The controversy-laden 28th Malaysia Film Festival saw many firsts in the weeks leading up to the awards night.
First, a judging committee formed by the National Film Development Corporation Board (Finas) and Malaysia Film Producers (PFM) introduced two new non-Bahasa Malaysia categories for Best Director and Best Screenplay to add to the existing Best Non-Bahasa Malaysia Film.
The negative reaction to the division of films like OlaBola, Jagat and The Kid From The Big Apple from 70% Bahasa Malaysia-compliant films like Munafik, Polis Evo and Mat Moto: Kami Mat Moto Bukan Mat Rempit came swiftly when the announcement was first made on Aug 3.
Criticism came from all quarters including corporate figures like Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Datuk Seri Nazir Razak to director-actor Afdlin Shauki, who announced his boycott of the awards night.
Then, there’s cinematographer Mohd Noor Kassim who will go down in history as perhaps the first person to return his FFM trophies in a plastic trash bag.
Fortunately, Finas was quick to react to the backlash. On Aug 10, all non-Bahasa Malaysia film categories were removed and the nominees were eligible to compete in the original category for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
The Best Film award, however, was renamed Best Malaysian Film and came with a whopping 10 nominees. Another first is the introduction of Best Film In The National Language category, which was described as a necessary measure to uphold the sanctity of Bahasa Malaysia.
On the awards night on Sept 3 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Jagat made history as the Best Malaysian Film winner. The Tamil-language film about the misadventures of a boy beat nine other nominees including OlaBola and Munafik for the top prize.
Director Shanjhey Kumar Perumal, who himself picked up the Best New Director award, believed Jagat’s victory is due to the important issues raised in the film.
“I think the jury saw how the film came from good intentions. Perhaps, Jagat won because it gave a voice to the struggle of a marginalised community in Malaysia,” Shanjhey said.
Skop Productions’ Munafik won Best Film In The National Language; it’s also the first time in FFM history that a horror movie triumphed in a Best Film category. “Munafik is not a typical horror movie. I think it won because of the Islamic value we highlighted in the film. It not only grossed RM17mil in Malaysia, it also achieved box-office success in Singapore and Brunei,” producer Datuk Yusof Haslam said.
His son who directed Munafik, Syamsul Yusof, won the award for Best Director for the third time, a feat he thought was impossible. “I didn’t think the jury will give it to someone who has won twice,” Syamsul said.
Perhaps, they recognised his many roles in the movie; Syamsul not only directed the film, he wrote the script and the screenplay, acted in the lead role as well as rapped on the theme song (Kalah Dalam Menang featuring Mawi).
Overall, Munafik bagged five trophies including Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Actress for Nabila Huda.
Nabila said: “This trophy is for my father and family. Since I got involved in the industry at 16, they have had to put up with so many unsavoury stories about myself. With this win, I feel like I’ve have proven myself. I made it!”
Another film by Skop Productions, Mat Moto: Kami Bukan Mat Rempit, won three awards that night. The film co-directed by Pekin Ibrahim and Yusof’s youngest son Syafiq pulled an upset win over OlaBola and Jagat for Best Original Story. Pekin also beat nominees like Shaheizy Sam (Polis Evo) and Aniu (Rembat) for Best Actor.
“Maybe (I won for Best Actor) because I played a character based on a real-life person. For Best Original Story, I believe it’s because the jury saw how my film changed perceptions towards motorcycle enthusiasts like myself, who have often been wrongly labelled as mat rempit,” said Pekin on his winning factor.
Falisha Crossley who played the heroine Sikha in Mat Moto, took home the prize for Best New Actress.
Astro Shaw’s Polis Evo, the No. 1 box-office movie in Malaysia with earnings of RM17.4mil, predictably nabbed the prize for Box Office Film. It also won for Best Cinematographer (Haris Hue Abdullah), Best Supporting Actor (Hushairi Husain) and a Special Jury Award for achievements as a high-quality production with immense commercial value.
OlaBola – another Astro Shaw production with major box-office receipts – had the most nominations with 14. However, it only won three for Best Costume, Original Song and Score. As a consolation, OlaBola also received a Special Jury Award for achievements as a film that promoted unity and family values through sports.
The Kid From The Big Apple also won a Special Jury Award for its achievement as a film that bridged a generational and cultural gap.
The three-hour event was livened up by performances of classic soundtrack tunes from previous Best Film winners, rendered by the likes of Dayang Nurfaizah, Jaclyn Victor, Azlan And The Typewriters, Aizat Amdan and Tomok – interluding the awards ceremony which saw a cute nervous speech from Tan Qin Lin who won for Best Child Actor for her turn in The Kid From The Big Apple.
The night’s most enthusiastic win came from Fauziah Datuk Ahmad Daud when she won the Best Supporting Actress trophy for Langit Cinta. Fauziah, who has won the FFM award for Best Actress twice, said: “I really wanted this award because I have never gotten acknowledgement for Best Supporting Actress before. Thank you (director) Osman Ali for insisting that I play this part in your film.”
Shanjhey and Jagat executive producer Sivanathan Perianan said they were glad to be a part of the conversation that sparked the change for this year’s FFM. Ultimately, they hope to see only one category for Best Film in the future.
“By doing away the non-Bahasa Malaysia categories, we think Finas is taking a positive change towards addressing the evolution in the local film industry,” Shanjhey shared.
Yusof said the subject of language division should no longer be a recurring issue: “I wish that everyone will move on and focus on making the local film industry better.” He also wanted filmmakers to focus on drawing the audience back to the cinemas at times where the local box office is showing dismal results.
As the Best Screenplay winner Bea Tanaka (for Nota) aptly said in her acceptance speech: “I dedicate this win to all filmmakers and hope it will inspire all to make films that further our film industry.”