Freedom Film Fest returns to Kuching

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit


WHAT WOULD YOU DO or how would you feel if you were denied or prevented from enjoying your basic human rights? In line with this year’s theme on ‘freedom’, the annual Freedom Film Festival held in Kuching on Oct 19 featured six documentaries; ‘Fight Thru Cartoon’, ‘Anur Nak Sekolah’, ‘Lebuh Agraria’, ‘The Last Refuge’, ‘Sunset Over Selungo’ and ‘Save Sarawak; Stop the Dam’.

The Freedom Film Fest is not just feel-good cinema-going session; each documentary is selected based on its social message.

Freedom Film Festival is organised by Pusat KOMAS (Pusat Komuniti Masyarakat) since 2003 where it adopts the themes comprised within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and is a pioneer of the documentary film competition method in Malaysia.

With the tag line ‘Dare to Document’, the Freedom Film Festival serves as a platform for filmmakers to showcase their films where they are encouraged to document and share stories.

Focusing on the subject of human rights, Freedom Film Festival was held in Penang for the first time in 2006 and subsequently in Johor and Kuching. This year will be the fifth time the festival has been held in Kuching.

Established in 1993, Pusat KOMAS is a non-governmental organisation, a human rights communication centre set up to advocate human rights in Malaysia and empower especially the indigenous people, urban poor, workers and civil society organisations.



‘Fight Thru Cartoon’ (2014)


FFF Fight thru cartoonIf you think knives, guns or even bombs are the only weapons that can be used to fight your opponent, in this short yet entertaining documentary, local cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque – better known as Zunar – showed that even a simple yet seemingly unthreatening thing such as a pen can make a huge impact.

‘Fight Thru Cartoon’ by Zunar and Mic Hoo, focuses on how much trouble a political cartoonist like Zunar can get into when he takes the license to express his dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Known for his satirical comics, Zunar’s take on such issues as Altantuya’s unsolved murder, political conspiracies against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as well as the current prime minister’s wife – all of which have landed him in some hot water.

The confiscation and subsequent ban on his political comic magazine, ‘Gedung Kartun’, under the ‘Printing and Presses Act’ in August 2009, should have stopped him from producing more cartoons, but instead of stopping, Zunar continues to draw.

His effort to bring up awareness among the public on human rights got him arrested under the Sedition Act on September 2010 as well as a ban on his other comic book, ‘Cartoon-O-Phobia’.

His arrest was made hours before the launching of the book, his 66 copies confiscated and two printing companies issued warning against printing ‘Cartoon-O-Phobia’.

Freedom of speech, as explored by Zunar here, is not about instigating chaos but more towards expressing opinions when one believes injustice is happening.
Zunar’s well known quotes is “How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand.”

This 25-minute documentary, which can be described as short, compact and funny, makes you wish it was a little bit longer. Touching on issues that are happening around the country, it also helps expose the audience to different perspectives or alternative insights on certain issues.



‘Anur Nak Sekolah’ (2014)


FFF anur nak sekolahFrom an amusing and comical documentary, ‘Anur Nak Sekolah’ is a far cry from ‘Fight Thru Cartoon’. Although both share the theme of human rights, Anur’s story requires one to have a strong heart to watch it because it is a downer and a tear-jerking documentary.

‘Anur Nak Sekolah’ by Ronasina, tells the story of the daily struggles of a couple with their daughter, Anur, who has cerebral palsy. Before Anur, the couple also had a daughter with cerebral palsy, but she sadly passed away.

Only about 2% of cerebral palsy cases are genetic, while other factors such as severe jaundice, lead poisoning, meningitis and physical brain injuries may also be contributing factors.

While giving their best at providing care and attention for Anur, the couple face difficulties balancing work and life as she needs constant attention and care.

But above all, they feel that as a child with special needs, Anur is one of those children who miss out a lot in life. While children her age get to go to school and learn new things and make friends, Anur depends on her parents to push her around on her stroller to move from one place to another.

Not wanting their daughter to miss out on life, the couple constantly bring Anur out for outings. Because there are no special schools or facilities provided in the country for those with cerebral palsy, the couple went to Beijing to visit a proper institution set up specifically for individuals with cerebral palsy. The couple also went as far as appeal to the government to set up a proper school for those with cerebral palsy.

Through an institution, those with cerebral palsy can receive special education programmes as well as therapy. But not only that, an institution can also help the parents of cerebral palsy children who have to work full time.

While most children have the privilege of experiencing normal childhood, some children who share the same condition as Anur are not so fortunate. Not only standing up for the right of their daughter to get a formal education, Anur’s parents are also standing up for the rights of all disabled children.



