Monday, 30 June 2014 | MYT 7:00 AM

MH370: Passing out of radar into books, movies, musical

Will their stories be found in the books, films, paintings and purported musical on MH370? Passengers (1st row, from left) Firman Chandra Siregar, Philip Wood, Goh Sock Lay, Tan Size Hiang; (2nd row) Hu Xiaoning, Mary and Rodney Burrows, An Wenlan, Guan Hajin; (3rd row) Yue Wenchao, Mohd Hazrin Mohamed Hasnan, Muktesh Mukherjee and Bai Xiaomo, Suhaili Mustafa; (4th row) Sugianto Lo, Ch'ng Mei Ling, Ju Kun, Swawand Kolekar.

Will their stories be found in the books, films, paintings and purported musical on MH370? Passengers (1st row, from left) Firman Chandra Siregar, Philip Wood, Goh Sock Lay, Tan Size Hiang; (2nd row) Hu Xiaoning, Mary and Rodney Burrows, An Wenlan, Guan Hajin; (3rd row) Yue Wenchao, Mohd Hazrin Mohamed Hasnan, Muktesh Mukherjee and Bai Xiaomo, Suhaili Mustafa; (4th row) Sugianto Lo, Ch'ng Mei Ling, Ju Kun, Swawand Kolekar.

EXCLUSIVE: Books, films, paintings, even a musical! The longer MH370 stays missing, the more this mystery inspires tributes that stray into the grey area of exploitation.

MH370, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished on March 8 along with its 239 passengers and crew while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, launching a still-ongoing search that's becoming the most extensive and expensive in aviation history.

Though everyone knows about MH370 by now, we're still in the dark about its fate. In the absence of concrete answers, it's only a matter of time before an amorphous blend of speculation and fiction fills in the blanks. With so many unknown variables, the story of MH370 seems tailor-made for the wild whims of the imagination.

That is probably why, amid the height of the media coverage of the plane’s disappearance in March and April, no one could stop talking about it, often giving voice to some far-fetched theories and speculations in coffee shops, Internet forums, and CNN re-enactments using toy planes — not to mention the attention-seeking antics of so-called bomoh Ibrahim Mat Zin.

Among the millions who followed the confusing media reports and speculated about what happened was a scriptwriter who goes by the pseudonym ‘Apocalypse Nightshade’. He wrote a film script entitled Malaysia 370 and uploaded it to ‘his’ account on the Amazon Studios website – an online script market – barely a month after the incident.

A group of young film students who called themselves Masiah Initiative Production then stumbled on Nightshade’s script and decided to make it their first film project, announcing the news via their website and an email blast to more than 250 media outlets and online sites, which is how most people found out about it. 

With the tagline 'The answers are not in the black box', the crudely-designed website claims that the movie Malaysia 370 is “a work of fact and fiction” and “explores the few known facts of the mysterious flight and ties them together with actual news footage, theory, speculation and logic to create a cohesive narrative.”

'The answers are not in the black box': A screen capture of the Malaysia 370 website (above), created by the Masiah Initiative Production, a collective of young filmmakers based in the US. 

The website also includes a link to the film script, hosted on the website Scribd — the one on Amazon Studios had apparently been removed as it was deemed too controversial. The website also appealed to visitors to contribute to the funding of the movie. It's hard not to view the whole initiative as dubious, but apparently the faceless group of film graduates are earnest in their intentions.  

“Everyone read the script and thought that it would be a very compelling movie,” wrote Margo Keller, a representative for the group of filmmakers, in an email interview. Keller also wrote that they needed at least US$60,000 (RM192,000) to get the project off the ground and had initially wanted to collect funds via their website, in return of acknowledging each donor as a ‘contributor’ in the credits.

But, in a follow-up email, Keller revealed that an as-yet-unnamed Asian businessman had recently stepped in as an executive producer and almost completely funded the movie. She claims that the team is currently preparing to shoot the film at the Air Hollywood studio in Los Angeles this August, which she adds has sound stages that perfectly depict the inside of a Boeing 777 — a quick visit to Air Hollywood's website shows that the studio does indeed exist.

One of the sound stages for hire at Air Hollywood, a movie studio that specialises in film shoots, with various sets and props dedicated to filming aeroplane and airport scenes. The Masiah Initiative Production plans to shoot Malaysia 370 at Air Hollywood.

“We have raised more than half of our very small budget and are diligently working to raise the rest. If necessary we might take our fundraising efforts to social media,” said Keller. “I think that people are interested in it. We hope that our film does not offend anybody but we will follow the script and let the chips fall where they may.”

The Vanishing Act

Offending others is exactly what transpired from another MH370 film project, The Vanishing Act, which was profiled in a CNN report on the Cannes Film Festival film marketplace in May. Indian filmmaker Rupesh Paul, who had written a screenplay and filmed a trailer in hopes of drumming up interest among financiers, was heavily criticised for trying to cash in on the tragedy.

In an email interview with The Star, Paul denied that he was taking advantage of the publicity surrounding the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight. He said the movie would not affect the families of the passenger and that the movie's story line would not be exploitative.

“When you make movies for such an audience, no one knows what they may or may not like. As for me, I have received more love than backlash from the people. In fact, overwhelming love,” Paul wrote. Still, the overwhelming backlash forced Paul to issue an apology for the inclusion of a love triangle subplot. 

Although Paul's film company had originally planned to shoot and release the film by August or September, there has been no word since the backlash whether or not the project will go on. Most recently, the director was reported as saying that he wanted to make a film based on the infamous Dec 2012 gang rape in Delhi. With such provocative announcements, it's difficult to defend Paul as non-exploitative filmmaker.

