A daughter’s journey in getting to know her father

A daughter’s journey in getting to know her father

A daughter’s journey in getting to know her father

A daughter’s journey in getting to know her father


AUGUST, 2016

Not a lot of us know what our parents lives were like before they had us, probably because you never think there would be much worth knowing about. To be fair though, most of our parents probably did live lives that weren’t very shocking.

Ashleigh Lim’s father, on the other hand, has a life that would be incomparable to most. As she began her journey in getting to know her father, she decided to take things a step further and film the entire process.

Ashleigh Lim

Stories From My Father is a short film by Ashleigh Lim, a 40 year old simulation artist from Muar. The film documents her experience as she goes on a journey to discover her father’s dark past.  

Trailer for Stories From My Father

Ashleigh’s father was detained without trial, from 1968 to 1974, under the Internal Security Act for his involvement in the Labour Party which was subsequently outlawed because of its pro-communist leanings.

Poster of Stories From My Father

The film offers us a glimpse into his experience during his detention and his life after it. It also follows his continued friendship with other ex-detainees as well as life with his family.

Ashleigh wanted to share her father’s story with the world and so pitched her idea in an entry for a film grant competition organised annually by FreedomFilmFest. She ended up winning the grant and started making the film in June of this year.

“The production period is quite short, only 2 months, so it was very hectic. I work a full time job so I only have weekends to shoot. My team was also very small, only 3 people. It is me, my camera man, who is also my editor, and my production manager who gives me proper input and helps me with the overall vision of the film,” she said.

She did say, however, that the people at KOMAS, the organisers of FreedomFilmFest, were incredibly supportive and made the experience a lot easier for her.

“Before making this film, I didn’t know much about the short film industry in Malaysia. I watched certain social documentaries, but not any from Malaysia. Most of the films that KOMAS helps produce are actually very good and opens your mind.”

She was first inspired to make the film when Seong Foong & Victor, winners of last year’s FreedomFilmFest film grant, encouraged her to share her father’s story.

“Don’t only watch mainstream films.”

“They made a film called Memory as Resistance, through a grant from KOMAS as well. Their film premiered at the festival last year. They heard about my father’s story when they came to Muar to do the film premiere. They got interested in it and thought it was a great story to film,” Ashleigh said.

When asked about how her father felt about the whole thing, Ashleigh said that he was, in fact, extremely excited by the idea of sharing his stories.

“I think he was very happy. He never thought he would be someone in a film. He’s been very supportive too. When I was small, he didn’t try to hide his story, but we didn’t talk about it much. I never knew his whole story. I think it’s mostly because I never brought it up. It’s not really something people in the family like talking about. We preferred just the regular chit chat. So whatever my father described was a total shock to me.”

This is actually Ashleigh’s first film and, since she’s had no experience with the film industry in the past, ended up being a huge learning experience for her. She said her favourite part of the process was the experience she had shooting.

“It was a very challenging experience but I enjoyed it. Learning how to form the structure of the stories was really nice. You get to know the different ways to tell stories and what types of presentation will attract people,” she said. “A friend of mine and I are also working on doing motion graphics for the film, meaning 2d animation. People always think documentaries have too much talking since most films just try to show as much information as they can to the audience. I don’t think social documentaries should be boring. Even if you have a good story, the way you present it is important.”

Ashleigh also hopes that the film will encourage viewers to learn more about the underrepresented or less talked about issues people in our country face.

“Don’t only watch mainstream films,” she said. “I want people to try opening their minds. A lot of people don’t like talking to other people who have different opinions. Try to be more understanding of other people’s stories. Close minded people are not good for society.”

Poster of Memory As Residence

Stories From My Father will premiere at FreedomFilmFest 2016 on the 20th of August at the PJ Live Arts theater.

Entry is by donation of RM20 for the whole day or RM150 for the whole festival which runs from the 20th to 27th of August. Free admission is given to students and senior citizens.

The Team Behind FreedomFilmFest

The Team Behind FreedomFilmFest

The Team Behind

Here’s a fun fact for you:

Malaysia’s leading international human rights film festival only has one coordinator each year who orchestrates the whole thing.

