and the other centers in London, Paris, Mumbai, Tokyo, and also Hong Kong to learn from their experiences in developing the cinemas of their countries.

If this was done, then surely the Finas Act could be more forceful to allow for the development and resurgence of the New Malaysian Cinema to grow from what was left of the Old Malayan Cinema, and in the process turn the Malaysian film industry, one that is independent that does not require further annual funding from the government.

And on the other hand, the film industry could now be an income-generating industry must like Hollywood and the others, so that it can engage and give employment and benefits to half a million creative artists and their dependents.

The entertainment industry of Malaysia, too, can benefit from the real and true development of the cinema, as most activities in the Arts are related to the creation of the cinema.

The end result of which can be seen and felt with the amount of ‘muhibbah’ or national harmony amongst all the races in the country with the films getting wider audiences not only in Malaysia, but also elsewhere, including in the Asean region and mostly the Entire Muslim World.

Our experts in the arts, education, sociology, psychology, culture, religion and mostly economics have looked elsewhere and have not considered film production to be no more than distractions for those who are artistically inclined.

The entertainment industry is the sixth or twelfth largest industry in America; and if the same industry can achieve the top twenty position in the economy of Malaysia, it is still a great achievement, since earnings from its activities could more than supplement whatever income that the government could get from the other industries.

Therefore, with the awareness that I have posted in this analysis, can we expect the New Finas Act of 2020 be drafted, and this time by experts and not just people with fanciful social and political backgrounds? 

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