Freedom Film Fest 2012 (Part 2) held at The Substation on 28 Oct 2012

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Film #2: Minority Rights: “Call Me Kuchu”

An American documentary film (90 minute), released in 2012.

Directed by Malika Zouhall-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright. (R21)

The film premiered at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival, and won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary.

Film & Director’s Profiles

The film explores the struggles of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (“LGBT:”) community in Uganda, focusing in part on the 2011 murder of LGBT activist, David Kato.

The film also gives an insight into Uganda’s religious zealots’ preaching ideology which shows homophobia – not homosexuality – as the toxic import; a prevailing view in most Christian Africa. And we are also shown in the film, how leading Church figures in Uganda are working with American fundamentalists to peddle the absurd ideas – debunked long ago by scientists-that homosexuality leads to pedophilia. These American evangelical Christians held workshops, and met with key officials, like David Bahati, MP, the legislator, who introduced the 2009 bill in Uganda’s Parliament, to impose the death penalty for homosexual conduct, to reinforce their message of hate, and, that being gay equate to being a pedophile.

Review & Commentary

David Kato Kisule (born.1964 – January 26, 2011) was born to the Kisule clan in its ancestral village of Nakawala, Namataba Town Council, Mukono District, Uganda. He received the name “Kato” because he was the younger of twins (his older twin brother is John Malumba Wasswa). In the film, he recalled how, when he left to teach for a few years in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he became liberated of his cloistered sexual orientation because of the openness there. Coming back to Uganda in 1998, he decided to come out in public through a press conference; he was arrested and held in police custody for a week due to this action.

He was educated at King’s College Budo and Kyambogo University and taught at various schools including the Nile Vocational Institute in Njeru near Jinja, and was subsequently dismissed without any benefits in 1991.

The film started with much happier times when Kato was seen working with friends of the LGBT movement, rehabilitating one of the lady friends with the documentary showing some long shots of her having her head shaved and recalling her harrowing experiences by not being able to be “me” in the community and being accepted for who she is, and, showed Kato entertaining them in his simple abode in the village of Nakawala, with scenes of love and endearment with his mother, and going off with his friends digging for cassava for the cook-out.

He became highly involved with the underground LGBT rights movement in Uganda, eventually becoming one of the founding members of Sexual Minorities Uganda Group (“SMUG:”) on March 3, 2004. By 2010, Kato had quit his job as a school teacher in order to focus on his work with SMUG in light of the events surrounding the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

One of the most telling scenes in the film were the interviews of Giles Muhame, 22 year old, Editor of the Ugandan tabloid newspaper (small circulation of around 2,000 copies), Rolling Stone (“URS”; which according to Muhame, the paper’s title was derived from the local word “enkurungu”:- It’s a metaphor for something that strikes with lightning speed,  that can kill someone if it is thrown at them” and Muhame started the tabloid with his two classmates from Makerere University).

In the shots, he is seen, slouched in a steel frame black armchair in a back garden, saying that he did not kill Kato but only asked for him to be exterminated, and explaining with glee, his expose of those gays who were in the closet, and now with his front page URS article—titled “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak”—that listed the names, addresses, and photographs of 100 homosexuals alongside a yellow banner that read “Hang Them”, they were all exposed, and after Kato’s death, the interview showed him with no remorse at all of the tragedy he had caused. However, he stated, “I have no regrets about the story. We were just exposing people who were doing wrong.”

The killers in this world are often those with no conscience at all, and they often do it in cold blood.

Kato and two other SMUG members who were also listed in the article — Kasha Nabagesera and Julian Patience “Pepe” Onziema — sued the newspaper to force it to stop publishing the names and pictures of people it believed to be gay or lesbian. The petition was granted on 2 November, 2010, the ruling of which effectively ending the publication of Rolling Stone.

Giles Muhame, the paper’s managing editor, was reported to have commented: “I haven’t seen the court injunction but the war against gays will and must continue. We have to protect our children from this dirty homosexual affront”.

