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Published: Sunday June 29, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday June 29, 2014 MYT 9:32:48 AM

A Cooler Lumpur weekend in KL

Political and cultural studies graduate Andrew Tan got the audience thinking with some hard-hitting questions at the video documentary masterclass.

Political and cultural studies graduate Andrew Tan got the audience thinking with some hard-hitting questions at the video documentary masterclass.

Touted as a convergence of minds and ideas, the Cooler Lumpur Festival was an ultra-marathon of conversations.

Touted as a convergence of minds and ideas, the Cooler Lumpur Festival was an ultra-marathon of interesting, involving, engaging conversations that took place over the last weekend at Publika, Kuala Lumpur.

There were close to 50 sessions by writers, filmmakers and those in the words industry throughout the three-day event.

Among some of the fun bits is the indelible memory of how catchy words like “harakahharakah hoop” can be used as the onomatopoeia for galloping hooves (at storyteller Kamini Ramachandran’s session) and how imagining a superhero for an Asian audience need not be limited to subsets like Bruce Lee and Mulan. 

It turns out, though, that Asian boys identify with Peter Parker and Clark Kent even though they are white and American – after all, girl problems, a dilemma shared by both heroes, are universal, as the teen graphic novel workshop revealed!

'Look, what's over there?' Storyteller Kamini Ramachandran has the little ones thoroughly entertained.
‘Look, what’s over there?’ Storyteller Kamini Ramachandran has the little ones thoroughly entertained.

Into its second edition this year, the 2014 Cooler Lumpur Festival (presented by PopDigital, the British Council and BMW Group Malaysia) was themed #FAST, referring to the idea of fast-forwarding the cultural agenda by sharing and experimenting with new ideas.

The festival began on a high note when Al Jazeera senior producer/reporter Chan Tau Chou had to face a member of the audience who questioned him on the ethics of using a hidden camera during a video documentary masterclass. Do the ends justify the means? 

Doesn’t the subject have the right to know? Don’t say it’s for the “greater good”, stressed this individual. If we are to believe in civil liberties, how can we throw them away for the sake of public interest?

Unfazed, Chan explained his video had brought to light injustices inflicted on foreign workers. One was the retention of workers’ passports on the false pretext of applying for work permits. Whether such an employer deserves a measure of fair treatment was left to the audience. 

For the record, Chan, who had worked on the story for three months, blurred the subject’s faces to protect privacy.

Later, the questioning “imp” revealed himself as Andrew Tan, 23, a fresh political and cultural studies graduate. And no, Tan had not been “planted” by organisers to stir things up, we discovered. This was confirmed by the festival’s literary director, Umapagan Ampikaipakan, who confessed it was a tempting suggestion, as local audiences tend to be rather slow when it comes to question and answer sessions.

Festive guys: (From left) Az Samad responding to a poem with his guitar; Miguel Syjuco talking about censorship; and Al Jazeera’s Chan Tau Chou sharing his experiences at the video documentary master class.

Tan, as it turns out, had once done time as visual editor for Ontario newspaper The Arthur during his student days. He readily admits his is a typical chicken and egg question, one that comes with no solution.

That night, Filipino writer and author Miguel Syjuco, memorable with his colourful wristband and well-coiffed hair, shared his views on the contentious subject of censorship at the keynote address.

Syjuco reckons if the theatre is burning, it would not do for the audience to remain seated. The 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize winner was speaking about censorship – self-imposed and otherwise. This was his point: When people are told what they can or cannot say, they are basically being told what to think. Don’t, he begs, say censorship is necessary for the sake of morality and the preservation of peace and harmony. Not when injustice prevails. 

It is, of course, up to us to keep a good head on our shoulders because those who don’t want to be exposed will reel off a thousand and one reasons why you should shut up. Evil, maintains Syjuco, is always convinced of its own good.

Andrew Drillon's teen graphic novel writing workshop was a hit with its young participants, as they learnt how to express themselves graphically; check out the happy group showing off its work above.
Andrew Drillon’s teen graphic novel writing workshop was a hit with its young participants, as they learnt how to express themselves graphically.

The teens who converged to hear Filipino comics creator Andrew Drillon in the teen graphic novel writing session learned that there is only one way to conquer the dark forces: give ’em a good bashing!

Out of the three-day workshop conducted by the British Council, the dynamic young participants came up with some pretty cool illustrations on how they would tackle their nemeses. Joshua Gopal, 15, came up with Fist Airlines, a graphic metaphoric allegory to describe power punches that will knock you out cold.

But should everything be boiled down to violence? Well, in comics, explains Joshua, the characters are not real. So all that thumping and crashing is just a way to represent conflict. 

If it gives you any peace of mind, it’s all resolved at the end, when peace triumphs over all. All that, mind, came from a teenager....

The participants of the teen graphic novel writing session at the the Cooler Lumpur Festival 2014.
Check out the happy group showing off its work above.

Syed Muhiyuddin, the son of Malaysian literature bad boy Syed Hussein Al-Attas, read out poet Habib Ali Muhammad Alhabshi’s Longing Of The Soul. Responding to the reading was spoken word artist Jamal Raslan who performed Lost For Words about a child asking his mother about God and Az Samad who lulled the audience into a dreamy mood with his guitar.

Az, the son of national laureate Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail, says one of the things his late father had taught him was that the duty of art, in essence, was to fill one’s thoughts with beauty.

For a festival that depended largely on nothing but words, it was a fun event that saw stories written on strips of paper and being sold for 50 sen from gumball machines (if you’re lucky you got a USB).There were also lessons in local politics being scaled down to layman terms in the form of Politiko, a homegrown card game created by Mun Kao, who had roped in writer and actor Zedeck Siew to do the marketing. 

You could also buy “instant” poems and pop in for a quick read at a pop up library.

Most interesting was an inventive entrepreneur who had attached electrodes to some potted plants. Visitors who stroked these greens received responses of varying pitches from a speaker. Depending on how the plant “liked” a certain touch, it would emanate a certain pitch. 

So even plants are capable of communicating!

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Cooler Lumpur Festival, #Fast, arts, literature, festival

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