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  • Look­ing West from the Prince Hotel & Res­id­ence in the Kuala Lum­pur CBD

This March, after 11 years in New Zea­l­and (and ten years in Wel­ling­ton), the 48 Hours Furi­ous Film­mak­ing com­pet­i­tion left our shores and became an export business.

The com­pet­i­tion has a well-jus­ti­fied repu­ta­tion as one of the most import­ant film­mak­ing events, as well as being the single biggest par­ti­cip­at­ory arts event in the coun­try, with over 700 teams nation­wide tak­ing part for fun and prizes. The repu­ta­tion of the com­pet­i­tion is such that, when Edu­ca­tion New Zea­l­and needed some­thing to bring Malay­si­an film schools togeth­er and help pro­mote New Zea­l­and as a des­tin­a­tion for fur­ther study and film and tele­vi­sion work exper­i­ence, they needed to look no further.

Edu­ca­tion NZ is the gov­ern­ment-fun­ded body respons­ible for grow­ing the eco­nom­ic value of our edu­ca­tion sec­tor — mar­ket­ing New Zea­l­and to over­seas stu­dents. With a tar­get of doub­ling the cur­rent $2.5 bil­lion the sec­tor brings to the coun­try every year, it has the envi­able and fun task of mar­ket­ing this coun­try to the world, and it does it in ways that are largely under the radar back home. Hence the fact that I had nev­er heard of them before.

Malay­sia is a key mar­ket for Edu­ca­tion NZ. It’s a rel­at­ively pros­per­ous and stable Asi­an nation with a large pop­u­la­tion and a gov­ern­ment that has been com­mit­ted to improv­ing edu­ca­tion for many years. The res­ult is a loc­al pop­u­la­tion that recog­nises the impact edu­ca­tion has on health and well-being, and val­ues high-qual­ity ser­vices avail­able loc­ally and overseas.

Lots of suc­cess­ful Malay­si­ans, includ­ing politi­cians and busi­ness lead­ers, received their ter­tiary edu­ca­tion here in New Zea­l­and and are help­ful when it comes build­ing alle­gi­ances between Edu­ca­tion NZ and loc­al and Kiwi pro­viders. While our party was in Kuala Lum­pur there was a meet­ing of an Otago Uni­ver­sity alumni group in our hotel. But I am get­ting ahead of myself…

Once a year the High Com­mis­sion organ­ises a New Zea­l­and Week in Malay­sia, a series of events in Kuala Lum­pur and Kuch­ing to pro­mote New Zea­l­and busi­ness and cul­ture. Edu­ca­tion NZ — in the form of region­al dir­ect­or Izak Human — decided that screen arts would be their focus and that the best way to build rela­tion­ships between the two coun­tries would be to make films togeth­er. And to make them in only two days. Four loc­al ter­tiary insti­tu­tions were enlis­ted to take part: Aswara (Nation­al Academy of Arts, Cul­ture and Her­it­age), SAE (School of Audio Engin­eer­ing) and UiTM (MARA Uni­ver­sity of Tech­no­logy) in Kuala Lum­pur, and Uni­mas (Uni­ver­sity of Malay­sia (Sarawak)) in Kuch­ing, each provided two teams of students.

Ant Timpson and Tim Groen­endaal from the Kiwi 48 Hours organ­isa­tion were con­tac­ted about bring­ing our ver­sion of the com­pet­i­tion to Malay­sia and — on a day that shall live in infamy — dis­covered that they per­son­ally would not be able to attend. As the recently retired boss of the Wel­ling­ton event (see Fish­Head #27 from July last year), I was next in line and was asked to put togeth­er a crack team of 48 Hours vet­er­ans who could embed them­selves with loc­al teams, ment­or the young ones and not cause a dip­lo­mat­ic incid­ent. It was a tough ask, but the group we got could not have been bet­ter: act­or (Step Dave) and dir­ect­or of the New Zea­l­and Inter­na­tion­al Film Festival’s award-win­ning short Fri­day Tigers, Aidee Walk­er; act­or (Go Girls), musi­cian and dir­ect­or Johnny Bark­er from 2007 Grand Nation­al win­ners Lense Flare; and pro­du­cer and dir­ect­or Annie Duck­worth (all from Auck­land); and ener­get­ic young writer, act­or, dir­ect­or and com­poser Hay­den Weal (from New­town in Wel­ling­ton). Between us we were going to have to make this thing work in a new town and a new coun­try, and lots of our pre­vi­ous assump­tions were going to be blown away.