On 3 January, 2011, High Court Justice V. F. Kibuuka Musoke ruled that Rolling Stone’s publication of the lists, and the accompanying incitation to violence, threatened Kato’s and the others’ “fundamental rights and freedoms;” attacked their right to human dignity; and violated their constitutional right to privacy. The court ordered the newspaper to pay Kato and the other two plaintiffs, 1.5 million Ugandan shillings each (approx. US$600 as of May 2012).

The film showed Kato’s mother in tears and deep grief, recalling the 26 January, 2011 deadly assault in their home in Bukusa, Mukono Town,, at around 2 p.m. EAT (11:00 UTC). She recalled Kato talking on the phone with SMUG member Julian Pepe Onziema, when he was hit, at least three times in the head by at least one unknown male assailant before fleeing on foot; Kato later died en route to the Kawolo Hospital.

Kato’s colleagues note that Kato had spoken of an increase in threats and harassment since the court victory, and they believe that his sexual orientation and his activism were the motive for the murder.

Police arrested one suspect, Kato’s driver, and were seeking a second. On 2 February 2, 2011, police announced the arrest of Nsubuga Enock, saying that he had confessed to the murder. A police spokesperson described Enock as a “well-known thief” and local gardener, but stated as to Enock’s alleged motive, “It wasn’t a robbery and it wasn’t because Kato was an activist. It was a personal disagreement but I can’t say more than that.” A police source alleged to the Uganda Monitor that Enock had murdered Kato because Kato would not pay him for sexual favors.

Perhaps, one of the most moving scenes in the film was from the planned funeral of Kato. Kato’s funeral was held on January 28, 2011, in Nakawala. Present at the funeral were family, friends and co-activists, many of whom wore t-shirts bearing his photo in front, the Portuguese “la [sic] luta continua” in the back and having rainbow flag colors inscribed onto the sleeves.

However, the filmed showed a Christian preacher at the funeral preaching against the gays and lesbians present, making comparisons to Sodom and Gomorrah, before the activists ran to the pulpit and grabbed the microphone from him with the refrains of “Who are you to judge others?”, forcing him to retreat from the pulpit to Kato’s father’s house.

Villagers who sided with the preacher came into the fray as scuffles broke out during the proceedings. Villagers refused to bury Kato at his burial place; the task was then undertaken by his friends and co-workers, most of whom were gay. Scenes of Kato’s friends weeping at their tragic loss were very moving.

Post Film Discussion

Moderator Tan Pin Pin (Chinese: 陈彬彬; pinyinChén Bīnbīn) is a founding member of filmcommunitysg,  a collective of independent filmmakers in Singapore. She was on the team in 2011 that lobbied the Singapore Film Commission to include documentaries and films with artistic and cultural merit in the New Talent Feature Grant Scheme. She was until recently on the Board of The Substation (2004-2011) where she worked with colleagues to search for its new Artistic Director. She was also on the Board of the National Archives of Singapore (2007-2009).

Tan, with Yuni Hadi, co-founded the Fly by Night Video Challenge[1] which has seen several hundred short films made in the seven years it was run. She has been on film juries of Cinemanila, Jiffest and DMZDocs amongst others.

One of the questions posed after the screening was the status of the 2009 bill which David Bahati MP, a lawmaker with the ruling Ugandan party, was pushing the Ugandan Parliament to adopt before Christmas 2009.  

The Uganda’s penal code is liken to the repealed Section 377 of the Singapore Penal Code, which criminalizes carnal knowledge against the order of nature, but in Uganda, it was particularly aimed at male homosexuality.

Pin Pin said that she was not sure of the current situation.

Rodney Muhumuza of Associated Press in a piece published in the Boston Globe on 12 November 2012 reported from Kampala, Uganda that Uganda’s anti-gay bill will be passed before the end of 2012 despite international criticism of the draft legislation. The Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga told The Associated Press that the bill, which originally mandated death for some gay acts, will become law this year, insisting it is what most Ugandans want. Some Christian clerics at the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, asked the speaker to pass the law as ‘‘a Christmas gift.’’

Meanwhile, Joseph Kayira on 9 November 2012 reported from Blantyre, that Mali’s suspension of Anti-Gay Laws, in the predominantly religious southern African nation of 13 million, is sparking heated debate. While human rights activists applaud the announcement, some socially conservative Malawians feel their government should not be copycatting everything from Western countries or nodding to whatever donors demand.

