For many Malaysians, GE14 was the highlight of 2018. The historical election saw a surprising result: Pakatan Harapan won and then 92-year-old Tun Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister again, 15 years after leaving the then Barisan government. Mahathir’s granddaughter, Ineza Roussille, worked together with entrepreneur turned filmmaker Dian Lee, and Academy Award winner Ruby Yang (for her documentary The Blood of Yingzhou District) to produce M for Malaysia, which captures the monumental period leading up to the victory. The production team talks about the documentary.
Options: What inspired or motivated M for Malaysia and how did the idea come about?
Roussille: It was initially Dian’s idea. She’d called up my mother (Marina Mahathir) to ask if there was anyone following my grandad with a camera, and there wasn’t, so she set up a small crew. My mother then called me to ask if I could help shoot, to be able to be by my grandad’s side with a camera, and do interviews with him every other day.
I was initially quite reluctant, because I didn’t want to be seen to lose all objectivity by being by his side, so I told my mother I’d try a couple of days. After the first rally I attended in Putrajaya, and then the next day in Melaka, I realised how important it was to document the moment, no matter the outcome.
Lee: We had no concrete plan on what to do with the footage at the time, until Pakatan Harapan won and we realised how important and precious the footage we had was, and we had to make a film out of it. We had 90+ hours of election footage, and then did over 20 interviews, so it took a while to craft the narrative and what we wanted to say. We knew immediately that we didn’t want to make a propaganda film, and that we had to be as honest as possible in telling this story.
One of the main themes of the film is ‘reconciliation’, so the film sets up context by touching on some political history involving the main players in Pakatan Harapan and why they came together in the end, before we head into the rollercoaster that was the campaign. We also thought it was important to include the people’s movements on the ground, including Bersih and Pulang Mengundi, so that hopefully we’ve painted enough of a balanced picture of all the factors that led to May 9th.
It has been a year since the May 9 general election. Does the documentary also cover its aftermath?
Roussille: No. M for Malaysia is a documentation of the historical moment of when Malaysia peacefully overthrew its government for the first time through the ballot box.
What is the message that M for Malaysia has for viewers?
Roussille: The achievements of May 9th is something all Malaysians can be proud of, and we hope it serves as a reminder to the government of what it took to get them there, as well as a reminder to the people of the power they hold and what they are capable of achieving together.
Lee: We also hope it can inspire the younger generation to participate in general elections to come. Every vote matters.
M for Malaysia premiered at CAAMFest37, the largest Asian American film showcase in the United States on May 15 in San Francisco. Also in the pipeline are screenings at the Doc Edge Film Festival in Auckland (May 30 and June 2) and Wellington (June 14 and 16), New Zealand. Buy tickets here.
The film’s local release is scheduled for the third quarter this year.
This article first appeared on May 13, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.