Malaysian Gods poster (pic courtesy of Da Huang Pictures)
PETALING JAYA, 30 Jan 2009: Amir Muhammad‘s latest film, Malaysian Gods, has been barred from wide release by the censors.
The National Film Censorship Board has decided that the roughly 60-minute movie cannot be shown on TV or in cinemas. The board gave no reasons for its decision despite an appeal by Da Huang Pictures which produced the film.
“I think they don’t want the hassle of ‘banning it’, but they also don’t want the hassle of being harassed for ‘allowing it’, so they are taking the middle ground,” the award-winning filmmaker told The Nut Graph via e-mail from Rotterdam, where he is attending the city’s 2009 international film festival.
This is not the first time Amir has run into trouble with the authorities for his films about Malaysian history or historical events.
Notably, two of his films The Last Communist (2006) and Village People Radio Show (2007) were banned. Both works deal with the Malayan Communist Party. Because they were banned, both received a fair share of publicity.
The censorship board said The Last Communist had to be banned in the public’s interest, while Village People was a “distortion of historical fact”.
The Film Censorship Act 2002 states that the reasons for censorship could include obscenity or material that may be “contrary to public interest”.
Malaysian Gods is an “experimental video, documentary and fiction” that backdrops the 1998 Reformasi movement. It conducts interviews in Tamil, with English sub-titles, with Tamil-speaking Malaysians who work or patronise areas in Kuala Lumpur which were the site of anti-government Reformasi demonstrations.
The film was submitted to the censorship board in late October 2008. The board made its decision in three weeks.
Although Amir has made some changes to the film since submitting it to the censors, he is not going to re-submit it for approval.
Amir Muhammad (pic courtesy of Danny Lim)
“I don’t see why I should pay a fee just to update them, and get the same result,” he said.
Describing the censors’ decision as “quite strange”, Amir said he would instead arrange for screenings in other venues. “We plan to screen it in many local campuses,” he added.
The film was first screened on 20 Sept 2008, at the 10th anniversary of the Reformasi march, at Golden Screen Cinemas, 1-Utama for one day only while waiting for the censors to respond to the producer’s appeal.
The film, originally titled Do You Remember the 20th Day of September, was shot in June 2008.
The idea for Malaysian Gods came to Amir when he was stuck in a traffic jam on a rainy day near Dataran Merdeka.
“The whole place seemed to come alive, in my head, as a massive demonstration site. It was a false memory, since I was not actually there on 20 September 1998. So [the film] was my attempt to ‘place’ myself there,” Amir said.
He added that he conducted all the interviews in Tamil because he had always wanted to make a Tamil movie. “So, this was my chance.”