The Star: Taking stock of history
Monday, March 15, 2010
WHERE are some of the old Malay classic films kept? As there were mainly two studios that were producing these films during the golden age of Malaysian cinema – Shaw Bros and Cathay-Keris – the films are kept in their vaults.
Cathay Organisation in Singapore has donated its collection to the Asian Film Archive, while Shaw Bros in Hong Kong has a Malay library from which Astro has acquired films for its use under licence for a period of three years.
Meanwhile, some of P. Ramlee’s early films are now in the public domain.
The films acquired by Astro, according to its head of Malay business Khairul Anwar Saleh, are P. Ramlee’s movies as well as others such as the Jefri Zain series starring Senator Tan Sri Dr Jins Shamsuddin. In total, there are 169 Malay titles in the Shaw library.
Jins confirmed that the Shaw Bros Malay film negatives are now mostly kept in Hong Kong. He said he had given his own films, such as Bukit Kepong and Tiada Esok Bagimu, to the National Archives and National Library for safekeeping. Some years ago, he had even proposed in Parliament that a film archive be set up in the country.
“It is very important for future generations to learn about our film culture and history,” said Jins
The National Film Develop-ment Corporation (Finas) has its own private collection of films in VCD or DVD form. According to its director-general, Mohd Mahyidin Mustakim, Finas has more than 200 titles, both old and new, in its resource centre. The public can view them for research or other purposes.
Some of these VCDs and DVDs were bought from video stores. Finas also keeps prints submitted to the Festival Filem Malaysia and those which the producers do not take back.
“This year we have been tasked with making digital copies, in DVD form, and keeping them for future generations,” said Mahyiddin.
Meanwhile, Filem Negara Malaysia (FNM or the National Film Department) has long had temperature-controlled vaults to preserve its film reels at its premises in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
The vaults are kept locked at all times while safety measures against fire are also adhered to. But FNM is “the official production house of the government”, as its director-general, Raja Rozaimie Raja Dalnish Shah, described. As such, it is only concerned with preserving government materials, including documentaries and promo clips that it has produced.
According to the article Voices Of Malaysian Cinema by film historian Hassan Muthalib (published in Criticine), Kuala Lumpur’s first feature film was produced by FNM. The film Abu Nawas (1957) is about the communist insurgency.
Raja Rozaimie clarified: “In those days, they made a few films but the films weren’t meant for the cinemas. Films such as Kisah Kampung Kita and Mata Permata were actually given to the Information Department.
“Those days, they had these vans that went into the rural areas and villages to screen documentaries – not features but docu-dramas. We only started making feature films in the 1980s; Even then, it was on the directive of the ministers or stakeholders. It wasn’t our duty to produce features for the cinema.”
FNM started as the Malayan Film Unit in 1946. Based in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, it was set up by the British as a unit under the Information Department. By 1963, it had changed to its current name, and today it comes under the Information, Communications and Culture Ministry, together with Arkib Negara (the National Archives) and Finas.
As of December last year, FNM has in its vaults 28,000 cans of film. These consist of 4,012 documentaries and promos (760 hours), and 4,921 current events coverage (850 hours). It also has 15,000 tapes, both audio and video, including in digital Beta and Beta SP formats.
Its earliest materials date back to 1947, and yes, the famous footage of Tunku Abdul Rahman at Stadium Merdeka is also kept in its vaults. Some years ago, a new vault was built, and now materials are kept in both the new and old vaults.
Scheduled checks and restoration work are carried out on each film every four or five years. If any deterioration is found, the film would be sent to the lab where it is cleaned and stored back, or, if there is significant deterioration, a duplicate would be made.
Raja Rozaimie said that when the British left, they took a lot of films with them. They are still kept in the Imperial War Museum in London. “We have been trying to reclaim the materials, but the response has not been encouraging.”
However, copies of all materials produced in the country – printed materials, graphics, audio, electronic and other media – have to be submitted to the National Library under the Depository of Library Material Act 1986 (Act 331). The history of the Act goes back to the era of British rule where all materials produced had to be submitted to the Federal Government for safekeeping as a national heritage.
Under Act 331, the National Library is responsible for the collection of five copies of every printed material and two copies of every non-print material to be handed to the National Publications Depository. Film is one of the materials covered by the Act. Like FNM, the National Publications Depository has the proper facilities for storing and preserving films.
The protection, preservation, restoration and safekeeping of all depository materials are ensured under the Act. All materials submitted under the Act are listed in the National Bibliography of Malaysia, and are part of the National Collection of “the creative heritage of the country”.
By Allan Koay
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