Datuk Kamil Othman and the Malaysian film scene

  • Movies
  • Friday, 18 Nov 2016

Most industry players are sad to see Kamil leave his post as director-general of Finas. They’ve started an online petition that has already garnered more than 800 signatures. — AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

As of Nov 9, Datuk Kamil Othman has vacated the post of director-general of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas), despite an online petition for him to stay on.

According to a spokesman in the Corporate Communications Department, Finas will be temporarily headed by Datuk Fauzi Ayob until a new DG is appointed by Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak.

In a press statement announcing his exit, Kamil said: “I hope that all the plans, strategy, foundations, mechanism and investments I have put in place in the two years as the Finas DG will further develop the industry to be more successful and of a higher quality.” The contract for the DG’s position is two years.

Under his watchful eye, there have been many changes in the industry in the past two years. Kamil – who is a film buff himself – has tried to steer Malaysian filmmakers to think of stories on a more international level.

His long-term plan was to transform films into an economy-driven industry – marketing local films internationally and making Malaysia a beneficial film location to foreign filmmakers.

When contacted, he said: “It’s all about taking the film industry out of just the traditional ‘entertainment’ space and placing it rightfully within an economic context. What the Government has spent must see returns.”

Spending the money wisely also meant making sure Finas’ film funding was only given to parties who had pitched the best ideas to the pitching committee, and not handed out willy-nilly.

Managing the Content Malaysia Pitching Centre, located at Platinum Sentral in Kuala Lumpur, allowed Kamil and his team to conduct the industry’s funding activities under one roof.

All filmmakers (including first-timers) were given a shot and all categories – feature, short film or documentary – considered for funding as long as the pitch was up to standard.

A scene from the movie Redha.
A scene from the movie Redha.

His aim was to position Malaysia internationally as a “contributor to world cinema, through our support of independent films”.

In an interview with The Star early this year, Kamil said content is an area that needs to be developed within the industry. “We are looking for original stories and beautiful storytelling,” he said. “A script is the backbone of a film. Many of our films are good, but are lacking in terms of storytelling.”

He added that a good benchmark for quality Malaysian films at international level was getting a nomination at the Oscars.

“At this point, we are not hoping for a win, but at least it can help to develop the local film industry ... Hopefully (a nomination) will inspire filmmakers to create more high quality works that are worthy of competing at the Oscars.”

In the middle of 2015, Finas formed an Oscar Selection Committee with the purpose of identifying the best Malaysian film for annual submission.

After announcing Lelaki Harapan Dunia as Malaysia’s hopeful in the Best Foreign Film category for this year’s Oscars, Kamil had said: “At the beginning of the year, I promised among other things that Finas will change its direction to focus on quality rather than quantity, and to position Malaysian cinema to the world.”

This year, the committee selected Redha as Malaysia’s submission for the 2017 Oscars.

Liew Seng Tat, the director of Lelaki Harapan Dunia, said he was sad to hear that Kamil’s contract was not renewed as the latter did the industry a lot of good.

Liew said: “To make a film from start to finish, it takes at least two years before it sees the light of day. (Likewise) with policies implemented today, you need more time to realise the change.

“Kamil is someone who knows what to do and Finas has become an exciting place because of him. We see an emergence of young filmmakers because of him. Under him, too, a lot of interesting projects received support.”

Whether or not there is a direct link to Kamil’s vision, the Malaysian box-office has also recorded its best year so far with three 2016 titles in the Top 10 highest-earning Malaysian films of all time.

Munafik earned RM17.04mil, placing it at No. 3, followed by OlaBola at No. 4 with RM16.67mil, and animated feature Boboiboy The Movie at No. 5 with earnings of RM15.74mil. At No. 1 is last year’s action-comedy Polis Evo, with a box-office collection of RM17.47mil.

Nabila Huda in Munafik.
Nabila Huda in Munafik.

Kamil said that one of the highlights as DG was opening the doors of Finas to the next generation of filmmakers. “It’s nice to hear people saying they previously couldn’t even be bothered to come to Finas but now they have no issues.”

Director Saw Teong Hin agreed there is more transparency in Finas thanks to Kamil, who held monthly dialogue sessions, known as #tanyaFinas, with industry players and the public at the pitching centre.

“He made Finas more accessible to the people, having open forums to discuss matters,” offered Saw, who is currently in post-production work on his new film You Mean The World To Me which is set for release in May.

One of the most important changes in the film industry took place this year. When nominations for the 28th Malaysia Film Festival were announced, there was an introduction of two Non-Bahasa Malaysia categories for Director and Screenplay, on top of the already exisiting Best Non-Bahasa Malaysia Film category.

The backlash from many industry players resulted in Kamil and members of the Malaysia Producers Association (PFM) – namely PFM CEO Pansha Nalliah and PFM president Datuk Yusof Haslam – holding a dialogue on this matter.

At the start of the session, Kamil said: “We all have one thing in common; we are all film lovers and all we want is a good film.

“What we need tonight is constructive criticism on how to improve on future film festivals.”

Soon after the dialogue, Salleh announced the removal of the three non-Bahasa Malaysia categories. Instead, all nominees would compete in the main categories while a new category – Best Film In The National Language – was created.

The Sept 3 awards show saw Best Film going to Tamil flick Jagat while Best Film In The National Language was awarded to Munafik.

Pekin Ibrahim, who was given a grant to shoot a feature documentary titled Madness Of Borneo, said Kamil had a lot more to offer the industry.

“He has plenty of magical plans he wants to implement. His posting has ended too soon,” Pekin said.

“He has knowledge of the industry, which is beneficial to new wave filmmakers. He should be given a few more years as DG.”

Saw echoed Pekin’s sentiments, saying: “Making a film involves having an idea, pitching it, presenting it and knowing how to sell it. All this is important in the overall picture of making a film. Kamil knew this, applied it to the industry and put a system in place. I think that’s the biggest contribution he has made.

While it is still unclear exactly who will be replacing Kamil or if Kamil himself will return for a second term, it is safe to say that the next DG has big shoes to fill.

Liew said: “I hope the next person to come in won’t set aside all the things Kamil did and start something totally new. This always happens with every change of DG, that is why we’re going nowhere.”

In a statement, Kamil remarked that he would continuously support and share his experiences and knowledge of the industry, given his deep love for the film and creative industry.

He said: “I hope the new wave will continue transforming the industry through globalisation of local content and mitigate the narrow mindedness that has blighted the old world.”

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