What goes on behind the scenes is usually the determining factor of whether an event is successful or not. FreedomFilmFest (FFF) is known for being one of the largest film events in the country despite its small organizing committee. Organized by the NGO, Pusat KOMAS, the festival aims to create a platform for activists and filmmakers to showcase their works to the public.

On a Saturday afternoon, not too long away from FreedomFilmFest 2016, four of the former coordinators sat down with the founder of the festival, Anna Har, and together reminisced about the old times. These were Effa Desa, Mien Ly, Maisarah and Lena Hendry, four ladies who together have extensive experience coordinating what is one of the country’s most successful festivals.

The ladies gathered together in the KOMAS office, this being the first time in a while all of them were together in the same room, and together recollected some of their favourite memories from the times they helped coordinate the event.

From left to right: Anna Har, Maisarah, Effa Desa, Mien Ly, Lena Hendry

“Most festivals have like 10 people for publicity, 5 for mobilising and we’re like ‘ok so we have 2 people for [the whole of] FreedomFilmFest”

Lena Hendry

Coordinator of FreedomFilmFest

How it all started

Anna, founder and current director of the festival began by talking about the humble beginnings of what is now the most established human rights festival in Malaysia.

“We worked on the ground with communities and were involved in producing videos…”

“That nobody wanted to watch,” added Mien Ly. “We couldn’t screen it on major or mainstream TV and there was a lack of alternative places.”

“We needed to do something. So we had a film screening and we called it a festival, even though at the time it was just a small screening,” said Anna. “Before the internet days, it was really hard to spread stuff. So we would cover unknown issues and use the festival as a platform.”

Anna Har

Anna Har

Founder of FreedomFilmFest

How it all evolved

“It started off as 2 days, now it’s 10 days,” Lena said, evoking laughter from everyone in the room.

“It’s massive now,” Mien Ly said.

FreedomFilmFest started off as just a 2 day screening, during a weekend in November of 2003. Short weekends soon turned into a week, however, as the festival began to screen more and more films. The festival this year lasts 8 days, running from the 20th to 27th of August.

“Every year, we talk about bringing it down. Oh it shouldn’t be one week, it should just be done during the weekend. But it ends up being much longer,” Lena said.

“There are a lot of films to show,” added Mien Ly.

“But now we also have things like forums, workshops, talks…it’s not just screenings anymore,” Lena said.

As years went by, the festival began to have more than just one screening as well.

The festival first reached a wider Malaysian audience in 2009, when screenings were held in Penang and Johor. In the coming years, they had further community screenings in places like Perak, Sabah and Sarawak. There were even international screenings, organised by Malaysians living abroad or through connections with international film festivals.

“We provide support to people interested in doing it. The organizers in the states are important. We can’t be running around, so we support from here. Organizers from each state do everything and get involved in the whole process,” Lena said.

“We also got connections with international film festivals. We are part of an international network of human rights festivals,” Anna said.

In 2011, Hana Kulhankova, the festival director of One World International Human Rights Film Festival in Prague, the largest human rights’ film festival in the world, was FreedomFilmFest’s special guest and head judge. And in 2014, FFF films were screened at the Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival in Germany & the One World Film festival in Czech Republic, the largest international human rights film festival in the world.

“We still only have 1 coordinator though” laughed Anna.

“An amazing thing about it though, is how we get so much done with so little resources. A 10 day festival is organized by just 2 people, the coordinator and the director, and a few other volunteers,” said Lena.

“It’s a challenge but it’s pretty amazing,” said Effa.

Community screening in Pahang

Lena at a screening in Sarawak

Hana Kulhankova at FreedomFilmFest

The challenges they’ve faced along the way

“Ticketing and distribution is still a challenge. Although it looks very big and massive, we still cannot go public very much,” said Anna

“It’s often the same people who come back, and they bring their friends,” Maisarah said.

“Most malaysian brands don’t cover us. Because we don’t go through the film censorship board, it still feels like we’re an underground event,” Anna said.

