Friday March 15, 2013
By ALLAN KOAY
Malaysian-made documentaries are reaching a new level, and their makers have joined forces to improve the industry.
NOWADAYS, anytime an important event takes place, within minutes, you would find videos of it uploaded on YouTube and shared on social media. Case in point, the recent Russian meteor crash. It’s probably safe to say that in this digital age, everyone is a documentary filmmaker. But, of course, the citizen journalists and the ordinary man on the street make simple, crude and raw videos. The professionals would have better equipment, as well as training and practice, to ensure that their work is of high quality.
In comes the newly minted Malaysian Documentary Association, or MyDocs. Conceived a few years ago, and registered late last year, MyDocs aims to make quality documentary-makers out of those interested to pursue such a craft.
“We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and we kept saying to ourselves we’ve got to get ourselves organised, get together and bring the industry forward,” said MyDocs president Harun Rahman. “Before this we couldn’t even get our documentaries shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. These are the big guys. After 2007, it all turned around.”
Harun said with the documentary-makers and their experience, as well as the assistance of the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) and international broadcasters such as National Geographic, the playing field opened up. Malaysian documentary-makers now have opportunities to make high quality documentaries and have them shown internationally.
The board members of MyDocs comprise established names in documentary and filmmaking, such as Ahmad Yazid and Lydia Lubon who made the documentaries on Al-Maunah and Mas Selamat for the Crime & Investigation Channel; former beauty queen Lina Teoh who has produced and directed documentaries for National Geographic and Discovery; award-winning director Dain Said (Bunohan), who is also a passionate documentary-maker; and Justin Ong who has had his film shown at a documentary showcase in Cannes, France.
Harun himself, the founder of documentary production company Novista, has 20 years’ experience in the field, and is most well-known for his National Geographic film, Among The Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh, which won Best Natural History or Wildlife Programme at the Asian Television Awards 2010.
While our feature films have been winning international accolades since the beginning of this millennium, few are aware that we have an active and viable documentary-making industry here that is also internationally recognised. And most importantly, it is still growing.
“Those of us who got our documentaries shown on National Geographic learned a lot,” said Harun. “We learned how to make documentaries at the international level. And we felt that it would be good for us to share our experience with others, because some of them would eventually work with us or work for us.”
“Through all of my experiences I have learnt so much and would now like to help other Malaysians have the same opportunities that I have had,” said Teoh, who was one of the chosen participants in Crossing Borders 2011, an international training programme for up and coming filmmakers. “And this is where MyDocs can help.”
Harun said MyDocs would, first and foremost, provide a valuable network for aspiring documentary-makers.
“MyDocs is a platform for us to have workshops, training and internships,” he explained. “We’re also planning to have apprenticeships. You don’t have to have paper qualifications. If you have an interest in documentaries, join one of the companies, work with us. If you’re good with cameras, we can put you in a company to learn about documentaries.”
With the experiences of the board members, Harun believes aspiring documentary-makers can learn how to make documentaries of international quality and get their films shown worldwide and not just in Malaysia. He said from his own experience, he has learned that there are matters such as getting a release for interviews and photographs used in a film in order for a documentary to be shown internationally. Then there is also the matter of transparency, where an international broadcaster or producer would scrutinise every aspect of a production or project, to ensure that resources are not wasted.
Harun said one does not need to have a journalistic background to become a documentary-maker, but only needs to have the inquisitive mind of a journalist and the stamina of a filmmaker, since some documentaries may take years to complete.
“At the end of the day it is passion, passion for your story, your subject matter,” he added.
He said today with the advent of digital technology, it is easier and cheaper to make a documentary, and no longer are documentaries only made by the government and government agencies.
“Films have always been very expensive to produce, because of the equipment, lab work and all that,” said Harun. “If you are not making a feature film, then you can’t afford to do it, because you won’t get your money back ... But now HD and SLR have come about and everything is digital, it has become so much cheaper to make a film. Now it all depends on your story. If your story is good, people will watch it.”
One of the things MyDocs would like to see or make happen in the future is local documentaries having theatrical releases. But for now, the next immediate focus for MyDocs is in assisting Finas with Asian Side Of The Doc, an annual international co-production meeting, which is scheduled for next month.
“This is an international forum where many people are coming to talk about documentaries and have masterclasses,” said Harun. “We will also have a pitching forum where you can present your ideas to TV stations and producers from all over the world. If they are interested, they will put money into your project and help you make your documentary.”
Filmmaker and writer Zan Azlee, well-known for his documentaries and reports from conflict zones, thinks it is a good idea having such an association. He said Harun had talked to him about it while they were doing documentary workshops in Sabah last year.
“It’s definitely good for young documentary filmmakers who are starting in the industry,” said Zan when contacted online. “As someone who has been doing it for a while, I hope to see MyDocs representing the industry more, maybe act as a union or guild of sorts and looking into policies and regulations, like a bridge between the industry and maybe the government. I think there is a lot to do when it comes to creating awareness about documentaries.”
Said Teoh: “MyDocs believes passion is the key to producing great documentaries and if this passion can be shared with more documentary filmmakers, Malaysia will continue to produce not only better documentary filmmakers but also amazing stories that can be seen by larger audiences.”
Membership is open to anyone who has an interest in documentaries. For more details and to sign up, go to www.mydocs.my.