Finas DG calls for review of Putrajaya’s mandatory screening policy

Finas DG Datuk Kamil Othman thinks Malaysian film-makers should not rely on the compulsory screening policy to get an audience for their work. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Finas DG Datuk Kamil Othman thinks Malaysian film-makers should not rely on the compulsory screening policy to get an audience for their work. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 — The director-general of Malaysia’s Film Development Corporation (Finas) wants the domestic film industry to stop using the compulsory screening of local films as a crutch.

Datuk Kamil Othman wants a review of the government’s Compulsory Screening Scheme imposed upon local cinemas to screen local productions.

“We have to see what we have done in this one and a half years since I took over. We have been laying the foundation so that a new Finas can emerge,” he told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

Kamil said that while the mandatory screening policy did help local films gain traction among Malaysian moviegoers, it would not be feasible to keep the policy in place for long.

“For us, yes ‘wajib tayang’ (Compulsory Screening Scheme) is one of the best initiatives, but we can’t stop there because if it is being used by people who do not know how to make good films just to get the screening... it means something needs to be done on our policy and all that.

“Malaysia, I think, is the only country in the world which I think has a law saying local films must be shown,” he said adding that other foreign countries such as France and Australia do not have such a practice.

The policy was introduced in 2005 to help local film-makers gain a larger audience and under the scheme, cinemas must show designated films in their largest screening hall for no fewer than 14 days.

They may demote the film to a smaller hall if audiences fail to reach 30 per cent of capacity for four consecutive days. They may also discontinue screening at their discretion if less than 15 per cent of the hall is filled for three days in a row.

The scheme is open to any film made by a local company or a joint-venture production in Malaysia.

“We have got to examine if it has really improved the industry. Has it really developed the industry? So my answer is yes, it has to a certain extent, but not at the exponential growth that we want it to.

“It is still not the mechanism which can leapfrog Malaysia from what we call a cottage industry because films are essentially a cottage industry.

“That’s why our first step now we want to revise the wajib tayang to make it more quality conscious. Last time quality doesn’t come into play. It spoils the industry when too many lousy local films are shown in the cinemas and we have to pity the cinema operators also,” Kamil said.

Tips to make a good film? Source from good books

Kamil, a self-professed movie buff, also has a tip for aspiring film-makers: read, read, read books!

“What was the last good local book published? To me, these are the type of source materials which we should turn into films, because a book is already half a screenplay.

“We are not a nation where we have a lot of Pulitzer Prize winners waiting there because as I said, our system does not encourage us to question, or how to think for ourselves and because of that, the best source of material is books,” he said, referring to the local education system.

Kamil said that sourcing for film ideas from a book would help train film-makers how to “manipulate” the content flow of stories well, a skill which he says is currently a rarity.

“By manipulation, what I mean is that stories have elements inside... we do not know how to bring out the best of those elements. This is why I said better to take from books,” he added.

Kamil said that the one film-maker who exceeded all his expectations was the late Yasmin Ahmad, the brain behind many award-winning television advertisements and films.

“Who is going to replace someone like Yasmin?” Kamil asked.

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