“NTV7 once had a dedicated channel to talk about community issues, so they covered our event every year and interviewed filmmakers. However, that was just in the first few years. After some time, the people at the station no longer worked there,” Mien Ly said. “8TV also once invited us and specifically told us not to say the words ‘human rights’ but we said it anyway and got in trouble with the producers. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get invited back,” she chuckled.

“The press coverage really depends on the issues themselves. When you have so-called ‘sensitive’ films, journalists aren’t willing to cover our stories,” said Lena.

“In the alternative world, we are quite established but the thing is, I wish we could reach out to the general public,” Anna added.

FreedomFilmFest has had their fair shares of issues with the authorities as well. As Mien Ly jokingly put it, they are ‘semi-illegal’ and so give law enforcers a reason to misuse their powers.

They also reflected on their fears of being caught by the authorities in the old days. As Mien Ly jokingly put it, they are ‘semi-illegal’ and so give law enforcers a reason to misuse their powers.

“You think now is scary, those days were even scarier. There were only a few of us and if any of us kena caught, there wouldn’t be much of us left,” said Anna

Anna at FreedomFilmFest 2015



On what FreedomFilmFest is doing for the film industry

“The short film industry in Malaysia is still in its infancy stages, though there is some interest. FFF brings about awareness for more controversial issues that people are scared to talk about and that was the initial purpose of FFF; to tell untold stories. It was just a tool to create awareness for things that matter. The stories themselves are more important than the quality, though we have seen an increase in quality over the years. You will never see these films on mainstream TV, so it’s a necessary platform to help grow the industry,” said Effa.

“We got our first warning letter in 2009,” added Lena.

“And that was an indicator that this was a good thing. People are talking about it. That’s what you want. The fact that we’re still existing and we have support is great,” said Effa.

Their favourite parts of FreedomFilmFest

“The people you encounter, so whether it’s the volunteers or the filmmakers themselves…you meet very inspiring people,” said Effa.

“You meet very, very humble filmmakers and they’re really cool. It’s nice meeting people and going through the learning process together,” said Mien Ly.

“It’s the people that makes us want to come back to FFF,” Effa said.

“The appreciation you get is also really nice. FFF used to have workshops in colleges and I had students coming up to me telling me I made a difference in their lives and that I opened up their eyes. They would even offer to help organize FFF,” Maisarah said.

It was clear how much the women cared about the festival. Most of them, though not having been involved with it in years, were still willing to come back and help out with this year’s festival. Enthusiastic discussions began to surface when Anna suggested they all return as volunteers this year. So if you plan to attend the festival this year (which if you definitely should), be sure to look out for these lovely ladies.

Volunteers at FreedomFilmFest 2015

FreedomFilmFest will be held this year at the PJ Live Arts Theatre in Jaya One from August 20-27th. Different films, produced both locally and internationally, will be screened every day along with various masterclasses and Freedom Talks. Tickets are priced at RM20 per day or RM150 for the whole festival. Admission for students and senior citizens are free.

You can find out more information about the festival here.

A cinematic experience like no other

A cinematic experience like no other

FreedomFilmFest: An Effort By KOMAS To Give You A Cinematic Experience Like No Other

FreedomFilmFest is an annual human rights documentary festival in Malaysia that adopts the themes encompassed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Starting out as only a small screening event and also the first of its kind in the country, it has now become the leading and most established human rights film event in Malaysia.

First launched in 2003, the event is organised annually by Pusat KOMAS (Pusat Komuniti Masyarakat), a pioneering NGO in Malaysia that was established in 1993 and is dedicated to using creative and participative methodology in human rights education. Apart from FreedomFilmFest, KOMAS strongly advocates against racism issues through its popular ‘Aku Bangsa Malaysia’ programme which consists of several workshops, forums and seminars that focus on creating public awareness on the importance of equality and non-discrimination.

Working together with other prominent NGOs, KOMAS has also advocated for both the federal and state governments to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a United Nations convention dedicated to eliminating racial discrimination. One of KOMAS’ most significant efforts was the management of PEMANTAU, an initiative first launched by Bersih 2.0 that aimed to monitor the electoral process, during the 13th General Election. KOMAS is also closely partnered with many marginalized communities such as the orang asli and indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak and supports them by aiming to defend their basic human rights.

