FINAS Deputy Director-General talks about censorship and the future of documentaries

 In Malaysia, The National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) plays a significant role in ensuring the exposure of films planning to reach a mass audience. Much like its American counterpart, Motion Picture Association of America, and their creation of the rating system (e.g. R-Rated, PG-13, etc) FINAS establishes guidelines for Malaysian films too.

Although FINAS occasionally receives flak from the artistic community for its undue censorship, it is no denying that FINAS is involved in the advancement of our local films too, with iniatives such as the FINAS Pitching Centre and also their involvement in elevating the documentary film-making scene through their collaboration with Crossing Borders, a platform to bring your documentary ideas into the big screen.

Dato' Azmir Saifuddin Mutalib
Dato’ Azmir, Deputy Director-General of FINAS

To get to know FINAS and their perspective of the local documentary scene as the ‘gatekeepers’, we talked to Dato’ Azmir Saifuddin Mutalib, the Deputy Director-General of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS)

His working experience includes a stint at the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange’s subsidiary company, SCAN Associates Berhad, and the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC). During his 17 years with MDeC, he attended various industrial development programmes. He also led the marketing programme for Projek Animasi Saladin, which saw MDeC’s collaboration with Al-Jazeera Children’s Channel in Doha, Qatar.

How would you best describe the local documentary filmmaking scene?

It is an untapped market filled with talent in the documentary film-making scene. I believe there is huge potential in making Malaysia a documentary hub and well known to the global market in this regard. Compared to the Film, Drama and TV format sector in Malaysia, documentary content is significantly easier to be well received and accepted by an international audience, and our advantage is that we have a variety of stories to be told. Achievement and success stories from Malaysian documentary filmmakers are big wins for us and FINAS role is to promote these success stories to bring Malaysia to the next level. Our Producers, Directors, DOPs are equivalent and some are even above international standards, thanks to the engagement and networking initatives that have been established between Malaysian documentary filmmakers and international broadcasters and distributors.

In order to present true stories, facts cannot be filtered and sometimes the truth is not favourable or desirable to the viewers. How can a documentary filmmaker present true yet controversial stories without compromising their work i.e. censorship, cut out scenes, etc.?

From my personal point of view, censorship shouldn’t be a barrier in any form of conveying a story or message to the audience. Censorship is not just an issue in Malaysia, but all countries around the world have their own terms and guidelines. It is more of a guideline. Based from my conversations from many producers, for them to even enter into US TV channels they can sometimes be subject to more stringent guidelines. A good producer or director should know what can and cannot be done if they plan to go global.

What is your opinion on young filmmakers using iPhones and apps to record and edit their work? Does it make them less of a professional filmmaker?

We are living in the millennial age and to no one’s surprise, they have different ways of consuming content. Technology has changed the way films are produced, with smart phones and handheld devices well equipt with with high end specs comparable to DSLR cameras and video editing apps, making it easier for people to pursue and become a professional filmmaker. Ultimately, it isn’t just about one’s gadgets for one to go professional as at the end of the day, it is about understanding the audience, conveying and translating their story to get their audience hooked, and hopefully get their story onto an international platform. It is important for young filmmakers to have basic or fundamental training, and then over the years, build their experience towards becoming professional.

What kind of topics do you wish to see documentary filmmakers cover?

I’m not an expert on this, TV programmers would know better! But I do have to say that one topic I wish can be documented is anything and everything about Malaysia – wildlife, location, culture, social economy. Anything that uplifts and positions Malaysia positively and in a different light.

VR 360 is a common medium for documentary filmmakers at the moment (i.e. Vice Documentary) to ensure that viewers properly immerse themselves in a story. What is your opinion on the usage of VR 360?

Exploring new technology and new media platforms is encouraged for all documentary filmmakers. It is about user or audience experience. These days, the audience lives on being engaged, wanting to feel present and to be entertained in different ways. Documentary filmmakers are one of the very first to explore and use new technologies such as stereographic 3D experience, IMAX, planetarium dome screens, and many more. VR 360 is part of the new technology experience, including games and interactive media.

As the Deputy Director-General of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia, am sure that you have been privy to many films being sent your way. Have you seen a rise of certain styles of film-making or genres?

Shanjhey Kumar, Jagat director (Source: Malay Mail)
Shanjhey Kumar, Jagat director (Source: Malay Mail)

There’s been a rise in films that bring a lot of emotion and feeling, and draws us into the story. The success of Ola Bola, Polis Evo and Munafik is a good example with directors such as Chiu, Ghaz Abu Bakar and Syamsul Yusof possessing that quality. We need the professionalism and experience of an advertising filmmaker (as they engage with professional clients either locally or internationally) together with good storytellers in the form of documentary filmmakers, and lastly a filmmaker that understands what the audience wants to watch. With this winning combo, documentary filmmakers can thrive in the industry.

Dain Said and Siow Tiong Hin are good examples, they started in the advertising industry, went into producing documentaries when the opportunity came and have since been making incredibly good films. Not to forget the younger filmmakers, such as Syafiq Yusof with his huge success of Abang Long Fadil 2 and Shanjey Kumar from Jagat. These are the young filmmakers that are willing to push new concepts and ideas that we should be supporting.

Any predictions on the future of local documentary filmmaking and what are your hopes for it?

There’s certainly a bright future, and we need to continue supporting those in the industry. With the support from the government, various agencies, the industry association such as MyDocs and the talent resource, we hope to make Malaysian the hub of documentary filmmaking in the ASEAN region within the next 3 years. Hong Kong and Singapore remain as strong partners to work with as they have a strong TV Channel Hub but we hope Malaysia can become the regional production hub in terms of talent support, facilities and location shooting.


Featured image is of FINAS from cinema.com.my.

If you’re a huge fan of documentaries and you want to see great ideas being pitched along with insightful discussions, register your attendance for Crossing Borders International Documentary Pitch Open Day by clicking on this link.

Day/Date: Saturday, 9 December 2017
Time: 9am – 3pm (Registration begins at 8.30am)
Venue: Level 2, QLIQ Hotel (2 Jalan PJU 8/8A, Damansara Perdana, 47820 Petaling Jaya)
Admission: Free (Inclusive of tea break)



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