I won’t bore you with the details of the com­pet­i­tion itself and the actu­al 48 hours of the shoot, except to say that all of the teams got their films in on time, all of the ment­ors did an excep­tion­al job of work­ing with their teams, the stu­dents were of a really high stand­ard, and the win­ning film (Snap! by Drona Films from Aswara) played to an extremely appre­ci­at­ive audi­ence at the High Commission’s inter­na­tion­al gala (in front of Dr Pita Sharples and fash­ion legend Jimmy Choo!) and con­tains the catch­i­est damn song you have ever heard in your life.

Per­son­ally, I loved Kuala Lum­pur with all its con­tra­dic­tions and can’t wait to return. The excel­lent accom­mod­a­tion the New Zea­l­and gov­ern­ment shouted us might have some­thing to do with that but, as a first-timer in Asia, I really couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter introduction.

Thanks to its recent colo­ni­al past, Eng­lish is an offi­cial lan­guage in Malay­sia. In the CBD of Kuala Lum­pur it’s pretty hard not to be able to make your­self under­stood, and sig­nage is mostly bi- or tri­lin­gual. It’s also an incred­ible melt­ing pot and I just love melt­ing pots. The pop­u­la­tion of Malay­sia is 50 per­cent eth­nic Malay with large minor­it­ies of Chinese and Indi­ans. The centre of Kuala Lum­pur appeared to con­tain a large num­ber of West­ern expats, there to work in the fin­ance and oil sec­tors, so a trip out for a feed would often yield everything except what I under­stood to be Malay­si­an food from my exper­i­ence here — the ren­dangs, mur­t­abaks, satays and what have you. Chinese, Indi­an, Indone­sian, Itali­an, Irish — you could find almost any­thing in the main streets and in the malls — but it took us a couple of days to trust the, as it happened, totally reli­able street vendors.

Eat­ing (and shop­ping) in the malls was not much cheap­er than at home, but if you ven­tured off the beaten track con­sid­er­able lunch­time bar­gains could be had. I could see how easy it would be to make a Kiwi dol­lar stretch and still have a good time for a couple of weeks or more.

Because of our oner­ous work sched­ules (and the require­ment to be in the hotel pool by 2pm each after­noon), we made only a few trips to tour­ist sites, but the Batu Caves will stay with me for ever. These nat­ur­ally formed lime­stone caves are one of the most pop­u­lar Hindu shrines out­side India, ded­ic­ated to the Lord Mur­ugan, whose pres­ence is felt by the giant golden statue erec­ted out­side the entrance. The dis­ap­point­ment felt on dis­cov­er­ing that the statue was actu­ally placed there in 2006 and was not as ancient as first appeared soon dis­sip­ates once you get up close, and dis­ap­pears entirely once you have climbed the hun­dreds of steps to the cave entrance.

As holy sites go, it is a remark­ably relaxed place, which has been my exper­i­ence of the Hindu reli­gion most times I have been in con­tact with it. There was no sense that where you were stand­ing was so pre­cious that you were unworthy, but that it simply seemed able to reflect back (and amp­li­fy) the spir­itu­al­ity that you brought with you, mak­ing everyone’s exper­i­ence there unique to them. There was no pre­scrip­tion for how to behave or how to enjoy, and no evan­gel­ism — just that sense that there was some­thing there for you if you chose to look for it.

The two-hour bus ride down the main high­way from Kuala Lum­pur to the his­tor­ic town of Melaka is well worth it, and I encour­age you to give it more time than we man­aged. A his­tor­ic port, it was the centre of Malay com­merce and trade in the 15th and 16th cen­tur­ies, before col­on­isa­tion by the Por­tuguese, Dutch and Brit­ish due to its stra­tegic loc­a­tion on the straits that con­nect India and China by sea.

A United Nations World Her­it­age Site, the old part of the city is a fas­cin­at­ing melt­ing pot (that phrase again) of archi­tec­ture, and the main tour­ist street, Jonker Walk, houses the com­mon street retail options of jan­dals, T‑shirts and SIM cards, along with packed cafés serving exot­ic iced desserts (duri­an, coconut ice, green rice-flower tentacles, beans and malt sauce). Crazy and wonderful.

My final day in Kuala Lum­pur was spent trawl­ing the fam­ous Jelan Petal­ing Chinese street mar­ket, where brands of all descrip­tions but dubi­ous vera­city are avail­able. There I man­aged to haggle my way to a half-price Armani laptop bag (about $60), which, if you see me car­ry­ing it, I sug­gest you don’t exam­ine too closely. It’s prob­ably not real leather.

You can see all of the com­pet­ing films in the 2014 Malay­sia 48 Hours Furi­ous Film­mak­ing com­pet­i­tion at this Vimeo page:

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