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Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) 2018: An Interview with the Festival Founder

Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) 2018: An Interview with the Festival Founder

A glimpse into the country’s first and biggest environmental film festival from a conversation with the woman behind it.

The KLEFF team interviews Yasmin Rasyid, founder of the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival, about her inspiration for the festival, about some of her personal must-watch films playing this year, and about her ideas for expanding in the future.

Most people believe that they can only experience being part of the environmental movement if you spend time outdoors or if you are involved in a non-profit, but Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) exists to remind them how films can influence their daily lives and drive their action towards sustainable living. The festival endeavours to illuminate this notion by showing the enormous impact that films have on driving society and culture towards a sustainable future.

Now entering its eleventh year, KLEFF, which runs October 22-29 2018, offers a series of curated films focused on the theme, “Forest, Water and Climate Change”. Screening in Publika Solaris, this year’s films will celebrate environmental heroes from around the world while entertaining, educating, and reflecting on the urgent environmental issues the planet is troubled with and the people that are making a change.

KLEFF: How did the idea for the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival come to you?

Yasmin: I just founded a non-profit back in 2005 called EcoKnights and I was very much a freelance sustainability consultant then. With EcoKnights, I had the brilliant opportunity to craft and design programs and activities for the organization. Back then, I wanted to create a platform that can attract people from the environmental and creative movement together and I was looking for an opportunity to highlight environmental concerns and issues through a more informative, educational and entertaining audio visual experience. My interest in conceptualizing KLEFF came from my personal passion for films, especially stories that show the grit, determination, passion and inspiration of people who are making changes, albeit big or small, in making this planet sustainable. So I have spent a lot of time watching environmental stories, and when I was an undergraduate at Duke University, I really enjoyed going to film festivals. In my junior year then I took a Religion and Film class, and I must confess, it must have been one of the best classes I have ever taken. I was exposed not just to the technical aspects of film making, but I was dissecting narratives, and understanding how films shaped behaviour, our values and as such, our actions today in society.

Picture above: Yasmin giving her opening speech at the launch of the 11th KLEFF earlier this year.

For my postgraduate endeavour, I studied sustainability science and have a background in sustainable community development. In my actual field work, I saw for myself how films, or any kind of well-made audio visual materials can get people’s attention, can make people cry or relate to the story, can have appealing characters that can inspire the audience, and that’s when I realize that perhaps we need a festival that can do this. At that time, there wasn’t any. There was a new film festival focused on human rights, and the rest, well were more focused on commercial stuff with stories on love, relationships, and what irked me the most, bad story-telling and science fiction with just really bad digital content The industry was focused on creativity for commercial gains, and no one was really looking at exploring the merger of environmental stories and creativity. I was thinking, “There must be some interest in this, and if I am keen, maybe there are people like me out there too”.

KLEFF: What makes the festival different from others out there?

Yasmin: The subject matter makes our festival unique. We have short film festivals, documentary festivals and such, but the main defining element is that we focus solely on environmental films, and we curate many smaller platforms like forums, workshops and talks, to encourage the conveners to network and to be in discussion, not just about film making, but also about making urgent stories to reach a broader audience and hopefully this leads to the evolution or formation of groups of people to work towards a common and shared cause. It’s beyond asking people, “how did you make this film”? It’s more about what’s the message of the film and how does that impact people and in return, how does this contribute to the global effort of sustainable development. KLEFF is also non-profit so we are not making money from the films but instead we are leveraging on the films to encourage systemic change in society. I believe that makes us a bit different.

KLEFF: What type of people, generally, do you meet at the festival? Are the majority of them environmentalist, or are they film fans?

Yasmin: I have to say, all kinds of people come to the festival. From students to families, business owners to government officials. Some come from outside Klang Valley, and I think they are just interested with the film selections. Typically on Friday night of the festival, the attendance is impressive and we have spotted local Malaysian celebrities and directors in our screenings as well. There are also a growing number of people who are coming here to watch films that they are aware of, or have heard of, while there are those who come to check out issues that they don’t know about. So it’s really a broad kind of audience.

KLEFF: What sets this year at the festival apart from other years?

Yasmin: Every year the festival is different. It’s designed to be different annually. This is because the intensity of the issues differs annually, and the players or heroes of environmentalism are growing yearly. Last year we have an emphasis on nature photography and a sustainability forum series which focused on topics such as sustainable food management, leadership in sustainability, and the role of women in sustainability. This year, our focus is on films, efforts, organizations, discussions and engagements that fit our theme, “Forest, Water and Climate Change”.  We have curated a special children’s environmental film section as well, and not to mention some exciting programs and activities by local indigenous communities. KLEFF is designed to be inclusive of everyone although we are of course still limited by our location in Kuala Lumpur, we have the right elements that will attract the public.

