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One Nation Under Lee is going places in Malaysia and its screening is attracting large audiences.
After its successful showing in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur at the Freedom Film Fest 2008 last week, the organizers KOMAS, Malay acronym for Malaysian Human Rights Communication Centre, moved the venue to Johor Baru.
So when the 45-minute English documentary, banned by the Singaporean authorities, was shown yesterday at a local hotel across the causeway it understandably attracted many Singaporeans.
The film was warmly received by the audience and Mr Seelan Palay was on hand to take questions from the floor.
A foreigner in the audience who had lived in Singapore for seven months said that from her experience in Singapore, the country is a good place to live in contrary to what the movie portrays. She also noted that the protests and demonstrations that were shown in the film are not spontaneous like in Malaysia. This shows the people in general are contented.
Mr Michael Fernandez, a former trade unionist imprisoned without trial by the PAP government, said that the outward appearance of tranquility is a façade, a situation that has been brought about through years of ruthless state repression of an entire generation.
Mr Fernandez said that he was glad to see youngsters like Seelan, Martyn See and others who are taking an interest in what is happening around them.
He said the youth in Singapore, especially the students in tertiary institutions in the 1950s, 60s and 70s were actively engaged in society. Their language backgrounds were never a barrier as students from the Singapore University, the Nantah, and the Singapore Polytechnic came together to speak up on issues not only affecting youths but also the general public.
He said he could still remember the time when university students protested against the Suitability Certificate that the PAP introduced. The student exuberance and vibrancy were, however, bullied into silence. This has led to entire generations of students growing up in a state of apathy.
Mr Fernandez also pointed out it was wrong to compare tiny Singapore with Malaysia which is so much bigger and where there is much more room for dissent and alternative views to flourish.
Singapore playwright Robert Yeo and blogger Alex Au were also present and contributed to the discussion.
There was a suggestion from an appreciative Singaporean that more such films were needed to bring about greater awareness, especially among the youths and the workers who have forgotten the role of trades unions and what the word “strike” meant, the ultimate weapon that employees have against unscrupulous employers for whose interest the PAP government exists.
Mr Seelan took the questions and comments in his usual relaxed and jovial demeanour.
Malaysian reviewer, Mr Andrew Sia, had this to say about the film: “Even though part of it seems like a Powerpoint presentation, it manages to engage – a lesson here for shoestring budget film makers.”
Also, at the end of the second day of the three-day film festival, filmmakers from Singapore and Johor held a brainstorming session to coordinate their work to achieve greater synergy.
The next place the organizers planning to screen One Nation Under Lee is Kuching, Sarawak on Saturday, 20 Sept. And finally, the documentary on Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore will be shown to audiences in Penang on Saturday, 27 Sep 08.