15 Minutes of… – 15MalaysiaSeptember 5, 2009
People asking Pete Teo what project he would do after the Malaysian Artists For Unity project.
As the country makes its celebrations for Independence Day on Monday, I decided that there’s no better time to write about this nice little project than then. Well, there is: I could have written it on the date of its launch, which happened to be some time in the middle of August. For some reason, a combination of brain fade, constipation, and a lack of time, as well as the fact that…
…well, no, I just didn’t get round to doing it before now.
The ’15Malaysia’ project is one that has been given a fair amount of spin within Malaysia itself. I don’t even need to be in the country to know that. Articles have been written, Facebook statuses updated, Twitters…err, Twittered to its user’s satisfaction as slowly, but surely, the ’15Malaysia’ makes itself known.
In short, ’15Malaysia’ is a collection of 15 short films made by some of the most renowned filmmakers in the country, as well as a fair number of up-and-coming stars in their own right (i.e. Some people I’ve never heard of before). The stories, then, predictably looks at various aspects of Malaysian society, as it emulates ‘Paris, Je T’aime’ in form, if not content. In terms of quantity and form, it beat out its ”sequel’, ‘New York, I Love You’ by four.In terms of substance, though, it does not have a common thread running through all of the films like ‘Paris’ or ‘New York’. Well, actually, I lied; that one common thing all the films have is that it’s all about Malaysia (as stated in the above). What’s not stated in the above is what a complex country Malaysia is, and that view becomes ever more complex when looked at from a variety of spectrums. We can see this in the films released up until now (September 5th). For example, Amir Muhammad’s ‘The Tree’ takes a particularly Muslim slant on things. ‘House’ by Linus Chung is timely, given the recent troubles and hardship at Kampung Buah Pala in Penang. ‘One Future’ is scary in how current it is, even though it claims to be of the science fiction genre, while the late Yasmin Ahmad subtly grabs the racial bull by its horn once again (as an aside, I believe that ‘Chocolate’ may well be her last complete work). In that regard, ’15Malaysia’ could also be a nice little introduction to what Malaysia is all about.
Its release has been coordinated to attune itself with the nationalistic fervour that is to hit its peak during the months of August and September. At first, I wondered why the schedule didn’t blow out on the 31st of August, which is the Malaysian Independence Day. Then I quickly realised/remembered that Malaysia, being the very complex country that it is, has not one but two ‘national’ days. Independence Day marks the day that Malaysia broke free from British rule, while Malaysia Day, celebrated on 16th September, marks the date when Malaya metamorphosed into the country we now know as Malaysia. This is somewhat confirmed by a quick look at the final film’s release date, 16th September 2009.
The plan is such that every two to three days, a new short film would be available for viewing or download (for free, I hasten to add) from the main website. The event kickstarted on the 17th of August with ‘Potong Saga’, a short film by Ho Yuhang, and is due to end on the 16th of September with the very Malaysian-sounding ‘Rojak!’, a project by Jordan and Mussadique Suleiman. Yuhang just garnered himself an award at the Locarno International Film Festival, while I’ve never even heard of the Suleiman brothers, who appear to be of some prominence in the animation and music video fields.
Here is one of the aspects that I like the most about this particular project. A lot of the names are very familiar, and to be honest with you, as I scrolled through the list the first time around, I found myself thinking, “I’m sure there’s got to be more filmmakers in Malaysia that these guys.” I’d say that more than half of them were the same faces over and over again, the names who would crop up at any random indie screenings in the Klang Valley area. Thus, though I do await their films with great anticipation, I find myself being more drawn towards the seemingly-left field choices of the project. Benji Lim & Bahir Yeusuff, of Perantauan Pictures, have a cool sounding ’5.13′ in the pipeline, which I will write about soon enough. I haven’t seen Khairil Bahar’s ‘Ciplak’, but I laughed out loud at the trailer a lot, and enjoy dropping by his blog whenever the moon sees fit to turn itself blue. Desmond Ng apparently has made a lot of commercials, but who the hell is Kamal Sabran? I’m very interested to see what they all have to offer, probably more than the James Lees and Tan Chui Muis.
That said, my favourite thus far is ‘Potong Saga’.
Really brings back the memories of my childhood, haha.
That question could also be turned around and be directed at you. The site also encourages people to make and upload their own videos about what Malaysia and being independent means to them. “Your film can be about the pothole outside your house, the dirty drain next to your school, the favorite Malaysian food and so on,” it says here on the blurb. “Whatever it is, it must be about Malaysia.” The coolest thing about this segment is that people are encouraged to upload their videos on Youtube, and then the powers-that-be will embed them into the official site, and retitle the page according to the number of videos made (as it stands, the page is called ’78Malaysia’.)
We haven’t gotten started on the actors yet. ’15Malaysia’, as a whole, features some of the most intriguing appearances in a short film ever. Like the choices of directors above, it appears to be split into a Who’s Who and Who? Approach, except that the latter who should be changed to “Who? What? Really? Tok Guru?!” There are some fine stalwarts like Sharifah Amani and Ida Nerina lighting up the (computer) screens. However, the ones who truly caught my attention were the non-actors. Namewee, a Malaysian who was involved in some controversy some years ago when he reinterpreted the national anthem, acts in one of the short films. There are also some political figures making their bow here. Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat himself, one of the main political figures of the Opposition in Malaysia pops up here, as do Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, PKR’s Tian Chua and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, and my health minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai. You’d think that much like real life, they might have taken the opportunity to espouse some of their…err, strong-held political beliefs. Not quite the case, apparently, with only scheduling the main stumbling block their participation. “They were really supportive from both sides of the political aisle,” said Pete Teo, one of the producers of the project. “At the end of the day the need to combat racism is much bigger than party politics.” Now if only that element get transplanted all the way to parliament, we might have less people name-calling each other various members of the primate species.
That leads me to another point (Pete, that is). The main man behind the project is Mr Teo himself, a man who is no stranger to pulling cables to get these things of the ground. He was the very public face behind the Malaysian Artistes For Unity last year, who, as a group, released a song and music video for free. Not unlike the current 15Malaysia model, that project also pursued the ideal of racial unity, and the song had an added advantage of being rather catchy and pleasant on the 10 million pairs of Malaysian ears that heard it. As an aside, he has some currency here in Korea, too; I spotted a couple of his CDs on sale at COEX some months ago, and I heard some rumblings that the whole project may well make its appearance at the upcoming Pusan film festival. I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised; many of the directors of the projects are already regulars here, and the MAFU music video was also shown at last year’s festival.
The other producer of the project is Packet One Networks, who evidently want to show off their wireless broadband capabilities, as well as gain some currency for supporting the local arts industry. “There’s no culture without [the] arts,” said their CEO Michael Lai. “I think that’s No 1. That’s why we are supporting [the] arts. The second thing: without creativity, there’s no innovation. I think that’s fundamental to why we are embarking on this project.” Pete himself concurs with this: “Film and the arts have the power to rally forces within society who want that change. It reaffirms values within a society.” If hits on their sites are what they want, that is certainly what they got: the official 15Malaysia site had 15,000 visits soon after it was launched. Not that Pete is particularly satisfied. “We’ve got 27 million voices in the country, and so far only 15 are heard,” he admitted. “My job is to make this platform even bigger.”
Kudos and credit, however late, are still kudos and credit nonetheless. And for his efforts to bring peace, unity, and understanding, Pete and Packet One deserve all the credit that comes their way.
So Pete…’what are you going to do next year?
Next year, Fikri wants to go on a road trip throughout Malaysia.