The removal of the Bahasa Malaysia criterion for the best movie award at the Malaysia Film Festival would risk opening up the floodgates for the nomination of films in foreign languages and project a confused Malaysian identity, says local filmmaker Datuk Norman Abdul Halim.

Stressing the importance of defining what “national film” means in Malaysia, Norman said that any move to open up the FFM's Best Picture award to films that were not made using the national language would not only affect the festival this year, but future film festivals as well.

“But if a national film is to be films in all languages, we have to understand tonight, are we opening the floodgates for other languages?” he said during a public dialogue session on the FFM.

He gave a hypothetical example of a film shot locally using a fully Malaysian cast and production crew by a Malaysian director using a script written by a Malaysian, but with a story that focuses on illegal immigrants with the dialogue being Bahasa Indonesia.

“So the medium used is Bahasa Indonesia and it wins the film festival and is touted as a Malaysian film, won't this confuse people to a certain extent on who we are, what is our identity?” he said.

He said it has to be determined if a “national” film is defined in Malaysia only as films that use the national language, or if other local films in other languages can be considered as a national film.

“I think the biggest question is what is a national film and what deserves to be our image locally and internationally. As we know, language plays a big role in showing the identity of a society,” said Norman, who is also the vice-president of the Malaysia Film Producers Association (PFM).

He said that films made in the languages of tribes such as the Bajau, Iban and Kadazan communities should be included under the Malaysian film category.

Earlier during the same session, PFM president Datuk Yusof Haslam said that FFM organisers had created the non-Bahasa Malaysia section to grant recognition to filmmakers in line with changing times, but said the “national identity” cannot be changed.

“There's no issue of being racist, but there's no running away from the (government) policy when it comes to the issue of national films, a national film must be in the national language which is the Malay language,” said Yusof, who is also deputy chairman of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas).

While praising Ola Bola and Jagat ― currently nominated under FFM’s non-Bahasa Malaysia Best Picture category ― as “good” movies, he said that putting them under the category of “national” films would be against the country's policy and Federal Constitution.

Yusof also said a distinction must be made between “national” films and “Malaysian” films, when responding to a reference to former Information, Communication and Culture Minister Tan Sri Rais Yatim's 2011 recognition of Malaysian-produced movies in Mandarin, Cantonese and Tamil with Bahasa Malaysia subtitles as local movies eligible for entertainment tax rebates.

Another local filmmaker, Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba, said there could be other avenues for local filmmakers to compete, such as through the setting up of a festival for Malaysian independent films with sub-categories for Asean films or new filmmakers.

“But we cannot change the national language, it is a policy, until the government changes it, that's it, so we have to deal with it,” she said.

In response to a proposal from the crowd on dubbing dialogue in films produced in other languages into the national language, the PFM deputy president said that there are no countries which would accept the dubbed language as the film's language.

A participant who identified herself as Jasmine suggested that FFM organisers include films made in all languages under the Best Picture category for this year and until they come up with a definition of a “best Malaysian film”.

“I feel our problem is because my impression all this while is that Festival Filem Malaysia is about the best Malaysian film, not about the best national film. Even national film in film, it's not certain, it's not necessary that language defines nationalism, so it's really tricky,” she told the crowd, proposing a change to FFM's name if the festival was about films promoting nationalism.

During the session last night, Yusof and PFM CEO Pansha Nalliah had explained FFM's roots as a festival decades ago featuring only Bahasa Malaysia films, noting that the non-Bahasa Malaysia category for Best Picture rolled out in 2011 and that the two new non-Bahasa Malaysia categories for Best Director and Best Screenplay this year are meant to give recognition to the Chinese and Tamil films that emerged in recent years.

Finas director-general Datuk Kamil Othman told Malay Mail Online last week that Finas has made it a policy for locally-made films to emphasise at least 70 per cent Bahasa Malaysia usage in their scripts in line with the government’s push to promote the national language, but admitted it would be ideal if the Best Picture category in FFM was open to all films regardless of language.

He told reporters last night that a reconfiguration of the 28th FFM's award categories was still possible before the festival is held next month, but said Finas, PFM and the Communications and Multimedia Ministry would discuss such possible options to resolve the controversy over the splitting of the awards according to language.

Source -Malay Mail Online-

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