Today is my last day in Malaysia before heading back to the UK. Yesterday I spent nearly 7 hours walking the streets of Kuala Lumpur taking photographs and ended the day in one of the oldest restaurant bars in KL – the Coliseum – where I had a nice cold beer. KL is hot. The Coliseum dates back to 1921 and it still has the feel of a colonial haunt.
Coming to Malaysia not only enabled me to run a 2 week workshop on the Cinematic Arts programme at Multimedia University, coordinated by my PhD graduate, Nico Meissner, but I was able to find time to take quite a few photographs mainly in KL and to start work on a new film project. I am in the early stages of developing a new film project and the hardest part is getting the crude skeleton down, which I have now done. Being away from all the normal routines of one’s daily life can help to provide the focus required for this kind of creative work and I am now very excited about my new idea as it starts to take actual shape. More on this in due course.
Working with undergraduate students is a rare thing for me and it was great working with a number of the Cinematic Arts students at MMU Malaysia (those who chose editing). Having taught students all over the world, I am continually reminded of how students across cultures and contexts are usually concerned with similar themes and are struggling with similar issues and problems. Lack of confidence is often a common issue and perhaps a little more so in Malaysia. The education system here is very focused on exams and reinforces in students the notion that some things are correct and others incorrect. A lot of my effort was therefore focused on supporting the students in making their own decisions independent of expectations and based on their feelings and impulses and encouraging them to develop courage to take risks. Add to this, a socio political angle in which Malaysia in a sense is obsessed with development – that is, effectively copying what and how things are done in the west – and we have a cocktail of ingredients that students have to overcome to tell their stories the way they want to tell them. One good example of this – which we dealt with in my workshop – is the reinforcing of the idea that the classical narrative is the only way to tell a story. There are other ways of telling cinematic stories and in fact these other ways may indeed at times be more appropriate for the kind of stories that these students want to tell about their lives in Malaysia. The Hollywood model that so dominates our screens and the literature on storytelling and screenwriting is a model that many in developing countries try to replicate without at least questioning its relevance to their own traditions, priorities and sensibilities.
My workshop was on editing. It’s hard to separate out editing, writing and directing in terms of relationship to story (they are essentially three different stages in a process of the same thing) and we explored the relationship of story and narrative to feelings, looked at different narrative structures and approaches and then explored the modes and forms of editing. In the two weeks, the students did four practical exercises. There was a strong connection to screenwriting in particular.
This generation of students are the first on the Cinematic Arts programme at MMU Malaysia and the university is investing heavily in expanding Cinema education. New facilities are being built close to Pinewood Studios in the south of the country, close to Singapore, and the programme is going to move to these new facilities and evolve into a separate school. Work is being done on developing a new vision and strategy for the school and there is no doubt that in terms of film education, this is one of the main institutions in Malaysia. This ties in with efforts to develop a strong indigenous filmmaking culture in Malaysia. I am a Visiting Professor with them until the end of 2015 and look forward to continuing to make my small contribution to this ambitious development.