Saturday, September 20, 2008

How Was Your (or Rather, Do You Remember The) Twentieth Day of September?

Went for Amir Muhammad's one and only public screening of his latest documentary, 'Malaysian Gods' at GSC 1U. Review later. :)

First things first, here's some background info on the docu:

Amir Muhammad had finished shooting MALAYSIAN GODS, previously titled "Do You Remember the 20th Day of September". The film was launched in March and shot in June. The film is made with form of "city tour", about several things that happened in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. The film is now in the post-production stage, where Amir is writing the final script of narration.

The film is shot in one continuous take of 59 minutes. The shooting took three days. Out of the three days of shoot, Amir selected the second day shoot, which was raining the whole time, and the rain reached its peak when the tour reached final location. Shooting with him was Albert Hue, the cinematographer he worked together in two of his previous films, "The Last Communist" and "Village People Radio Show".

Since both his previous film had been banned, there is much speculation on the censorship of new "Malaysian Gods", which the topic is also controversial and much more recent. However, Amir Muhammad is being quite optimistic about the film.

More info on:

Malaysian Gods

Language: Malay
Directed by: Amir Muhammad
Duration: 61 mins

On 20 September 1998 Anwar Ibrahim, recently sacked as Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, headed a public rally of thousands of people that marched through Kuala Lumpur while demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, his former mentor. The demonstrators ranged from 20,000 to 80,000 depending on who was doing the counting. A few hours later Anwar would be arrested.

MalaysiaKini had a write-up and heads-up on the first and only screening earlier here, or you can read the full text from Amir's blog.

My take?


The docu circles around a fictional Malay Muslim male narrator, who filmed a diary in reply to his SangKancil (am I right?) mailing list Christian friend, who is currently based abroad at an undisclosed country with 4 seasons. The snail mail was sent to the narrator earlier, in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the Sept 20th Reformasi Day, which both of them rallied.

The narrator first recorded his voice in Malay, with a background on what were the events that brought us to the Reformasi Day. It was just a black screen with some computer symbols like :-) and :-( at first, with English subtitles. One memorable scene here is how the mainstream media (MSM) at that time doctored with the figures for the participants of the rally - dividing by factor 10. And I guess most us still believed very much in the MSM at that time, and that included yours truly (on how evil Anwar was and how godly M was and all that shit).

The actual filming in the rain then begins, from the roundabout near the Old Railway Station and the National Mosque (which 'doesn't try to be Arabic like the newer mosques'), till the junction just before reaching PWTC. Filmed circa the Agong's birthday, there isn't any dialogue at all nor actors/actresses involved, except for the subtitle texts in English which you have to follow closely. Some of the landmarks visited by foot (or at least mentioned) are the National Mosque, the Dayabumi Building, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Merdeka Square (+Flag Pole), Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman textile row (named after our first King, not our first PM; an 'a' could make a difference, as mentioned in the docu), the night market just off of Jalan TAR, SOGO, Tune Hotel and finally Chow Kit. The subtitles were typed out word by word at the first half of the 'tour', and when it reached SOGO, it is switched to block-by-block type of subtitles (just like the one you will regularly see). When asked about this in the Q&A session, Amir explained that the switch is to symbolise the gain of motivation from uncertainty that the narrator got, when he was tear-gassed and attacked aggresively by the FRU and some plainclothes SB at the peak of Reformasi. The audience were given some non-preachy history lessons, and some quotes which range from Frank Swettenham (1st Governor of British Malaya) to Tun Dr. Ismail and Sudirman's songs. As it was filmed in the rain, there are some blurry moments because of the water droplets on the lens, but are occasionally wiped off by the filmer himself.

The filming then paused at the junction just right before PWTC, where the narrator then again spoke in Malay. When posed a question on why not in front of PWTC (by yours truly), Amir explained that it symbolises that we are now almost there, by not quite yet (post March 8th political tsunami). The narrator then relates the frustration of his friend that he's replying to, of why his friend would rather stay abroad because the 'change' was not fast enough after the Reformasi Day.

At the Q&A session also, Amir also explained that he got the inspiration to make this docu from a similar Indonesian docu named Rimba Jalanan (am I correct?).

Verdict? Not quite 'Cloverfield' nor [insert your favourite war/history docu] yet, but something you would bring along with you (the DVD, when it's out) when you go abroad, to give your overseas friends some pointers on exploring the landmarks of KL by foot; weather permitting or with a brolly, of course. Oh, and the KL traffic noise pollution is really hurting!

Missed it? Wait for the DVD release later this year.

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