In a world where people connect at a touch of a screen despite distance and differences in time zones, it is hard to imagine any community living off the information grid. With little to no internet connectivity and only three national channels on tv to provide them with all they need to know, this is the reality of most Orang Asli or indigenous communities in peninsular Malaysia. While this may seem idyllic to some, ignorance is not always bliss, according to Tijah a/p Yok Chopil the coordinator of the Network of Indigenous Villages in Peninsular Malaysia (JKOASM) .
Speaking at the launch of FreedomFilmFest(FFF) 2016 in Petaling Jaya recently, Tijah attributed the lack of quick and easy access to information through the media, as one of the reasons why the Orang Asli were not exposed to current social and political issues affecting their community and the nation. However, this scenario has changed with the increase in the production of social documentaries such as those made through the FreedomFilmFest and their effective dissemination amongst the Orang Asli communities.
Tijah who is from the Semai tribe shared how Orang Asli communities in Peninsular Malaysia were empowered through films produced by the FreedomFilmFest that documented their community’s struggles and realities such as Hak DiNafikan and Lot Umah Am that were uploaded on YouTube and brought from village to village in the form of DVDs. She added that the Orang Asli are more aware not just of issues that affect their communities, but also the nation as a whole. “Now you can even see the Orang Asli at BERSIH rallies” says Tijah with pride.
FreedomFilmFest director, Anna Har stressed the importance of film as a vehicle of social change during the launch. At the launch which took place on the 31st of March at PJ Live Arts, in Petaling Jaya, many instances of the impact of social documentaries were shared by a panel consisting of Tijah; Indrani Kopal (winner of Best Student Documentary Award at the American Pavilion’s Emerging Filmmaker Showcase in Cannes, 2015) Jules Rahman Ong (filmmaker and independent journalist), and moderated by Har.
FreedomFilmFest, an international human rights documentary film festival is NOW calling for film submissions in line with this year’s theme ‘What Lies Beneath’. The festival will be held from 20 – 28 August 2016 at PJ Live Arts, Jaya One, Petaling Jaya. For more information on film submissions and to apply for a film grant, visit freedomfilmfest.komas.org.