Monday, November 7, 2011

Bengoh film turn heads in Kuching!

A very positive review of the film by Hornbill Unleashed-`boost for participatory democracy in Sarawak':

Films and Freedom

— Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:03 AM
Pak Bui
The Freedom Film Fest received an enthusiasic welcome when it came to Kuching and Miri during the last weekend of October.
This is the fourth year this excellent film festival has come to Sarawak, showing challenging films about human rights, politics and democracy, sexuality, religion, indigenous people’s issues and society – far more intriguing films than the standard commercial drivel in our cineplexes.
The five films screened were free, in more sense than one. The festival was open to all Sarawakians, and all were welcome, with only a collection box going around.
The crowd in Kuching were mostly young, bubbly and courteous. There were around 300 people packed into the narrow conference room at the Harbour View Hotel.
Many of the participants – for they  weighed into debates and discussions, and were not simply a passive audience – were college students, from all ethnic groups.

Driven from their land and robbed
The ‘sensitive’ subject matter of the films included the failure of empty promises by BN politicians to poor Bidayuh communities in Bengoh.
The film also examined the failure of PKR to offer a credible candidate as an alternative to BN’s lies and corruption in Bengoh during the April state election.
The Bengoh villagers were eventually driven from their land, and taxpayers were robbed of public money.
This dam is a shameful project, ostensibly planned to supply clean water to Kuching until 2030, but is in fact clearly designed to divert the flow of taxpayers’ money into the bank accounts of cronies of the BN chief minister in tax havens abroad.
The film-makers, represented by Joachim Leong, had trekked for many hours with cameras to visit villagers displaced by the dam.
The film pointed out the material hardships the villagers faced, and the broken BN promises of a resettlement area with modern amenities.
At least 20 families have built their own resettlement village upstream, ignoring the government’s promise for a resettlement (one that remains unbuilt, until today).
The cameras followed these villagers’ hike uphill, carrying their own planks and building materials, to a plateau with astoundingly beautiful views over the misty hills.
These families have been threatened by the BN that they will not receive ‘development’, in retaliation for their defiance.
But these villagers know only too well that the BN had promised ‘development’ to Batang Ai and Bakun communities, but had only delivered hardship, dependency and bitter disappointment.
A boost for participatory democracy
The film noted that PKR’s candidate for Bengoh, Willie Mongin, had not even visited the Bengoh villages during the election campaign.
BN’s Jerip Susil, on the other hand, had made plenty of promises to the communities by flying in on a helicopter.
In hindsight, the real surprise of the Bengoh election was not that Jerip won unexpectedly, but that such a weak PKR candidate managed 4447 votes!
During the discussion that followed, DAP MP and state assembly representative Chong Chien Jen admitted Pakatan needed to vet young, untested candidates before the upcoming general election.
YB Chong then answered a question from the audience on Pakatan’s readiness to form the next government, at federal and state, by pointing out the alternative budget and land reform policies laid out by Pakatan in Sarawak.
Observers of Sarawak politics will recognise that our political development will take years to produce true participatory democracy.
We need better education of our voters, and better access to information for all Sarawakians, including the rural electorate.
The Freedom Film Fest is a small step on this journey, but it is certainly a boost for participatory democracy in Sarawak.
The interest from the audience in the films, as well as the discussions in between films, was a sign of change, albeit slow, in the political awareness of our young, regarding democracy and freedom.
True freedom is not the liberty to do as we please, or live the ‘lifestyle’ we choose.
True freedom entails education, difficult choices, and sacrifice. It also requires us to decide how to use these hard-won freedoms.
The Freedom Film Fest tries hard to make us think about these issues. We ought to welcome it every year, and more.

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