The Last Sea Nomads, a documentary by Malaysian director-scriptwriter Kok Rui Lau and Hong Kong filmmaker Hing Weng Eric Tsang, are among the projects selected to be part of this year’s documentary film forum Docs By The Sea.
Docs By The Sea is an annual international forum that focuses on creating a supportive ecosystem for documentary films in South-East Asia. Initiated by non-profit organisation In-Docs, the forum was first launched in 2017.
The Last Sea Nomads, directed by Lau and produced by Tsang, will be part of The Storytelling Lab, one of Docs By The Sea’s mentoring programmes aimed to help participants tell compelling stories and perfect their pitch.
This will be the first pitching forum for The Last Sea Nomads, which is expected to be completed in 2022.
The documentary highlights the plight of the Bajau Laut, or Sea Gypsies, who are known for their nomadic, seafaring way of life. Despite being native to the area and having roamed the waters in this region - Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia - for generations, they now find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of statelessness.
“Although the Bajau Laut is part of South-East Asia, these people are not officially recognised by any country there. We think that this is important for us to address this issue through our documentary. We feel grateful to have this project being kick-started in Malaysia as our director is originally from there, ” says Tsang.
Both Tsang and Lau are currently based in Hong Kong.
Lau relates how his great-grandfather moved to the Malay peninsula in pursuit of a better life, whereas his father migrated from a rubber plantation to a business town in search of prosperity.
“And I am now living in Hong Kong to become a film director. I found a connection between my family and the tragedy of Bajau Laut in terms of the nomadness, ” offers Lau.
With regards to indigenous issues, the duo notes that the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 and it has since been ratified by 143 countries.
“The story of Bajau Laut definitely deserves the spotlight of increased global awareness of indigenous issues. If the Malaysian government doesn't tackle this issue in the coming decade, the booming population of stateless Bajau Laut could cause a humanitarian catastrophe in the region and eventually lead to the diaspora of the last sea nomads," says Lau.
"In an effort to encourage the attention of the international community, our goal is to expose the challenges and difficulties from the perspective of an indigenous sea nomads family, ” he adds.
In light of the pandemic, this year’s Docs By The Sea (Aug 13-28) will be held entirely online.
“At Docs By The Sea we hope to bring this project to potential international investors and co-production partners. We would also love to learn from other participants, ” adds Tsang.
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