Pin Pin also asked if there was anyone in the audience familiar with the S 377A  Appeal Group who wished to comment. It was commented that the film had shown the extent to which the British has introduced the S 377 of the Penal Code to all Commonwealth countries when they were part of the British Empire, and, that Uganda had exacerbated the interpretation of the law against gays and male homosexuality, whereas the repeal in Singapore of S 377, which were targeted against heterosexual deviant behavior, now makes it legal for men and females to follow their sexual fantasies with their opposite partners without breaking the law. Lesbianism has always not been illegal in Singapore.  S 377 A in Singapore still exist and it still discriminates against male homosexuals and their partners’ sexual liberties.

Another viewer commented that for the MDA to come out with the film classification of R 21 for “Homosexual Content and Religious References” for this film is an egregious act in the 21st Century, especially when the theme of the film is looking at Kato as an individual and human rights are the most important values. The commentator also said that Singapore is financially well off today but is still in its pre-teens as a fully integrated society with its development at its social puberty stage. The commentator admitted that he had grown up in a Singapore society that did not fully understand the results of imperfect DNA photo-copying in utero. And very often, when he was growing up, he and others viewed gays as marginalized people. The commentator urged that we should now become more inclusive, and not rely on the law of large numbers to confirm “reality”, and instead, we should look at the law that one is the magic number, which says that a single swallow is more likely to be the harbinger of Spring and Truth, and of the many more swallows to come. Creativity comes from the dreams and passion of a single individual and not from a controlled nurturing and molly coddled mind set.

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Film #3:FFF 2012 Winners (3pm-5pm)

Film #3.1: RIGHTS OF THE DEAD

By Tricia Yeoh | 2012 | 30 mins | Bahasa Malaysia with English subtitle

with 30 mins Post Film discussion: moderator: Tan Pin Pin

Film & Director’s Profiles

On 16 July 2009, the mysterious death of political aide, Teoh Beng Hock rocked Malaysia. His body was found outside the premises of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), where he was being held overnight after he had willingly entered the MACC building on 15 July 2009 as to assist in the MACC’s inquiry.

Tricia Yeoh, the filmmaker, was herself a colleague of the deceased working in the Selangor State government. She tries to make sense of the inquest and Royal Commission of Inquiry into his death and takes a critical look at the Malaysian system of government and politics that is ultimately responsible for ensuring justice for its citizens, including those who died in custody or while in detention.

The film also shares the perspective from Teoh Beng Hock’s family

Review & Commentary

The film showed in its edited flashback the sequence of events leading to Beng Hock’s death. MACC officials claimed that the interrogation had lasted for about 9 hours. Teoh’s colleagues, who had also been questioned, claimed that they were put under pressure from MACC officers, including being denied access to legal counsel and food or drink. According to the MACC, Teoh was freed at 3.45am—however without proper explanation, his possessions, including his mobile phone, remained in MACC’s custody.

But his wrist watch, which was never found on his wrist, has never been recovered. This would have been a critical piece of evidence because the picture of the position of Beng Hock’s body on the landing has been disputed as to whether he jumped himself, or, he could have been pushed off the ledge, or, fell when they tried to rescue him from an escape attempt from his interrogators. The face (smashed or otherwise) of the time piece would have been revealing.

MACC officials also claimed that Teoh had asked to stay the night at the MACC office, and was claimed to be last seen alive around 6am in the corridor of the building. Teoh was found dead at 1.30pm later that day on the landing in an adjacent building, despite having been freed in the early hours of the day he died. The investigation had been into allegations that Ean Yong had paid MYR 2,400 for flags to be used in Merdeka Day celebrations, but not taken delivery of the flags.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak met with Teoh’s family to express his condolences. Najib told them he would direct the Attorney-General and relevant government departments to look into Teoh’s family’s wish that his child bear the Teoh surname. On 15 August 2009, Soh completed the traditional Chinese marriage ceremonies, together with Teoh Lee Lan, Beng Hock’s younger sister, acting as a proxy. Kerk Kim Hock, a distant uncle of Teoh and the family’s acting spokesperson, told the press that completion of the marriage rites now entitled Soh to have her name engraved on Teoh’s gravestone as his wife.

