Malaysia-China alliance to up ethnic minority stories on film & TV

“How about a story on how the orang asli fit in today’s modern Kuala Lumpur?” says Datuk Kamil Othman – an advisor with Communication And Multimedia Ministry for creative industries – who is suggesting various story ideas on ethnic minorities that could be turned into films and TV shows.

“Or a story about people falling in love and marrying someone from a remote province and they travel there to learn more about their partner’s origins?”

He believes there’s a wealth of stories about ethnic minorities that have not been told on screen.

As such, Kamil teamed up with the executive director of the China Minority Cultural and Art Promotion Association, Datuk Zhang Ziqiang, and formed the Malaysia-China National Film & TV Alliance Association (MCNFTVA) about six months ago.

This alliance between Malaysia and China seeks to see more stories on ethnic minorities represented in film and TV – encompassing ethnic minorities in both Malaysia and China.

“We are giving a voice to ethnic minority groups,” adds Kamil, who is a co-president of MCNFTVA along with Zhang, at a press event recently.

To achieve this, MCNFTVA is introducing three initiatives.

Firstly, the setting up of a film academy to hone skills and expertise among filmmakers. “We want to support a new generation of talents so that they can make these films,” explains Zhang. “We would be getting students from around the region and use successful films in China as examples to motivate and educate the students.”

Secondly, MCNFTVA is establishing a film copyright trade centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Kamil Othman

Kamil believes there are many stories about ethnic minorities that are waiting to be told.

The beauty of this partnership between Malaysia and China is it allows for an exchange of culture and stories. For instance, if materials from either country were adapted and made into a local movie, the centre would help filmmakers sort out all matters relating to copyright and intellectual property that might arise.

“We can take a successful film in China and remake it in Malaysia, and vice versa. Or it could be sequels or the auctioning of books (to be made into films or TV shows). The copyright centre ensures there is equity in terms of payment and royalties,” Kamil shares.

Zhang adds the copyright centre also encourages the distribution of more movies and TV shows between both the countries.

“We will also be bringing Chinese movies to the local market here and would like the Chinese audience to see Malaysian films and get to know Malaysian actors and filmmakers.”

Lastly, the alliance hopes to foster more Malaysia-China co-production projects. MCNFTVA is targeting to complete 10 films and two TV shows a year.

Besides developing a film about the Kadazan culture, MCNFTVA is currently working with Malaysian director Bjarne Wong on another film about the alleged looting of treasures in South-East Asian countries by Japanese forces during World War II.

Kamil believes while films on ethnic minorities may be niche and lack commercial appeal, there is an audience for them: “The Malaysian audience is divided into two. One who still sees the cinema as entertainment. And, there is another group who sees cinema as a canvas on which directors paint their message. After watching commercial films, (the audience) want to see something more.”