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:: Spotlight :: Australian Malaysian Film Festival 2007

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

The first Australian Malaysian Film Festival is a special boutique event presented by A2K Media that coincides with Visit Malaysia Year 2007 and the nation’s 50th anniversary.

On August 18 and 19 bold, exciting and treasured Malaysian films will be screened to the Australian public for the very first time. Full of rich diversity, as well as of historical and contemporary cultural significance, the films feature many universal themes told through Malaysian eyes. The festival is proudly hosted by ACMI (The Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Federation Square, Melbourne.

The event will be launched on Saturday, August 18 (from 6.00pm) at ACMI’s Memory Grid, with a wonderful Arts Cultural evening featuring: Malaysian cuisine, music, welcome speeches by guests and VIP appearances and the festival’s opening film, The Red Kebaya. The Red Kebaya is Malaysia’s first large scale English language film. It tells the story about a famous (but lonely) photographer who sets out on an expedition to photograph abandoned houses around Malaysia. On his journey he is haunted by images and sounds that remind him of his traumatic childhood – and his path continues back in time to discover the truth.

Sunday’s matinee film is Chermin, a suspense supernatural horror with Islamic themes set mostly in rural Malaysia. Chermin reveals the plight of Nasrin, a woman who is haunted by a vengeful spirit trapped in an antique mirror that unravels the dark and tortured past of her family.

The closing film Puteri Gunung Ledang is a tale set in the golden era of Malay history prior to European colonisation. This story of forbidden love between a Javanese Hindu Princess and a Malay Muslim warrior was the first Malaysian film to be short listed for consideration for Oscar nomination. It is also Malaysia’s highest budget film to date. Puteri Gunung Ledang spawned a highly successful and awarded play of the same name that sold out in both Malaysia and Singapore.


**Review by Angela Shi**

The first Australian Malaysian film festival was held at Melbourne’s ACMI on Saturday, August 18, 2007. ACMI literally rolled out the red carpet for the inaugural event, with the Malaysian community and foreign film lovers alike gathering in the festively decorated memory grid to celebrate the opening night.

Visitors were greeted by a welcoming party dressed in traditional costume, with hibiscus flowers brightening the entrance. A flavoursome chicken curry with roti was served, and guests were able to sample Malaysian soft drinks and juice at the bar. There were short introductions from some of the producers and actors themselves including Ramli Hassan, who plays the main character of Latiff in ‘The Red Kebaya’, and Ummi Khaltoum Abdullah, the producer for ‘Chermin’. The turnout was substantial and plenty of support was shown for the actors and organisers considering it was the first Malaysian film festival to be held in Melbourne and over a short period of only two days.

The opening night film was ‘The Red Kebaya’ (directed by Oliver Knott) which was shown recently in London, having garnered many nominations at the Malaysian Festival Awards. The plot centres around the character of Latiff, a celebrated photographer, who sets out on an assignment to shoot abandoned buildings around Malaysia. Latiff links old buildings with people themselves; filled with forgotten memories and traces of the past, which he attempts to capture.

This becomes the idea upon which the film develops, and when Latiff stumbles upon an abandoned house in Penang, the memories themselves soon become increasingly more vivid and personal. Latiff is transported back to his own childhood through a series of flashbacks and revelations. The plot becomes gradually more dramatic and tends to lose its grounding at times as the story travels backwards and forwards in an attempt to connect the past and the present. However, the film manages to skillfully present the landscape and climate of Malaysia, with lingering shots of both the urban freeways and skyscrapers alongside the natural scenery of Penang. The buildings in this film were a key element (including scenes of the distinctive indigo Cheong Fat Tze mansion), which was what really allowed the film to define itself from traditional Hollywood plot devices.

The other films to be screened include ‘Chermin’, a supernatural horror film set in rural Malaysia and the closing film ‘Puteri Gunung Ledang’, based on a popular Malaysian play. The film festival marks the beginning of a promising exchange of diverse Malaysian films from a growing industry.

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