WHAT was the last local feature film that you watched? According to the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS), the 48 local films produced in 2019 grossed a total of RM144.71 million.
This is equal to roughly US$ 34 million, which is the estimated cost to make 2017’s Baby Driver.
It is not an apple to apple comparison, but it does illustrate the relative size of our local movie industry. An industry that began prior to our independence in 1957. An industry that is dwarfed even by our neighbours.
However, the numbers do not deter young talents from picking up the mantle and attempting to lift our local film industry.
One such talent is Fahmi Sani, a young film director whose short film Day of a Doctor won the Best Student Film Award at the Freedom Film Fest 2019. The 10-minute short tells the story of Dr Madhu, who runs a regular clinic by day, and opens a street clinic by night.
“I’ve always been interested in films since I was younger,” said Fahmi when we interviewed him on his 27th birthday. “I started by collecting movie posters, before I started collecting the movies themselves; from there I started to appreciate cinema, not just the movies themselves, but cinema [overall].
“When I was 15 to 17 I realised my interest and I wanted to join a film school directly after I finished my SPM.”
However, his family did not approve of his decision, and Fahmi ended up in architecture school.
After he had proven himself by graduating and gotten himself on to the dean’s list, he worked freelance.
“It was a year later that I discovered, by accident, that Sunway University has a film programme, and I enrolled.”
His taste in movies, like many among us, began with Hollywood productions, but changed once he began studying.
“When I started to study film, my exposure broadened to include Asian and European cinema. In truth, I discovered that Hollywood films can’t compare to films from Iran and South Korea. Even Indonesian films are very good, but also underrated.
“I am so happy that someone like Bong Joon Ho is bringing Asian cinema to the international scene. It is progress, it is slow, but it is something to look forward to,” said Fahmi.
Still, what drives him to continue pursuing a career in film? He says it is as simple as the dream to win an Oscar someday.
“I don’t know how I don’t know when but I plan to do at least 10 movies in my career. Five local movies and five international movies,” said Fahmi. In his profile on the website for Ninth Floor Pictures, he wrote that he aims to reach Cannes by 2025 and win an Academy Award by 2030.
Ninth Floor Pictures is a production house headed by Fahmi. The name comes from the fact that the film faculty and classes were held on the ninth floor of Sunway University, where he and his team studied.
In addition to shorts, Ninth Floor Pictures has produced several music videos and commercials since 2017.
“This is something I learned when I studied at Sunway,” said Fahmi.
“A lot of my friends are talented, they have raw talent. But what I see is that it is not that Malaysians nor the government doesn’t appreciate talent, the thing is they just don’t know what to do with them.
“In the beginning, I thought Finas didn’t support us young filmmakers, but actually they do, but the way they do it is not enough for us.
“I must say that local films are getting better, but they don’t get the recognition they deserve, especially when it comes to marketing”.
Fahmi named Roh, a 2019 film directed by Emir Ezwan and written by Nazri M. Annuar and Amir Hafizi, as one of the best local films he has watched recently.
“It is a good film and for me it was fresh. It is a daring horror film that was produced by Kuman Pictures. We have an abundance of dumb horror films – like slapstick horror or supernatural horror – that bring nothing new to the table.
“What Roh did right is the subtext of the story. From my understanding, it is the literal story of humans, devils and angels. It is a very interesting take,” said Fahmi.
He added that studying film has changed how he watches and appreciated movies; most notably, he has a new appreciation for bad films.
“I used to avoid films that were critically panned. I would see a film that did not get good ratings or was known to have a bad story, and would not watch them.
“Now, I want to watch bad movies. They make me laugh but it is also an opportunity for me to learn what not to do in film and cinema, and in a way improve my own skills,” said Fahmi.