Review - The Edge
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Short Work

by Joan Lau

(Options, The Edge, 12 August 2002)

MUCH has been made about Amir Muhammad the writer (newspaper columns, socio-political commentary on the Net, TV scripts, plays, books) and quite a bit has been said about him as a film-maker (Lips to Lips was Malaysia's first digitial indie movie) but nothing beats talking to the man.

You tend to get sucked into whatever interests him at the moment. And with Amir, that usually means everything. Two minutes into the conversation and you may find yourself talking about magazines, silly pornographic film titles or snippets of Malay films. You never know.

But the evening of August 2nd, we were talking about the Amir Muhammad Film Festival. Actually, the proper title is "6horts" which is a collection of six short films made by him but it is so much more fun to call it the Amir Muhammad Film Festival.

"It's always been a dream of mine to make films with titles beginning with each letter of the alphabet. So, I guess these six films are a beginning but the letters are a little jumbled up," he explains.

If anybody else had said the above, it would have been easy to brand him/her as pretentious. But this is Amir were talking to ... the King of Irony. While I am sure he means what he says, I am also sure he wants to do this out of a sense of "Why not?" instead of "This is such a clever idea."

So we have Lost, Friday, Mona, Checkpoint, Kamunting and Pangyau. Six letters of the alphabet accounted for so that means we can look forward to 20 more short films from Amir.

How did it start? "I booked the space ... Actors Studio Theatre early in the year and simply worked towards the deadline. Lost came first ... it was made in January," says Amir.

You'd think winning the Critics Prize for Best Asian Digital Film at the 2002 Singapore International Film Festival with Lost is achievement enough for one year but remember the self-imposed deadline?

And what's 6horts about? "I hope this will show the intellectual side of me. I felt that part of me was somewhat masked in Lips to Lips. Ha ha."

At this point fellow indie film-maker James Lee, who was also present that evening, reminds Amir that he once didn't think much about short films. Why? "It's not that I didn't think shorts were a relevant medium ... it's just that you have a bigger problem getting just one short film shown. You have to show it with other people. That's why I made six so can show in one shot." More laughter.

Well, none of the short films involve actors and Amir shot everything on his own basically. What was that like? Did he not miss the interaction and flow of ideas that come from working with a crew? "Well, I talked to myself a lot," he adds by way of explanation.

But don't misunderstand and think he did all this solo. Amir says he had a lot of help with the editing, sound, etc. Making a film even if it is a short film is a collaborative effort. But the vision is totally the director's.

Which is why I feel so inadequate trying to describe 6horts. At the end of the screening, which lasted just under an hour, I felt totally satisfied and happy. This is simply the best bit of cinema Ive seen this year.

Although the six shorts are very personal, Amir does not want them to be thought of as the equivalent of a film journal. Something about not wanting to be pretentious. Frankly, it doesn't matter what you call it ... film essay, film journal?

With 6horts, you see Malaysia through Amir's eyes (and yes, his intellect and quirky sense of humour) but end up feeling like he is telling YOUR story. There is criticism, there is wit, there is humour, and one cheap joke. And it's all wonderful.

Sure, the visual images are kind of raw and three of them don't even have voiceovers. You sit there and read the super titles. And you laugh, or wince or empathise. Sometimes all at once.

At this point, critics may point out that we'd be better off just reading something he wrote. But no ... he uses the words and images by playing one against the other but it is most effective when he tells us (with the words) something and points at the image as an illustration of the point!

Find out why our country's Internal Security Act is like "Minority Report". The answer is in Kamunting which is about Amir's visit to Kamunting where ISA detainees are locked up.

And in Mona (about our very own Mona Fandey) you'll learn about blood rushing upstairs and uncooked virgins. No kidding.

Lost is about losing one's IC but it is also about what makes you, well ... you. And theres Friday (about being a Muslim ... a lovely take on religion), Checkpoint (passport control post 9-11) and Pangyau (friendship, race, growing up).

Before the screening, Amir jokingly said to me, "I will keep on making shorts until the country changes." We had laughed heartily at that "threat" but after watching 6horts, I have only this to say to Amir Muhammad, film-maker: "I hope so."

"6horts" just completed its run at the Actors Studio Theatre but you can still catch it when it screens at Sobranie Classic Cinema next month.