In 2006, they launched their first ever film proposal competition, in which filmmakers with the best and most promising film proposals would win grants of RM3000 to produce their documentaries together with the guidance of the people at KOMAS. This was done as part of the group’s advocacy for films that do good and also the start of what is now a series of yearly FreedomFilmFest films, produced by winners of the grants, screened every year.

“Our grant winners aren’t usually filmmakers,” says KOMAS’ programme coordinator, Lena Hendry. “They’re people who are passionate about the issue. They could be students, activists or anyone who thinks the issue can be translated into a film. They also need to be knowledgeable in what they’re proposing. It is important that the story will have an effect on viewers.”

“We wanted to use the festival as a platform to talk about issues that don’t usually get covered,”

Anna Har

Director of FreedomFilmFest

2009 was the year that marked the first time the festival had more than just one screening. Screenings were held in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Georgetown and Kuching.There was even an international screening, organised by a group of Malaysians living in the UK. From then on, the festival had reached numerous significant milestones. In the coming years, both the Selangor and Penang state governments had become co-organisers, the festival travelled to East Malaysia and Singapore, special guests from around the world were invited to be guest judges and festival-goers were even given the opportunity to attend discussions with filmmakers and a variety of workshops all held during the festival.

Justin Louis Award

Filmmakers of the best films produced every year are given the Justin Louis award, a uniquely designed and hand-carved wooden trophy made by the Indigenous Mahmeri tribe of Carey Island in Selangor.

The award’s namesake was a young Malaysian activist who was also the first coordinator of KOMAS. In November of 1994, Justin along with a group of other activists, consisting of Cynthia Gabriel, See Chee How, Jannie Lasimbang, Colin Nicholas, Francis Cheong and Wong Meng Chuo, were travelling on a longboat to the upper reaches of the Baram River to investigate the cases of alleged rape of Penan women by forest rangers.

A trip upriver isn’t usually the safest, due to the harsh physical terrains and communication difficulties travellers are forced to face. The rough waters proved to be cruel as the young activists had encountered a disaster. The motor of their longboat died mid-trip and the strong currents caused their boat to overturn, throwing everyone overboard. The group clung on to anything that would keep them above water, including the floating tins of biscuits that fell off the boat. After a tough swim to the riverbank, it was discovered that all but Justin had managed to survive. His body was recovered two weeks later and was buried in Marudi.

Justin, who was only 30 when this happened, was a young man who believed in the power of moving images in efforts to bring about social awareness and meaningful change. His selflessness and dedication towards transforming the lives of the marginalised and oppressed serves as an inspiration to fellow Malaysian activists and is the reason he is honoured by the award.


Baram River : A tragedy that inspired the Justin Louis Award.

Legal challenges

It should come as no surprise that NGOs like KOMAS have had their fair share of troubles with the law. “We actually have a whole discussion before the start of each festival. Who’s gonna talk when they [authorities] come? Who’s gonna keep the lawyers on standby?” Lena Hendry says. Though perhaps the most notorious legal issue KOMAS faced was the one involving Lena Hendry herself.

In 2013, Hendry was charged by the  Home Ministry and Attorney General Chamber under Section 6 of the Film Censorship Act 2002 for organising a private screening of the film No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka for an invite-only audience. The documentary, directed by Nobel Prize nominee Callum Macrae, tells the story of the occurrences of human rights abuse at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

It took nearly two and a half years for Hendry to be acquitted and discharged by the court, with their final judgement being in her favour. It was a long and tiring ordeal, which most agreed had been a waste of time for everyone.

Though a rush of relief came with the court’s judgement, KOMAS still made efforts to challenge the Film Censorship Act 2002. The law, which essentially seeks to curb piracy and pornography in the country, basically states that no one should screen any film or related publicity materials that haven’t been approved by the country’s censorship board.

It gives law enforcers the authority to silence the voice of activists and human rights educators. 

