PETALING JAYA, Feb 27 ― The conviction of activist Lena Hendry over a documentary screening raises concerns that government censorship will kill the country's filmmaking industry, a filmmaker said today.
Nadira Ilana, 29, said the arbitrary and fluid nature of local censorship laws creates a “huge confusion” on what filmmakers can or cannot make.
“I feel what this does is it creates a bigger divide between filmmakers and the government as well.
“What it does is it actually kills the soul of films, it kills Malaysian voices, it frightens young filmmakers from being able to continue making films,” she said in a press conference today.
“And if the universities are scared of screening films to their students and the students are there paying tuitions fees hoping to get a feature within this industry, and they see teachers are scared, what are they going to make?” she added.
Earlier at the same event, human rights advocacy group Pusat Komas director Anna Har spoke of the chilling effect on local colleges who expressed fear of screening films to their students after hearing of the government's 2013 hauling of Hendry to court for not obtaining prior approval.
When met later, Nadira expressed her fears that Malaysian filmmakers would resort to only making genre films such as zombie flicks or cop films due to censorship fears instead of making films with a “Malaysian identity”, adding that censorship would also threaten the uniqueness of Malaysian cinema.
“Where are Malaysian films in our cinemas told by Malaysians who really love this country? That's what's problematic about it.
“My concern with censorship is there is a possibility that it is deterring this new generation of filmmakers from saying anything real about Malaysia and that can potentially kill the soul of Malaysian cinema,” she told reporters here.
“They lose the drive to be adventurous, to be imaginative, to be creative, to really say what is in their hearts and so you are seeing Malaysian cinema potentially lose its soul through censorship cases like this, especially because it's so extreme and so arbitrary,” she said, referring to Hendry's case.
Earlier, she noted that fear of censorship could hurt the local economy by driving filmmakers away from releasing films in local cinemas, as proceeds generated from online screenings would likely only benefit video-sharing site YouTube.
“So we are seeing Malaysian films move from theatrical releases to YouTube, so this really does kill the film industry in a very large way, it kills the next generation of filmmakers as well. I feel that I want to as a Malaysian filmmaker feel encouraged and not feel that at any moment, I could be breaking the law for telling stories of a country that I love,” she said.
Activists and filmmakers today who came together to show support for Hendry criticised the arbitrary and selective prosecution against her, and also said the government should relook its film censorship laws and set in place clearer guidelines.
Last Tuesday, the Magistrate's Court found Lena ― a former programme director of Pusat Komas ― guilty under Section 6 of the Film Censorship Act 2002, which comes with a maximum penalty of three years' jail, or a RM30,000 fine or both.
The court has fixed March 22 for the sentencing of Hendry over the offence.
The High Court had last September reversed the acquittal of Hendry, who was charged in September 2013 under the Film Censorship Act 2002 for screening No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka without approval from the Censorship Board, and ordered her to enter her defence.
She was alleged to have screened the documentary without the authorities' permission at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce Hall on July 3, 2013 at 9pm.