Celebrate Malaysia’s multiculturalism through movies

Celebrate Malaysia’s multiculturalism through movies

KUALA LUMPUR: Hari Merdeka is just around the corner and to celebrate, Astro First is screening multi-award winning Malaysian horror film, Belaban Hidup: Infeksi Zombie, on Aug 28.

Co-produced by Iban director, Misha Minut Panggau, 50, and her husband, filmmaker Ray Lee, it is another way for us to embrace our multiculturalism.

It tells the story of a group of orphans who are captured by a mad scientist for an experiment and is the first film to feature Sarawak’s Iban headhunters.

Finished in 2019, the film bagged 20 awards from 10 countries including Best Horror Film at the 2021 World Film Carnival (WFC) in Singapore on March 18 and Best Film and Best Horror Film at the International Symbolic Art Film Festival (ISAFF) in St Petersburg, Russia on March 27.

“This recognition means a lot to me. There was always criticism, but (I believed that) as long as I had willingness and guidance, everything would go according to plan,” she told Bernama.

She said that due to gender stereotyping and her background – she comes from a longhouse in Limbang, Sarawak – people often questioned her ability.

However, because of her love for filmmaking, the first female Dayak film producer remains enthusiastic and unwavering in achieving her goals.

Misha (whose idols include actor-cum-director Mel Gibson) said she likes being different hence she highlighted the sea Dayak (Iban) people in her film.

“There are only a few films that touch on Sarawak’s culture and communities such as Cinta Gadis Rimba (1958), Sleeping Dictionary (2003), Kanang Anak Langkau (2017) and Peransang Rentap (2017).

“Seeing this I thought why not tap into the market and promote Sarawak and Malaysia to foreign filmmakers at the same time. So I will continue making films like this for years to come,” said the mum of three.

However, while she loves being creative, securing financing from corporate companies is sometimes hard because she is a relatively new filmmaker.

“Some of them say I’m not a big name in the industry and some think that the market for ethnic films is small and wouldn’t be able to compete.

“I hope that the recognition I received will change this perception and send a clear message that Borneo film practitioners are not to be looked down on,” said Misha, who got hooked on film after becoming an extra and associate producer for local TV shows Bibikku Maduku and Bollywood Express.

Meanwhile, Lee – who also directed Belaban Hidup – said Dayak producers are not well represented in the local industry because few believe that a film in a minority language can deliver good returns.

“But in this era, many Malaysians are watching Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Mayan, Thai, Turkish and Latin movies on Netflix, so why not an Iban language movie?

“The world is watching our movie and giving us tremendous support and awards. Therefore, if we can create this awareness and change the perception, we could generate job opportunities for Malaysians,” he said.