I was asked to write a short, feel-good article for The Star's Merdeka focus on "independent movies." It was nice to be placed alongside two guys I like greatly: Woo Ming Jin and Liew Seng Tat.
Guess how much The Star paid? Zilch! And this is the most profitable paper in the country! The MCA's days really are numbered, or should be.
I started making movies as a respite from the boredom of life. Now that movie-making is starting to bore me, I will retire until I get my mojo back.
My first few movies were made with no permits and no censorship approval. My motto was: Other people can do it better, but I can do it cheaper. The first time I submitted something to the censors was in 2006 for Lelaki Komunis Terakhir. When that got unceremoniously banned, I was, at first, upset. Then I looked on the bright side: at least I became more famous.
There is a lot of self-righteous guff when it comes to indie movies. Expecting a film to be more sincere just because it’s independently made is like expecting a man to be good just because he’s poor. I have met quite a few nasty impecunious people in my life; give me a pleasant millionaire any day!
My final feature-length movie is called Malaysian Gods. It is made to mark the 10th anniversary of Sept 20, 1998, which saw a massive demonstration in KL just a few hours before Anwar Ibrahim got arrested. It is a long essay that takes the form of a walk through KL, precisely the 70 leisurely minutes it takes to get from the National Mosque to PWTC (Putra World Trade Centre). If it gets passed, it will screen for only one day (Sept 20, of course) at GSC 1 Utama.
I also just produced a movie, Punggok Rindukan Bulan (The Longing), that was set in Johor Baru’s working-class Bukit Chagar flats just before they got torn down. It is directed by the sensitive and soulful Azharr Rudin.
This was a movie that needed to be made because it gave a human face to a social landmark that would otherwise be gone with the winds of change.
The main change I’ve witnessed is that I am now interviewed often by college students (some of them are very cute indeed) who see me as some kind of elder statesman! I like starting things but certainly don’t want to get ossified into respectability in that way.
They seem to think “indie” is some kind of genre but it’s really just a way of doing things. And they always ask for advice, too. I just tell them that when I was their age, I certainly didn’t listen to advice.
In a twist to that Warhol dictum, it only takes 15 minutes to become famous now, because that’s about how long it takes to upload something on YouTube.
We now see many more Malaysian films at international film festivals. This is good because these festivals are organised and attended by people who love movies. But that certainly should never be the be-all and end-all of things. The indie movie I respected the most recently is Fahmi Reza’s 10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka, and he didn’t want to screen it overseas at all until I literally posted the DVDs on his behalf.
On the festival front, I think we will be overtaken by Indonesia and the Philippines anyway, because they take more risks; you can see it in their politics. We are still very bourgeois in our thinking.