What is interesting is the various reaction and feelings of Teoh’s family members in the film.

The most distraught is Teoh’s younger sister, Lee Lan, who was inconsolable at the wake because she felt the most aggrieved at the injustice perpetrated by those who had caused her brother’s death.

Teoh’s father, who is a taxi driver, kept silent through the filmed interview but you could sense from his Body Language that he was deeply hurt but knows too well for a humble family to kick up too much ruckus from his son’s demise. So he remained silent in his grief. Painful to watch but that is the face of injustice that is reflected by the down trodden.

The mother was more open with her feelings. She recalls questioning Hock Beng as to why he was giving up his job as a Malaysian journalist to become a political aide to Ean Yong Hian Wah,   a member of the Selangor   state legislative assembly and state executive council. Hock Beng’s reply was that he would not come to any harm, and that he would have a bright future.

Hock Beng’s wife, Soh, is a realist. She realizes that she has a young son to bring up, and she must have a sense of closure. Her face says it all – that no amount of a widow’s tears would bring her husband back, and the system is rotten but what can you do about it.

This film also showed the courage and persistence of the people concerned withgetting to the truth and some closure onTeoh Beng Hock’s unfortunate demise arising from his “fall” from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption (“MACC”) building after entering the building the day before as a willing person assisting with an inquiry into the sale of flags by the Selangor’s Pakatan Rakyat coalition partners. They even sought the assistance of the renowned Thai forensic pathologist, Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand, or, (“Dr. Death”) to testify before the Malaysian Royal Commission of Inquiry.

And the film showed her testimony that based on the cases that she has examined from the death arising from such falls in Thailand; her conclusion was that there is a 80% probability that Teoh Beng Hock’s death was an act of homicide.

Post Film Discussion

Moderator Tan Pin Pin took a number of questions which ranged from the single death of a MACC officer shown in the credits of the film, and that one of the three MACC interrogators was actually promoted after the affair, and why had Pak Lah not commissioned a similar Royal Commission of Inquiry into the death of the Mongolian Translator, who was blown up with plastic explosives by an elite group of Malaysian’s Special Forces.

Film #3.2: M-C-M’ Utopia Milik Siapa (“Utopia To Whom It Belongs”)

By Boon Kia Meng | 2012 | 30 mins | Bahasa Malaysia with English subtitle

Film & Director’s Profiles

Lecturer and filmmaker Boon Kia Meng (Ipoh born), a law graduate who also holds a Master of Philosophy from Britain, and he owns an apartment through the good graces of his parents. “They were forward-thinking,” he says, adding that they helped him when he bought his apartment in his 20s.

In this film, Boon examines the issue of house ownership. He highlights the current difficulty of young Malaysians earning a median income of MYR 3,500 of owning their own home. This is fast becoming a demanding commitment for most many young, urban Malaysians.

“I hope it sparks a question — that with so many facing the same issue, if whether they can then collectively make a demand. How can the ordinary person have the power to move and determine market forces?”

The film is open-ended on the resolution, says the 35-year-old, adding that “we might come together for human rights, but not about buying a home, because it is seen as an individual concern.”

When he started on his film, he first wanted to look at the local economy. “It was not possible in 30 minutes,” he recalls with a laugh. “So I narrowed it down to this aspect of the economy, that of shelter.”

Boon took about three months to direct and produce his short film, going into part-time lecturing as he worked on M-C-M’. His production team comprised a group of friends with the necessary skills for camera and editing work.

This Freedom Film Fest 2012 award-winning documentary film, was screened at Dataran Merdeka for free by #Occupydataran organizer. on the 4th October 2012.

 Review & Commentary

The film’s fundamental tenet is that there is money (“M”) from the depositors who put it with the banks,  and the bank has credit (“C”) in the form of easy money to new home buyers, and the M&C animation of these two factors in the film just shows how much more money is made for the banks (“M”) by the longer loan service period.

Boon’s comments: “As the short film shows, everyone needs help with the down payment. But owning your own home today, in an urban landscape, is hard. Unless you make radical choices like not buying a car but depending on public transport, you will have debt. Debt is almost a norm today. For home ownership, the loans are 30 to 40 years long. We should be grateful it is not intergenerational as in Japan”.