“We actually have a whole discussion before the start of each festival. Who’s gonna talk when they [authorities] come? Who’s gonna keep the lawyers on standby?”

Lena Hendry

KOMAS’ programme coordinator

“Look at the law, it basically says that all films are illegal, how can all films be illegal?“ said Hendry. “That means even the film I take in my mobile is technically illegal; it is just they don’t enforce the law.” Callum Macrae, the award winning journalist and director of the film, described the charges against her as “a disgrace”.

KOMAS hopes that the time spent on this case was not in vain and had at least brought the much needed attention for the reform and alignment of the law with international standards of human rights.

No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

What Lies Beneath

This year, FreedomFilmFest returns with a lineup of over 30 documentaries and short films produced both locally and internationally. The theme this year is ‘What Lies Beneath’ which reflects the festival’s mission to increase public awareness on underrepresented human rights issues by casting a spotlight on films produced by activists with strong causes. It is also a call for the public to dig deeper into the many issues that society faces today and for filmmakers to unearth stories that help us see beyond the surface to bring about more meaningful insights and appropriate actions.

The festival will be held at PJ Live Arts in Jaya One from the 20-28th of August. Additional screenings will be held in major cities across Malaysia including Penang, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. International screenings will also take place in Singapore, Melbourne and London. More information on the dates and venues of each screening can be found here.

Highlighted events

Among the most anticipated films this year are the winners of the 2016 FreedomFilmFest Film Grant; Unlocking Bengoh, a story about three indigenous families who were forced to leave their ancestral homes to make way for the Bengoh reservoir dam and Stories From My Father, a film documenting a daughter’s journey to learn about her father’s dark past in detention without trial under the Internal Security act in 1968.

Internationally produced films include 10 Billion: What’s On Your Plate; which explores solutions to the food shortage problems we’ll face once the world population hits 10 billion, A Syrian Love Story; a BAFTA nominated film that explores the demise of a Syrian couple’s relationship as a result of their country’s cruel regime and Among The Believers; which gives viewers a peek into a the mind of a jihadist and the lives of of two of his teenage students who are pawns in his ideological war.

Still not convinced a day spent at the festival is more fulfilling than a day spent catching Pokémon? Well, attending the festival gives you access to more than just film screenings. The festival’s Master class series, organised in collaboration with the Malaysian Documentary Association (MyDocs), British Council and Goethe Institute, gives festival-goers the chance to attend classes with renown local and international filmmakers on various aspects of documentary and social filmmaking.

One of the Master classes given this year is called Exposing the Invisible and features a banner with a hidden message that can only be seen when looking at it from a different perspective; a gimmick representing the main purpose of the class. Attendees will learn how to conduct investigative research and gather details to uncover hidden information, expose corruption and bring truth to light.

The class will be lead by the Tactical Technology Collective, a non-profit organization based in Berlin. Professionals will share different techniques, tools and methods designed to help advocates and individual practitioners to promote rights, accountability and transparency by effectively using information and digital technologies.

Freedom Talks


Festival-goers can also look forward to Freedom Talks, a series of discussions and forums that focus on specific issues related to films and are designed to involve full audience participation. Among the Freedom Talks held this year are Educating The Believers, which aims to discuss the role and responsibility of the state and religious bodies in monitoring extremists groups in Malaysia and Refugee Phobia, which will explore the initiatives and viable solutions that can be taken to form a more harmonious co-existence between refugees and receiving host communities in the country.


Hint: Stand a little further back

Living up to its status as the country’s leading human rights film festival, FreedomFilmFest promises to keep audiences on the edge of their seats and leave them with new insights that can only be gained through the powerful medium of film. The festival has produced over 40 local Malaysian human rights documentaries over the last 12 years and showcases over 30 outstanding locally and internationally produced films every year that always manage to create a better understanding of human rights among the general public. With their constant dedication towards increasing public awareness on human rights, it is without a doubt that FreedomFilmFest succeeds as a platform for activists and independent filmmakers to inspire and educate the public by using video as a medium to tell their stories the way they want to tell it.

If you’re interested in attending the festival this year, you can register here or find out more information from their website.