Will M for Malaysia shine at the Academy Awards?

M For Malaysia shows how the then 92-year-old former PM Dr Mahathir led the nation to overthrow 1 of the longest-ruling govts in the world despite many barriers, which resulted in a shocking yet sweet and victorious win


EVERYTHING happened rather quickly. The decision to record and film everything that took place before and after the 14th General Election (GE) was based on a simple idea that was initiated by producer Dian Lee.

Lee and fellow producer Ineza Roussille then put together a team within 24 hours to cover the entire campaign.

No matter who won, Ineza and Lee knew that the whole event would surely go down in history.

“It was only a week after the election that we decided to make a feature documentary, considering the precious footage we had. We interviewed over 20 people from various sectors, over two months.

“Many of them were in public office, so it was very hard to lock them down. We had a crew of about five people to shoot the interviews,” Ineza, who is also Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s granddaughter, told The Malaysian Reserve.

After Pakatan Harapan’s victory, Lee and Ineza ended up with priceless recorded moments that were turned into a 93-minute documentary that chronicles the 2018 GE.

The documentary, M For Malaysia, shows how the then 92-year-old former PM Dr Mahathir led the nation to overthrow one of the longest-ruling governments in the world despite many barriers, which resulted in a shocking yet sweet and victorious win.

The initial idea was to document everything about Dr Mahathir’s campaign

Lee said the initial idea was to document everything about Dr Mahathir’s campaign. “I thought it was quite incredible to have a 92-year-old man running for PM in an election to change the government, and I wanted to preserve his efforts and maybe have enough material to inspire Malaysians for the next GEs.

“We initially hired a director to direct the film because Ineza and I wanted to stay behind the scenes. But the stint with the director didn’t work out in the end.

“So about five months into making the documentary, Ineza and I decided to direct the film. The whole process took about a year from start to finish,” Lee said.

According to Ineza, following the campaign trail was not an easy task, especially when it came to the throngs of people in rallies, consisting of thousands.

“Just trying to keep up with my grandad was difficult. Constructing the narrative was also a big challenge because our political history is such a complex story, so deciding what to put in to tell a cohesive, balanced and engaging story was not easy. It took many months,” she said.

Ineza and Lee can now give each other a pat on the back as M For Malaysia has been selected to represent Malaysia at the 92nd Academy Awards in February 2020 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

Produced by Project M Media, the documentary is set to compete for the prestigious Oscar statuette for the Best International Feature Film Award category against 92 other films.

Ineza credited the team — especially editors Sebastian Ng and Nick Seah, as well as creative director Ruby Yang — for their tireless efforts and consistency.

Lee, who did not have any experience in film production, had to learn very quickly to put two and two together.

“I really can’t think of anything easy in making this documentary a reality. The biggest challenge for me was to put myself out there and to be seen doing this.

“But in the end, I decided to dive right into this because this film was so much bigger than me and it’s a Malaysian story that needs to be told,” she said.

Ineza and Lee agreed that one of the concerns was convincing people that a documentary was worth the space in the cinemas.

“When it was time to share the film with Malaysians in cinemas, it was challenging. A year after the election, the euphoria was gone and many were unhappy with the current state of affairs.

“Many people saw this documentary as a propaganda film to glorify our current government, and we received a fair share of haters online. On the other hand, we had audiences who would clap at the end of the screening in cinemas,” Lee said.

Ineza said despite all that, the response from people who watched it was overwhelmingly positive.

As for the possibility of being part of the Academy Awards, Lee said she had never imagined that it would go this far.

Still, she said it is an exciting time for local films because there are so many high-quality productions that deserve recognition.

“There are 92 other films in competition. It’s a long shot. I think at the end of the day, it’s not just about winning. But we can use this platform to tell the story of hope, the tenacity of the Malaysian people and the power of democracy,” she said.

Ineza said she hoped the documentary will convince people that the category deserves a bigger platform in the local industry, as many talented filmmakers would flourish if they got the space and support to thrive.

M For Malaysia was also screened at the CAAM Festival 2019 in San Francisco prior to its release in Malaysia. It was also shown at the DocEdge Film Festival 2019 in New Zealand and the Busan International Film Festival in October 2019.

Lee said one of the best parts of being able to travel to these festivals was the connection she managed to forge with other Malaysians who live or work abroad.

“Many of them said this film gave them hope and a sense of pride in what we achieved last year. We had an old man in his 80s who migrated to New Zealand about 20 years ago, and he has never been back to Malaysia.

“But after watching the film, he told his son he is ready to visit his home country again. We also had many foreigners who resonated with the film. I truly believe the themes of the film — power, forgiveness, reconciliation and power of the people — are universal,” she said.

Ineza added that she would like the documentary to act as a reminder to Malaysians of what can be achieved together.

“We also hope that it reminds the current government of the power of the people who put them in office and that they must do as they promised to bring the changes that we longed for.

“We had a chance to hit the reset button, they must have the courage to risk votes and do the right thing,” Ineza said.

M for Malaysia will compete against productions from every continent except for Antarctica, along with some new contenders including Ghana, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.

Nominations of all categories will be announced on Jan 13, 2020, while the Academy Awards will be held on Feb 9, 2020.