Other projects related to MH370 have also faced criticism, including an e-book entitled MH370, a novella written by a supposedly Malaysian-based 45-year-old New Zealand author Scott Maka (apparently a pseudonym). New Zealand national Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul Weeks was on the missing flight, vented her anger at Maka’s e-book, calling the book "disgusting" and that she would rather see interested parties “put their efforts to helping find the truth".

Meanwhile, Maka defended his novella in an article on The Daily Beast website, saying that he didn't write it to "cash in". Although he had expected "some controversy", Maka said that he "completely underestimated the reaction of Mrs Weeks". He added: "Her reaction was just so strong it ended up making headlines everywhere. I was completely shocked when I heard her comments. I was genuinely upset that I’d prompted such a reaction from her.”

Another book, a non-fictional account entitled Good Night Malaysian 370: The Truth Behind the Loss of Flight 370 was recently announced. Written by pilot Ewan Wilson and New Zealand reporter Geoff Taylor, using inconclusive investigation findings that have been released to the public, the book claims that plane’s disappearance and eventual crash in the Indian Ocean was deliberately planned and executed. No doubt it will add more intrigue to the mystery.

The covers (above) for the two books that have been written about MH370. While Scott Maka's fictional account has been accused of cashing in on the tragedy, the non-fictional book by Geoff Taylor and Ewan Wilson purports to tell the 'real' story behind the plane's disappearance.   

But these are only the tentative tips of an iceberg of both speculative and creative responses to MH370. An abstract painting entitled MH370 by Australian Dianne Erdmanis, is currently selling online via stateoftheartgallery.com.au for AUS$525 (RM1,587). 

In her description of the painting, Erdmanis wrote: "This painting represents not only feelings of hope and despair for Flight MH370, but location, and other elements playing a part in the search for loved ones lost. The building, is alight with people trying to locate the plane, black darkness on light and sea, outline of the plane, a cross, flares, flashing lights, a submarine and the black box, which is white to represent Hope."

Two paintings dedicated to MH370: Diane Erdmanis' MH370 (above) and V. Parameswary's The Flight (below). 

Meanwhile, Malaysian artist V. Parameswary recently unveiled The Flight, a brightly coloured acrylic painting she had made in hopes to reaching out to family members of passengers of the missing plane. According to the artist, proceeds from the painting priced at RM10,000 will fund an art exploration project for children at the Science of Life studios. 

In an interview with The Star, Parames explained: “The red background signifies pain and tribulations of those affected while the grey colours in the middle show pain and sadness of the whole tragic accident. Love is still highlighted through the pinkish areas, and the purity and innocence of the people caught in the incident, is highlighted using white in several parts of the painting. A dotted line resembles a trail left behind by the missing plane."

MH370, the musical?

Perhaps the most intriguing — and potentially, the most offensive — of all the projects so far inspired by MH370 is a stage musical. The Telegraph UK reported that Rupert Goold, director of the 325-seat Almeida Theatre in London (below), is thinking about developing a stage musical based on MH370. 

Rupert Goold, director of the Almeida Theatre, in Islington, London, is thinking of turning MH370 into a musical, according to an article in The Telegraph. Last year, Goold directed a musical based on American Psycho, a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik.

In the article, Goold is reported as saying: "Metaphorically and theatrically, it captures something very potent about the anxieties of our age. It’s like a Rorschach test: people read their own thoughts and paranoia into it, whether that be about globalisation, technology, terrorism or insanity." Whether or not Goold's musical idea will actually reach the stage remains to be seen.

The flourishing of speculations and multiplicity of readings in the vacuum of any conclusive report on what happened to MH370 seem to parallel the media phenomenon that followed the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the American aviatrix whose plane disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean in 1937, during her record attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

Still missing: Amelia Earhart, the American celebrity aviatrix whose plane disappeared without a trace somewhere in the South Pacific in 1937, has fascinated people for decades, fueling numerous speculations and theories as to what happened to her. Until now, no one has been able to conclusively explain her disappearance.

Despite an exhaustive search — costing an estimated US$4mil, it was the most expensive search and rescue effort at the time — no trace of Earhart or her plane was ever found. Her vanishing inspired various theories that were chronicled in numerous articles, books, songs, poems and, eventually, movies. But not even her elevated place in history could save the latest film based on her life — Amelia (2009), starring Hilary Swank and directed by Mira Nair — which was a critical and commercial flop.

While Earhart’s mysterious disappearance has attained the status of myth over the years — partly because of the celebrity status she enjoyed before her disappearance — it’s hard to say the same of MH370, especially now. However the story eventually unfolds, like many enigmatic tragedies before it, it will doubtless serve as a muse for artists and speculators everywhere, passing out of radar into the realm of myth and metaphor. – Additional reporting by Sharmila Nair. 

In Part 2 of our special report (out July 1), we put Apocalypse Nightshade, the pseudonymous scriptwriter of "Malaysia 370", under the spotlight. Another exclusive story, only from Lifestyle @ The Star Online.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Features , MH370 , films , books , art , paintings , musical , Malaysia 370 , Apocalypse Nightshade , The Masiah Initiative Production , The Vanishing Act , Rupesh Paul , MH370 a novella , Scott Maka , Good Night Malaysia 370 , The Truth Behind the Loss of Flight 370 , Ewan Wilson , Geoff Taylor , Diane Erdmanis , V Parameswary , The Flight , Rupert Goold , Almeida Theatre , Amelia Earhart


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