“The film surveys the current economic forces that shape our social struggle. It also asks if there is a housing bubble. The views are divided,” says Boon.

“I hope to get people to reflect on our current situation: what is deemed normal, our consumption habits, how we strive to get a good, modern life in the city, and what that consumption entails”.

“The housing issue is a lens to talk about the direction of our economy in general.”

Boon says he was inspired in part by the documentary, Inside Job, which tried to offer a clearer view of the 2008 economic meltdown in the United States.

During the interview, Boon mentions a “2013 perfect storm” prediction by Nouriel Roubini, economics professor at New York University. Roubini has been credited for having warned about the US 2008 economic meltdown, which was perhaps triggered by a housing price issue.

A recent Bank Negara Malaysia report also states that the top reason for the rise in household debt is housing loans.

For Boon, working on his short film was “a way to think about a social issue and make it accessible”. “It has forced me to think out of the academic way,” adds Boon who is toying with the idea of reading for a doctorate.

In the film Dr. Ernest YY Yeong’s prophecy is that Malaysia will join Greece, Spain and Ireland. Will it come true?

It is difficult to see that happening as the film just looked at the urbanization of the KL and the Klang Valley and the property market in Malaysia is much too big and segmented for the CDOs to be dealt in such massive derivative swaps in Malaysia to push the property bubble to the brink.

The film does have its parallel in Singapore where our youths faced a much more acute and systemic problem, and where the long term rise in the value of land for home ownership is linked to the well-offness of the heart landers and their social contract every General election with the ruling party.

Post Film Discussion

The discussion was not as animated as envisaged.

Film #3.3:Silent Riot

By Nadira Ilana | 2012 | 30 mins | Bahasa Malaysia with English subtitle

Film & Director’s Profiles

Winner of Justin Louis Award: FFF2012: Nadira Ilana.

Nadira is a writer and film maker who originates from Sabah. Her proposal is “The Silent Riot”, a film proposal focusing on the 1986 Sabah riots. The film questions what happened in Sabah after the 1985 state elections? Why was this incident not as popularly known as the May 13th. incident?

What happens after the end of a political reign? After serving two terms as Sabah’s government, Barisan Nasional (“BN”) led Parti Berjaya is unexpectedly toppled by newcomers Parti Bersatu Sabah (“PBS”), with the cooperation of the United Sabah National Organization (“USNO”).

 On the night the 1985 state election results are announced, the secret

Coalition between PBS and USNO falls apart at the seams, leading to an overnight power struggle that takes place at the State Istana. This would become the precursor to dramatic demonstrations the following year. This was an incident that is rarely talked about today, – making this – The Silent Riot.

Review & Commentary

The film showed dramatic footages of the riots and rampages caused by the Muslim Filipinos and their families, which camped for the period of the riot at the National Mosque in Kota Kinabalu (“KK”), and paying back to those voters in Sabah who gave the electoral surprise by their burning and rampage . It also showed the Chinese petro station operators in KK who also ran their provision stores smiling away with their “tau sama tau” attitudes, because they knew who was bankrolling for the migrant multitudes to be fed.

The same also held for the Riot Police who was just waiting for the situation to worsen so that the Federal Government could declare a State of Emergency.

I said to myself that we should thank God that we have stringent OB markers to our Voices of Freedom of Expression in Singapore, and that any loose comments on the fragile sensitive topics of religion and racial beliefs are strictly off limits, and stamped down rigorously.

And that if we were to be still in Malaysia, then we could have witnessed such a scenario if the local state elections in Singapore were not to the ruling Federal Coalition’s fancy, and if we had a firebrand like Tun Mustapha to orchestrate the bringing of Muslim  trouble makers, say from the neighboring Riau islands, then we would be a SE Asian Beirut.

But then this is a hypothetical reflection towards the end of the film.

Post Film Discussion

There was a paucity of discussion after this film as I suspect that most viewers felt that this was a footnote in Malaysia’s political history

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About fn8org

For computers, it means to start again in safe mode. For us, we hope we can also start again in safe mode. But it's more like re-booting our systems and starting from much needed basics for democracy in Singapore.
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