Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First human rights films festival held in Singapore

Singapore's first human rights film festival, held at the Substation Arts Centre on Sunday 14 Nov, 2010, saw the screening of 7 short films from Freedom Film Fest, a premier event in the calendar of Malaysia's civil society for the last seven years, and brought to local audience this year by Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD).

Despite an earlier downpour, about 80 people packed the Guinness Theatre for 4 hours to witness documentaries about the democracy movements, police corruption, lives of transsexual sex workers, plight of the Orang Asli and the forces that sparked the notorious cow-head protest.

A common consensus heard from viewers after the screenings were that the content of the films were enlightening and evenly researched.

SFD members Seelan Palay and Martyn See rounded up the afternoon by promising that the next FFF will feature local content, but of course this is contingent upon the approval of the censors at the Media Development Authority, who had rated all but one of the seven films M18. Human rights, according to the Singapore government, are for "mature" audiences. SFD pledges to correct that misconception.

An earlier press release for the event.

Pro-democracy group to hold first human rights film festival in Singapore
A film festival dedicated to the promotion of human rights issues will be held for the first time in Singapore on November 14, 2010. Organised by local political association Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD), Freedom Film Fest Singapore will showcase seven human rights documentaries from neighbouring Malaysia.
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Details as follows :

Freedom Film Festival Singapore : A Showcase of Human Rights Films from Malaysia.
Date : 14 Nov 2010
Time : 2pm to 6pm
Venue : Guinness Theatre, Substation Arts Centre, 45 Armenian Street
Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=135960353120755
Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Sales of T-shirts and other paraphernalia at the door.

Are there any films from Singapore? Why not?

No, there are no films from Singapore. The Films Act prohibits the production and exhibition of films which display biased references towards any political issue or persons in Singapore. The penalties for such an offence is a conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years. In 2005, local filmmaker Martyn See was investigated by the police for such an offence. Two of See's films remained banned in the country. Another filmmaker, Seelan Palay, is currently undergoing criminal investigation for exhibiting a documentary critical of Lee Kuan Yew. The legal restrictions to political film-making, compounded by a culture of fear among filmmakers and artists in Singapore towards any depiction of "sensitive" issues, meant there is currently a dearth of human rights films made by Singaporeans about Singapore.

Why films from Malaysia?

Now into its seventh year, the Freedom Film Fest was initiated by Malaysian NGO Komas Pusat as a means to educate the public on the values of human rights. The festival's circuit in recent years has included Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and East Malaysia. Due to our shared political and cultural history with Malaysia, SFD has decided to host the Singapore leg of the festival this year. As the views raised in these films reflect ground sentiments of the Malaysian public and of its civil society, we feel that Singaporeans would be interested to get a first-hand look at the issues affecting their neighbours. The FFF 2010 in Malaysia is supported by the European Commission. None of the films shown in its seven year history has been censored or banned by the Malaysia Government.


Kopi O Khau (30 min) 2006
Dir : Andrew Sia
Language : English, Bahasa (English subtitles)
Rated M18 (Mature Content)

In 2005, after a leaked video of a naked female suspect performing ear-squats in a police station had sparked public outrage, the Malaysian Royal Police faced a barrage of allegations including physical abuse, corruption and disproportionate allocation of resouces to monitor political activities instead of combating real crime. Kopi O Khau, translated as "thick black coffee", is a colloquial term for "coffee money", or bribes. Over a hip-hop soundtrack, Andrew Sia interviews activists, politicians and a retired police officer in his quest to restore police integrity and service in Malaysia to "truly royal standards."

Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka, or 10 Years Before Independence (30 min) 2007
Dir : Fahmi Reza
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Rated PG

October 20th, 1947 marked a historical day in the Malayan people's constitutional struggle for independence from British colonialism.
This documentary chronicles the events that culminated in the Malaya-wide 'Hartal' day of protest against the undemocratic Federation of Malaya Constitutional Proposals devised by the British Colonial Government and UMNO. Breathtaking in its scope of research and enthralling in its use of music and archival material, Fahmi Reza has aguably created the definitive film on the genesis of the democratic movement in pre-independence Malaysia and Singapore.

Pecah Lobang, or Busted (30 min) 2008
Dir : Poh Si Teng
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Rated M18 (Mature Content)

Shot in the red light district in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, the documentary follows the life of Natasha, a Muslim Mak Nyah (transsexual), who refuses to live life as a man. Unable to secure employment because of discrimination, Natasha turns to sex work and lives in constant fear of the police and religious authorities. While interviewing a broad cross-section of society including a religious scholar, a sex-change physician, a sociologist, attorneys and a social worker, Teng Poh Si unflinchingly examines the continuing repression of transsexuals in a Malaysian society caught between rapid modernisation and a new rising tide of religious conservatism.

Kayuh (21 min) 2009
Dir : Soh Sook Hwa
Language : Bahasa, English (English subtitles)
Rated M18 (Mature Content)

This documentary is a first-hand account of the trials and tribulations of a 100-strong contingent of cyclists who had rode into Kuala Lumpur from Kedah in the north and from Johor Baru in the south. Their purpose - to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister to highlight six major concerns of marginalized groups in Malaysia. With an intention to make stops at villages and towns along the way to raise awareness among the public, the cyclists were repeatedly harassed by authorities from delivering their message. Unrelenting in its pursuit and invigorating in its spirit, Soh Sook Hwa has managed to produce an uplifting work to inspire activists all over the world.

Hak Dinafikan (30 min) 2010
Dir : Abri Yok Chopil & Shafie bin Dris
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Not rated as yet

On March 17, 2010 more than 2,000 Orang Asli marched in a rare protest against a proposed new land policy, believed to be detrimental to their people. This documentary- made by a team of Orang Asli - contains their voices; many who are speaking out for the first time. Hear what they have to say in their own words.

Pilih (30 min) 2010
Dir : Loo Que Lin
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Not rated as yet

Are Malaysian universities empowering future generations to participate in a democratic society, or are they nurturing disempowered and indoctrinated youths? Using a popular talk show format, Pilih explores the issue of campus election and exposes the reality faced by students. It gives us insight as to why Malaysian youths may be apathetic, and a micro-look as to how democracy functions in Malaysia.

Kisah Tauke Mancis Dan Minyak Tumpah (30 min) 2010
Dir : Sheridan Mahavera & Siti Nurbaiyah
Language : Bahasa (English subtitles)
Not rated as yet

This is a story of two communities and the relocation of a temple. This film takes a look behind the sensational headlines of the cow head protest to understand how the dispute came to be. It reminds us how extremism can easily be fueled when we fail to understand the context of the dispute, and manage such situations beyond the emotions.

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