KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 6 — While the general election last year brought about a change in government that was peaceful, this certainly was not the case in the years leading up to it.
And M for Malaysia, a documentary feature film, strives to pack in 30 years of the country’s history into a neat package of 93 minutes.
It manages to state things as they are without playing favour to anyone who had a role in last year’s general election.
Mammoth task considering one needs to weave in and out of Malaysia’s turbulent times like the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the earlier editions of the Bersih rallies.
It also touches on Ops Lalang in October 1987 where 119 people including politicians, activists and academics were detained by the police, ostensibly to prevent the occurrence of racial riots in Malaysia during that time.
The documentary, set to be shown in 37 cinemas nationwide, is directed and produced by Ineza Roussille and Dian Lee.
There are also interviews with various key figures who were involved in the narrative including Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and former Bersih chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.
The documentary looks at last year’s general election win by Pakatan Harapan with behind-the-scenes shots on how tense moments were before the announcement that they won was made to the swearing-in of Dr Mahathir at the palace the following night.
And for those looking to get their fill of the adorable loving bond of Dr Mahathir and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, well, there are some scenes of that too.
Despite highlighting various events and people, the documentary’s well-written narrative captures reality by featuring actual footages of real events, thanks to the brilliance of Oscar-winning filmmaker Ruby Yang who is the creative producer.
To elevate the film and add spirit to it, Los Angeles-based songwriter Rendra Zawawi and his team produced about 60 minutes of musical narrative that marries well with each scene.
The score intelligently incorporates tunes of national anthem Negaraku as well as Dr Siti Hasmah’s own music scores.
Recalling the days leading up to GE14, Roussille, who is Dr Mahathir’s granddaughter, said M for Malaysia’s idea surfaced when their close family friend Lee (her father is business tycoon Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew) suggested to Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (she serves as the documentary’s executive producer) that somebody must document Dr Mahathir’s efforts for the country.
That led to Roussille’s and Lee’s 16-day expedition to record 90 hours of footages surrounding the election.
Considering the duo’s close connections to the topic of the film, Dr Mahathir, Roussille said they knew from the beginning that they must produce something fair and balanced.
“Before we started the editing process, we knew that automatically people may think that it is going to be propaganda,” she said.
“So from the very beginning we decided to counter that.”
Roussille added that she and other members of the production team also had their disagreements and conflicts with the political scene in Malaysia, and were not comfortable with making a propaganda film.
“It would only make sense for us to be honest about those conflicts in the film,” she said.
With an overall production cost of about RM2 million, Roussille said the team decided to keep their distance from the government and only rely on private funding.
Asked if they were anticipating any backlash from the public, Lee said she foresaw such reaction as not everyone voted for the current government.
She added that she hoped that people would not look at it as documentary that was produced for PH.
“The documentary is about a nation that pulled off one of the most incredible elections after 61 years where we managed to change government without any form of violence or a drop of blood,” she said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Roussille noted that the film is not about a political party.
Rather, she said it was a Malaysian victory.
“No matter how you feel about PH now, it doesn’t change the fact that we all did that on May 9. So, we should remember that and be proud of the moment,” she added.
M for Malaysia will premiere exclusively from September 12 to 15 at selected cinemas across the country.
Lee hinted that they are currently in talks with Astro, Netflix and other platforms to make the documentary available to a broader audience after the exclusive four-day screening in cinemas.
The film has also been selected for the 24th Busan International Film Festival that will take place from October 3 until 12 in South Korea.
It also made its world premiere at the Centre for Asian American Media Festival 2019 (CAAMFest37) in San Francisco and Oakland, US, as well as a series of screening at DocEdge New Zealand in Auckland and Wellington early this year.