People generally love a storyline with a lot of heart and less mindless violence, like the late Yasmin Ahmad’s ‘Sepet’.

Let’s be honest. When was the last time you found yourself eager to watch a locally-made movie at the cinemas?

Err, never mind.

I know that, being responsible Malaysians, we must have all wanted to support our local films by watching them on the big screen; yet, many of us are guilty of simply waiting for them to make their way to the small screen come Hari Raya. We Malaysians just adore freebies, especially now, with the rising cost of living.

I try (yes, “try” being the operative word) to do my bit for a good cause by paying for a movie ticket to watch our Malaysian Made “cinematic masterpieces”. But, my gesture seems to be mocked by the local film industry, whose players, well, maybe some of them, continue to undermine my intelligence time and time again with their below-par films.

With audiences becoming more discerning, don’t these filmmakers realise that they have to put in a little more effort to hook us? Coming out with lamentable quality is a big no-no, for crying out loud. Many Malaysians may be charitable, but we won’t pay for shoddy work. So, get serious!

Here’s a question: What should a film have to become a big hit?

Even award-winning filmmaker Mamat Khalid, who made headlines with his 2008 box-office hit comedy horror Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah, doesn’t have the answer. “If I knew the formula, all my films would have been a success, and I would be happily cashing in at the bank,” he once said.

Seriously, most local filmmakers and producers don’t have a clue. “There is no hard and fast rule,” says a producer friend. “No one knows really. You know, you can’t really tell with our local audience nowadays. Sometimes they want this, the next time they want that,” he adds, and somehow, from the tone of his voice, he is shifting the blame on the current state of the local film scene to the moviegoers. But generally, we all love a great storyline, those with a lot of heart and less mindless violence, like the late Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet, Talentime and Mukhsin.

I remember, a few years ago, meeting up with a young filmmaker friend who wanted my two cents’ worth about his story. So, with a cup of Joe in his hand, he launched straight into the storyline.

I regard myself as someone who is quite objective and neutral. Here he was, telling me the story in all his animated glory, complete with aggressive hand gestures as if to drive home a point. Oh, he also ran by me some of the dialogue he intended to have in the film.

To cut the story short, I was so sold on his story (or was it his story telling?) that I encouraged him to put out the film. I was so sure that this one could just be a winner!

And so, the time finally came for the screening. I took my seat at the centre of the cinema hall so that I could absorb all the visual splendour and audio wonders.

Ninety minutes came and went, with me cringing in my seat. Something was amiss. Whatever interesting storyline that he had shared with me prior did not translate onto the big screen. And yes, it was horrible; and that is too kind a word to describe the film. It was more of a total wreck. Never mind that it was the longest and most painful 90 minutes of my entire life. Thank God my name did not pop up during the credit roll for being instrumental in making the film.

So, what went wrong?

Everyone has ideas. Some people even have great ideas. But, I suppose many of us are not experts when it comes to the execution part. Getting ideas onto the screen is not a walk in the park.

Of course, not all local films have been terribly bad for our consumption. We had quite a few headliners and box-office smashes, like Ah Beng The Movie (2014), which raked in RM4.08 million, Abang Long Fadil (2014) with RM4.61 million, The Journey (2014) at RM17.28 million, and, of course, last year’s Polis Evo, which pocketed RM17.3 million, and has since become Malaysia’s highest grossing film. Other titles which were not box-office hits but are favourites at film festivals, having secured a string of honours, were Lelaki Harapan Dunia and Berlari Ke Langit. But, these are just a handful from some 160 local titles screened over 2014 and last year. What happened to the rest?

Sometimes, I think some filmmakers and producers are a little too comfortable, especially when they know that their films (be they good or bad) would still see the light of day, no thanks to the Skim Wajib Tayang, which requires all locally-made films be screened at local cinemas for a period of 14 days. In short, all local films must be screened at cinemas.

Most local movies that benefited from the scheme introduced by the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) a decade ago were as good as they can get. I wouldn’t fault Finas for introducing such a scheme. It is Finas’ responsibility, after all, to elevate our local film scene to dizzying heights.

With watching movies now considered a luxury by any standard, of course you want to be sure of a jolly good time. But, when you’re challenged with a sub-standard and mediocre storyline, it simply turns you into a grouch.

So, when Finas decided to put its foot down and nip these playful filmmakers and producers in the bud, the timing could not have been better. Apparently, in the all-new revised Skim Wajib Tayang to take effect in July, all locally-made films will have to get a nod from an evaluation panel comprising representatives of Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors and Malaysian Film Producers’ Association.

Should a film fail to meet the required standard, it will be reassessed by a second panel comprising academicians, journalists, non-govermental organisations and fans of local films.

While I can see Finas getting all serious in improving the local film industry, on the other hand, this move may be viewed by many as a damper, thwarting filmmakers, especially those who come out with low-budget films in particular, from putting out their work. We need to expand the local film scene, not shun them for showing and expressing their creativity.

Also, as an adult, I’d like to be given that personal freedom of making choices. No one enjoys being told which films they can and cannot watch. Having a panel playing the role of strict parents may not work. After all, we are not children.

I think there is a need to have proper guidelines employed in the process. Our film scene is far from that of Hollywood’s. While it may be tiny, it is considered a thriving industry with a lot of potential to grow, provided its players start to heed audiences’ needs and start producing work that can be exported out. 

Here’s to more great local films in cinemas. Happy 2016 everyone!

The writer is a passionista with a keen interest in showbiz and pop culture (online shopping included!). And oh, she is also the editor of the Groove-iest desk ever