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Freedom Film Festival

by Alexandra Crosby

I recently spent two days at the Freedom Film Festival in Petaling Jaya (or ‘PJ’ as it is called by locals), a satellite city of Kuala Lumpur. ‘FFF’ (yes, acronyms are very popular in Malaysia) is an annual event run by KOMAS, one of EngageMedia’s partner organisations.

I set up a kind of video distribution table so folks could bring in flash drives and grab videos from the archive. The videos were arranged into folders around issues (indigenous, sexuality etc.) and file size. Most of my ‘customers’ could easily store enormous amounts of data and wanted everything, so my little old laptop didn’t work quite as quickly as expected. That meant there was plenty of time to chat to some very interesting people while files copied over, but kept me too busy to see all the great films in the program.

I still managed to sneak into quite a few sessions. The standout for me was on transgender. There were several films screened, including one by Arvind Raj about Sharan, a Malaysian woman who transitioned first from a man to a woman and then to a nun, dedicated to Bauchara Martha, a deity known to be the protector of the transgender community. In the discussion after the films, speakers from Malaysia and Thailand, including Sharan herself, reminded us all that discussions of these issues need to be localised and that there is no ‘quick fix’ for prejudice and discrimination. Given the sensitivity of this topic, I was surprised to hear that Indrani Kopal’s film ‘I Only Dance For You’ (available on, about a gay couple in New York, was not shown as it was considered by festival directors to address a theme Malaysian audiences were not yet ready for. Indrani’s film ‘Oily Hair’, on an innovative response to the gulf oil spill was screened instead, and was equally fabulous. I clearly have much to learn about Malaysian society.

FreedomFIlmFest 2012