Budget 2023: The Filmmakers Speaketh

Just as cinema, by itself, is made up of many genres and languages, including silent, the reactions to the recent unveiling of Budget 2023 have been rather mixed. From feeling encouraged to, no, not discouraged, but rather, indifferent. Let’s look at what some have to say…

It is no secret that as glamorous as it sounds, the film industry is usually sidelined or in Malay, we say, ‘di anak tirikan’ when it comes to generous assistance from the government in terms of funding compared to the other industries. During the Budget 2023 announcement, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz announced some ‘goodies’ for the industry, but is it as good as it gets? Or any good?

Veteran TV producer-director, K. Vijeyasingham, expressed his content when was contacted by NMH. “The Finas funds had always been very encouraging for us filmmakers and I am very happy to hear about this allocation,” said Vijeyasingham, who has had the benefit of using the fund to release his first film in the local cinema circuit recently.

Vijeyasingham Benefited from the Fund to Have His Dream Feature Film Project Launched. Thus He is Happy with the Marketing Fund Allocated in Budget 2023.
VIjeyasingham benefited from the fund to have his dream feature film project launched Thus he is happy with the marketing fund allocated in Budget 2023

On Friday (07 Oct), Zafrul announced an allocation of RM50 Million as the national film production fund, or Dana Penerbitan Filem Kenegaraan (Dekan)

In addition to that, Zafrul also announced a digital content fund of RM102 million to market ‘products of art performers and encourage the production of more creative and fresh works’.

The announcement for this portion of the package was introduced following a loud proclamation on the success of Syamsul Yusof’s Mat Kilau, with, in Zafrul’s words, ‘its humongous box office collection locally and mounting number overseas’.

Will therefore be more sunshine and roses for the industry then?

Happy with the Marketing Budget Allocation

Yes, said Viyeyasingham who is especially happy with the marketing fund.

“Most films are budgeted tightly to cater for the small Malaysian audience and films of languages other than Malay and English will have an even smaller share.

“But with the marketing budget, there will be financial access for filmmakers to reach the market outside of Malaysia and bring the unique Malaysian product to those countries.

“I am very happy that the government is continuing to help the film industry in Malaysia with the funds they have been providing and hopefully with the success of more and more Malaysian films, they will continue to be of greater support in the future,” he said, having had the benefit of using the fund to produce his first feature film, Kathal Athu Ragasiyamanathu.

All the same, a cautious voice can also be heard from a veteran filmmaker who was speaking on anonymity and queried as to who is going to get the actual fund.

Another veteran filmmaker (speaking on anonymity, and readers will know why) having directed some notable big screen ventures for more than three decades, asked if the monies are going to go to filmmakers with real cred or ‘those who know the minister’.

“Is Mat Kilau the benchmark for global impact when it didn’t even make a dent in Indonesia? You need to be objective. What about the advisors and consultants to Finas – who are they? What’s their cred to recommend any project for the funds?” he questioned.

Echoing his ‘sentiment’ is our film world’s once ‘wunderkind’, now leader of the ‘rebel base’, Amir Muhammad who is more successful in films that kept winning critics’ hearts, rather than ringing the box office cashier box.

What Impact?

“I am not the type to apply for big budgets, but I hope those who do have the capability to handle them well and the honesty to pay everyone decently,” he said when contacted. “The question that should also be asked is, what cultural and economic impact has been achieved through the previous films that received generous government funding?” Amir noted.

Amir Muhammad Runs His Own Show - an Indie Icon in the Region. Budget 2023? Ah Well ...
Amir Muhammad runs his own show an indie icon in the region Budget 2023 Ah well

He also questioned the veracity of the recipient. “The usual problem is the implementation in ensuring the right people get the grants,” Amir said.

Film editor turned director Mansher Singh, who is releasing Malaysia’s first Punjabi language theatrical film, Mundey Kampung Dey, have mixed feeling about the whole shebang.

“First, this is not only good news not only for the producers but those working behind the scenes,” he said, pointing out the ‘trickle-down’ effect to others in the industry.

“It will create a healthy eco-system where those in the lower income bracket will get more opportunities.

“These are the behind-the-scene crew members who usually work on a project-by-project basis to earn their income.

Mansher Singh like Vijeyasingham has the Finas funds to thank for having completed what would be the first Malaysian made Punjabi theatrical film in the country

“If that Dana (fund) is transferred properly to the companies, there will be opportunities, and so, those who are working in the lower bracket income will get more outlets and projects,” said Mansher.

Malaysia One of the Best

In fact, Mansher blankly pointed out that one of the best countries in the world now for filmmaking is Malaysia.

“Many producers are looking to be in Malaysia because we have lots of support from the government in terms of funds,” he noted adding that most other countries don’t have these benefits.

He cited that the main reason his Punjabi film got produced was the fund. “The fund was trusted and given to me. I am very thankful for that because without the fund there would never be the first Malaysian Punjabi film,” he said, adding that the fund was especially useful during the pandemic, which is not exactly over yet.

“But I hope it goes to genuine production companies which intend to create and produce quality films for the country. Not just those who want to misuse it,” he said.

There is a sense of patriotism in wanting to produce the best ‘made-in-Malaysia’ products by many. The group that spoke to NMH is eclectic, a veteran TV director trying his hand at a feature film for the first time, an editor turned director with his first Malaysian Punjabi language film, a rebel with a cause, and claws, (Google Amir Muhamad and see what you get) and another veteran filmmaker who had seen the industry grow (?) the last sixty odd years.

There will be many more Mat Kilaus in the making out there, but will the government also be behind quality documentaries like Amir’s Lelaki Komunis Terakhir? Because, hey, that too gives the country a recognition as valid producer of both quality feature films and hard-hitting documentaries. Because we don’t only produce Malaysian versions of Top Gun or Ip Man. — NMH

About the writer: Rakesh Kumar is a writer, scriptwriter, and film aficionado, who is four years and nine months clean and sober. And counting. The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the NMH.

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Rakesh Kumar Premakumaran

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