‘Lebuh Agraria’ (2014)


FFF Lebuh AgrariaAt the beginning of ‘Lebuh Agraria’, we are introduced to two different individuals, a farmer and a cemetery caretaker, Chua Peng Siang.

They have no direct connection to each other whatsoever, but the two characters are somehow similar because they are both in danger of losing their land which they both depend on greatly; one needs it to plant vegetables for a living while the other takes care of graveyards to make an income.

At the climax of the documentary, their similarities are finally revealed as they are part of a struggle of the people of Pengerang (a small town in Johor, Malaysia) to save their familial and ancestral grounds when they are told that they have to be relocated to make way for the construction of the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC), an oil and gas hub.

Led by Chua, those who would have to leave their homes, their jobs and their livelihoods if the relocation were successful are filmed protesting the move at KLCC, the headquarters of Petronas which has invested in the project in hopes of raising awareness about their heritage.

According to Chua, most of the elderly Chinese occupants were duped into signing the agreement as the contracts are in Bahasa Melayu which most do not understand.

Taking place in the metropolitan city of Kuala Lumpur where it shows the hustle and bustle of the city and heavy construction going on, this documentary seems a bit choppy and confusing at first but its message about cultural heritage and places that are worth preserving due to their rich history cannot be ignored.



‘The Last Refuge’ (2013)


FFF The Last RefugeThe Bunong people have been living peacefully in the hills of eastern Cambodia for centuries.

Leading a simple life pretty much away from modern society, the people greatly depend on the ‘mir’ (fields) to plant their own vegetables and harvest their own crops.

Aside from that, the people of Bunong also practice a unique burial custom where they wrap their deceased family members in living tree trunks thereby marking the trees as sacred and untouchable. Their unique but sacred burial sites get put into jeopardy when a foreign corporation comes in and begins chopping down the trees.

At first ‘The Last Refuge’ seems to be a classic example of land-invasion by a big evil corporation, but as the documentary continues on, the viewer discovers that the Bunong have actually already sold their land to the foreign corporation… for a pitiful USD200.

Too late, the people of Bunong quickly learnt the true value of USD200 as they finish their compensation in two days on basic necessities like fish and salt when they could have remained self-sustaining off their ‘mir’. Now they are fighting to claim back the rights to their land.

‘The Last Refuge’ then becomes a classic example of a different sort, the one where rural people, being left behind in terms of education, social awareness and legal know-how, are taken advantage of by a modern world they are not conversant with.

A particularly heartbreaking part in the documentary is when they return to their mir, but with all the trees chopped down, it has become a barren place, incapable of sustaining their livelihoods. There’s no way back for the Bunong people.

It’s hard not to sympathise with the Bunong when their mir, their source of living has been snatched away from them so unjustly. As the film documents their lives in a very detailed way, it makes you hope there would be a follow up of what happen to the people in the future.



‘Save Sarawak: Stop the Dam’ (2013)


FFF save sarawakThe title is quite self-explanatory. Ancestral homes flooded by water, Mother Nature in jeopardy, wildlife on the verge of being habitat-less are many of the reasons cited against the impending dam projects.

‘Save Sarawak: Stop the Dam’ shows how a network of indigenous communities and civil society organisations in Sarawak are opposed to the idea of mega-dam projects.

Short and straight to the point, the documentary shows how the 300 people along with community leaders of Save River Phillip Jau, Mark Bujang and Raymond Abin confronting government and international companies and also the International Hydropower Association (IHA) in a peaceful demonstration at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) while they were in the middle of a four-day biannual congress.



‘Sunset Over Selungo’ (2014)


FFF sunset over selungoSmooth and engaging, the documentary follows the daily lives of the Penan people. While the Penan community in this documentary hail from Selungo, they settled in their village about 50 years ago.

The documentary first starts by introducing married Penan couple Dennis and Unyang who lead a simple life. Every morning at 5.30, Dennis would wake up, cook rice and have breakfast before starting his day farming, fishing and gathering fruits from the jungle.

Most traditional customs like blowpipe-making have become a dying art, and the documentary introduces Balan, (the only person in the village who knows how to make a blowpipe), who said that making one is hard work and it took him two days just to drill a hole for the blowpipe.

Located in a remote part of the Sarawak jungle, the people are living simple self-sufficient lives. The villagers filled their day with various activities such as fishing, farming, dependent on the jungle as the main source of their livelihood.

But now, getting wood to build houses, hunting for meat are not as easy as it used to be for Dennis and his people since logging activities have greatly reduced their resources, affecting their way of life.

Smooth and engaging, the film takes the audience on a journey of how this Penan community lead their daily lives, showing how and why the jungle is important for them, making the audience feel more connected to them before introducing the logging problem they are facing.


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