Malaysian film awards chief jurist cites Constitution in defence of language segregation policy

Shanjhey Kumar Perumal’s Jagat was left out of nominations for the main Best Picture at FFM28. — file pic
Shanjhey Kumar Perumal’s Jagat was left out of nominations for the main Best Picture at FFM28. — file pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 6 — The chief jurist for next month's 28th Malaysia Film Festival Awards (FFM28) defended the language segregation policy for the Best Picture category and urged enthusiasts not to racialise the issue.

Nancie Foo said the use of Bahasa Malaysia as factor in the main Best Picture award category was in line with the Federal Constitution to preserve its identity as the national language.

But she also said FFM had introduced three new categories in recent years to accommodate films in other tongues.

“In 2011, we introduced the Best Picture for non-Bahasa Malaysia category to provide an opportunity for films in languages other than Bahasa Malaysia to compete.

“Now, we have added two more categories that is Best Screenplay and Best Director for non-Bahasa Malaysia films,” she told Malay daily Utusan Malaysia Online yesterday.

According to the report, Foo said filmmakers had been informed of the Bahasa Malaysia requirement for their scripts in order to qualify for the main Best Picture award, adding that they should accept the rules instead of drawing racial lines on the issue.

“Film enthusiasts need not touch on racial sentiments because it’s clear that Bahasa Malaysia has been an identity since before, in line with the country’s Constitution,” she was quoted saying.

Two critically acclaimed local movies — Chiu Keng Guan’s Ola Bola and Shanjhey Kumar Perumal’s Jagat — were left out of nominations for the main Best Picture, sparking public outrage. Both however, were nominated for Best Picture in the non-Bahasa Malaysia.

FFM had created non-Bahasa Malaysia categories for Best Director and Best Screenplay this year.

The non-Bahasa Malaysia category for Best Picture was introduced in 2011.

The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) and the Malaysian Film Producers Association have said that the separation of award categories in the FFM was meant to uphold the national language in local films.

Finas director-general Datuk Kamil Othman told Malay Mail Online yesterday that Finas has made it a policy for locally-made films to emphasise at least “70 per cent” Bahasa Malaysia usage in their scripts, but admitted it would be ideal if the Best Picture category in FFM was open to all films regardless of language.

Best Cinematographer nominee Mohd Noor Kassim and popular actor-comedian Afdlin Shauki have both said that they will boycott FFM28 because of the segregation.

FFM28 will be held from September 1 to 3 with awards for 27 categories.