Ruby Yang, who won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject in 2007, serves as a creative producer for local documentary M For Malaysia.
M For Malaysia captures the historic 14th general elections (GE14), which saw Pakatan Harapan taking over the government and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad becoming prime minister for the second time.
Directed by Ineza Roussille – Dr Mahathir’s granddaughter – and Dian Lee, the documentary features never-before-seen, behind-the-scenes footage taken during Dr Mahathir’s campaigning period.
They include heartwarming exchanges between the then 92-year-old and his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, and the nail-biting election results night.
Yang mentored the team, who had amassed some 90 hours of GE14 footage. There was an additional 30 hours of interviews with personalities like Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng besides Dr Mahathir himself.
“I looked at the footage and I said, ‘Sure’. I think people’s power and democracy is very important,” Yang, an established director, producer and editor based in Hong Kong, talks about why she signed on to the project.
“I flew to Malaysia twice but I felt our time was too short so I invited them to come to Hong Kong. The crew came over to my workshop and we worked together for about a month.”
Yang says she has a brief knowledge about Malaysia’s political history. She believes having a bit of distance from the subject works as an advantage.
“As an outsider, I’m not familiar with Malaysian history. So I asked all these questions that they took for granted. Like why did a certain event happen and they explained to me and I said I want to see it in the film.
“So, initially, they left some things out but I said put them in.”
She adds: “It’s good to have an outside perspective when you make a film. When you’re too close to it, you don’t have a holistic perspective.
“It’s so important to be objective. Ineza is so close to her grandfather and I said you really have to stake your claim that you don’t necessarily agree with his politics and that’s important,” says Yang.
M For Malaysia also touches on Ops Lalang, which saw over 100 people detained without trial including Lim during Dr Mahathir’s premiership in the late 1980s.
In the documentary, Ineza says she didn’t agree with what happened and talks about including her views and that moment in history: “From the very beginning, we didn’t want to do a propaganda film. We have to be honest with what we want to say, and that includes our conflicts as well.
“Because the politics is complicated and how we feel about these people are complicated. The only way we could’ve done this is to be honest about how we felt.”
Yang also helps the team strategise how best to navigate the film festival circuit.
Yang’s The Blood Of Yingzhou District – which shines a light on orphans in China who lost their parents to AIDS after donating blood to earn an income – won multiple awards at international film festivals besides the Oscars.
So far, M For Malaysia has been screened at the Centre for Asian American Media Festival 2019 (CAAMFest) in San Francisco and DocEdge in New Zealand. Next, it will be screened at the Busan International Film Festival in October.
Asked if Dr Mahathir has seen the documentary, Ineza replies: “He has seen it. He likes it. He’s not a man of many words. He shook my hands, said, ‘Congratulations’ and gave me a hug. I took that as a good sign.”
M For Malaysia hits selected cinemas nationwide for four days beginning Sept 12.