I was definitely far ahead of the Malaysian government and their thinkers and strategists and economists, for being a film major in graduate school in one of the most prestigious universities in America and the world! This I only found out when I was in New York City and America, when the Americans I bumped into looked at me with some surprise, when they found out I was a student at Columbia University that they knew what it was. To me it was just a university in America… and any Malaysian would be happy to be able to study at any university even if it’s the Dingbats or Ding-Dong-Bell University!Even then the Malaysian government was still trying to get someone else to draft the Finas Act which was finally approved by Parliament in 1981.Finas officially established on June 23 of that year to a lot of fanfare that they did not stop celebrating with grand dinners in five-star hotels each year until it was brought to their attention that it was just a government agency, like the many others that did not do such thing every year. Unless if they thought they were a special agency worthy of being given special attention and a lot of allocation to organise the grand dinner.I had written an essay on Malaysian film, which I sent to the then editor-in-chief of the New Straits Times, Dr Nordin Sopiee, who duly published it in the Merdeka supplement in the Malay Mail.Yet, the authorities did not check it and to engage me to help draft the Finas Act, which was definitely drafted by some officials in the Attorney-General’s office, who I suspect to not be qualified in film to know what to add in the Act.And because of that Finas, which had been allocated an estimated amount of RM1.5 billion, has not shown any desire to develop the film industry and to establish the New Muslim Cinema and help create the New Islamic Cinema.There are three component parts in the film industry: One is Finas, the second is the film industry, and the third is the Malaysian cinema. Finas chose to just focus on the activities surrounding their senior officials and the publicity they could get from the media while totally neglecting the need to create the film industry so that in time, it could stand on its own. Then the functions of Finas would be restricted to archival matters and the organisation of the Malaysian Film Festival, which could be both a domestic and an international film festival. One wonders what the Finas’ board members have been doing and discussing in these four decades since the film agency was formed!I had not been invited to do a special presentation to them and to Finas, or the ministry, so all the input that they had managed to get are from among themselves and their friends –all of whom are not formally trained in film. Although I registered to work on a master’s degree in film directing, secretly I was researching on cinema as a tool of espionage and propaganda, an effort that I am still pursuing with the aim of finally working on a doctorate in this area that has never been attempted by anyone in the country or the Muslim world.After all, cinema in the West and Hollywood, as we know it, is cultural propaganda and since it is laced so thickly with entertainment value, the average Mat, Seng and Bala of Malaysia may just completely miss it. And because of that I could see how interesting or important the films and also television dramas that have been produced over the years, including those produced in the Old Malayan Cinema. These, unfortunately, can be described as “canned theatre”, much like the films produced in the early years of American Cinema, when their film industry was based in New York City and in the early years of Hollywood until a new generation of filmmakers started to go beyond “canned theatre” to introduce new genres and stories that were more in tune to changing demands from the audiences.Unfortunately and ironically, this also gave the filmmakers in Malaysia much to copy, so much so that most, if not all the films that are produced till now are nothing but “fake Hollywood” which can be seen in the similar stories, characters and acting, editing, directing and photography style.This had to happen because most of the filmmakers did not have formal training in film to allow them to venture into unknown creative and thematic territories to come up with new and original works.No wonder some of the films produced by Malaysian filmmakers have gone on to win some awards or recognition from film festivals abroad simply because they are “good fake Hollywood films” and not because they are original Malaysian pieces.And years later I got a copy of the Act and to my horror, it does not even have one single film terminology in it! It does not establish a philosophical base for the industry to grow and who best to be brought into the film agency. How long would Finas be given time to create an industry and a new Malaysian Cinema, before its existence be changed to assume a totally different role which is to be the national film archive and organisers of the Malaysian Film Festival, so that this platform can be used by local film scholars and cineastes to exert our very existence in the world for the others to seek recognition from?It is the same Finas Act of 1981 that is still valid and that has not seen any redrafting since there is no one in the country and Parliament, and among the think-tank and economists, who could see how it has failed. It is definitely backward since it was drafted four decades ago when filmp-making was in the analogue style as opposed to the digital style that is being used today.There is totally a need for a new Finas Act to be drafted and passed by Parliament; one that can bring about total change to the industry and cinema so that they can become income-generating and not one that requires government financial allocation every year like what Finas does now. – February 5, 2021.* Mansor bin Puteh reads the The Malaysian Insight. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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