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Malaysian Short Films Go Online

A group of Malaysian filmmakers has produced 15 short Internet movies on racism, corruption and religion, a rare effort in a country where the mainstream media steer clear of such issues because of strict censorship.

The first film, a humorous five-minute look at a Chinese man’s effort to open an account at an Islamic bank, was released Monday. The remaining 14 films, some funny, some serious, but all thought-provoking will be released between Wednesday and Sept. 16. The media were shown the films in advance.

“In terms of film, local production on TV is under such strict censorship, that what comes out is very difficult for people to relate to,” said Pete Teo, producer of the project titled “15Malaysia.”

“I think when you are on the Net because there is a lack of that sort of regulation, people tend to be more honest,” he said.

An array of personalities, including well-known politicians (one government lawmaker acted as a taxi driver), feature in the films, indicating a gradual acceptance by at least some in the ruling establishment of the idea of frankly discussing taboo topics such as race or religion.

Such matters are never shown critically on state-controlled television in multiethnic, Muslim-majority Malaysia, where government leaders say that airing of sensitive topics would jeopardize years of carefully cultivated racial stability.

TV and movie producers are given production guidelines for example, making racial or religious jokes is out of bounds; Malay Muslim actresses cannot be shown with their arms uncovered for fear of offending conservative Muslims.

The Internet remains free of censorship under a promise made by the government in 1996, although a raft of laws remain on the books that can be used against material deemed to be seditious, racist or otherwise offensive.

In “Meter,” Khairy Jamaluddin, leader of the ruling party’s youth wing, drives a taxi and rages about football, the national language and party hopping. In “Healthy Paranoia,” Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai fends off two anti-alcohol campaigners, suggesting that beer bottles carry warnings that alcohol encourages promiscuity and sexual diseases.

In another short film, “One Future,” opposition Parliamentarian Tian Chua, living in a futuristic world, is arrested for questioning an all-controlling system.

Another short, “Lollipop,” shows a pedophile preparing for his next victim while politicians bicker on television. “Chocolate” by well-known film maker Yasmin Ahmad who died last month shows an ethnic Chinese shopkeeper scolding her son when serving a Malay Muslim customer.

Teo said that by showing the movies on the Internet a wider audience would be able to see them, not just to the small groups of elite who sometimes watch similar independent productions in private galleries.

“New media is now becoming a very important medium so I guess it’s there for the taking,” said Wan Zawawi Ibrahim, a social science professor at Universiti Malaya. “You have to join the fray or lose out.”

Source : Associated Press

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