Picture above: Yasmin (top left) with the nature photographers that made the Wajah Bumi exhibition a success, along with Festival Director, Fadly Bakhtiar (bottom middle).

KLEFF: What are some other unique films playing at the festival this year?

Yasmin: There’s a short documentary about rivers in the city called, River of Life Exploration, which follows the journey of a Member of Parliament, Dr Ong Kian Ming, as he kayaks down the Klang River from the upper reaches to the city and witnesses the drastic impacts of human activities on the river. Dr Ong is now the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and it’s exciting to have a high level politician and government official be part of our festival. Linus Chung, the Malaysian director of this documentary will be joining us during the screening and the audience will get a chance to talk to him and have a discussion about the film and the issue.

There’s another film about a Canadian indigenous community who is the first community in the country to go solar to power their homes and community buildings. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Farhan Umedaly, this documentary tells the story of how even remote communities are making conscientious efforts to be more sustainable in their lifestyle. I like Farhan’s work, and of course as a friend, he has dedicated his stories and films to showcase and inspire the world on the amazing efforts of the Haida indigenous community in British Columbia.

KLEFF: Looking ahead, what’s your vision for how you’d like the festival to grow or expand? Where do you see the festival by 2020?

Yasmin: I would love to see more organizations or community groups host KLEFF screenings in their own backyard, and encourage more people to come and learn about environmental issues through films. I would love to see communities, from any location in the country, talking to us and getting trained and inspired to host their own community film screening activities. These award-winning films need to be watched by more people, and need to inspire more people to make that change. KLEFF is meant to be shared. If people are interested in it, we would love to share it. Other cities need a local KLEFF, not just in Kuala Lumpur. The idea would be to translate it to another community, or some other city. Which, I think, could be possible. So we are working on talking with stakeholders, partners and even government agencies, to see how we can work together, connect with each other, and design more localized and smaller environmental film festivals that are community-driven in other areas outside the city center. This could be a way that the festival grows.

KLEFF: How did your interests in film and environment merge?

Yasmin: “Who Killed the Electric Car?” made an impact on me. I remember watching how the story unfolded and opened up my perspectives on the capitalistic and selfish drive of man in his efforts to “kill” off something that can be beneficial for mankind and the planet. I was thinking then, “More people should watch this and understand the multiple conspiracies that plague the planet when it comes to switching to greener and more sustainable options in life”. The film got me really fired up about sustainable living. That’s when I had the epiphany about how powerful a film can be to move me, to move people to action. Kuala Lumpur as a city is still struggling to come to a shared and common identify when it comes to films. If you’re Malaysian, you would know that our film and cinema scene still has a lot of improvement in terms of content and direction. However I couldn’t wait for our local film industry or scene to mature to environmental films, I knew I had to be the first to do this, even if it meant risking failure, as I wanted to challenge our local talents, and challenge the way we tell stories – stories that matter. This was in 2008. That’s the year I founded the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival.

KLEFF: Has seeing so many films over the past eleven years impacted how you lead your personal life?

Yasmin: Prior to the films, I have always been very observant of my impact on the environment. Even when I was an undergraduate where I was a weekday vegetarian, and I didn’t own my first car till I was in my early 30s. Even today, I tend to go meatless every 2-3 days in a week. At home, I am very strict about recycling solid waste, and we compost our food waste. I have always been a fan of vintage preloved clothing as such you would hardly see me shopping in malls. I tend to be very conservation and plain in my fashion sense so that helps to.

KLEFF: There are so many environmental issues. How do you choose what to fight for?

Yasmin: I choose my battles wisely. KLEFF has been one of my biggest passions and I never once felt tired about driving it. Within the organizations that I lead I advocate strongly for behavioural and attitudinal change towards sustainable living. I don’t think it’s a question of choosing because no matter what subject matter it is, often time environmental issues are all strongly connected and interlinked.

KLEFF: Is there a particular issue that is close to your heart?

Yasmin: Lifestyle is an issue I care very much about, it’s connected to our consumption patterns. I want people to start thinking about how they themselves are the main impact creators on the environment and how a simple habitual change, or lifestyle change, can create huge differences on the planet.

KLEFF: What would you tell Malaysians who have not been to KLEFF?

Yasmin: I would say, “Make a date or make some plans with friends and family about participating or getting tickets to watch some of the films, and engage with the people whom you will be exposed to and find one thing which will definitely catch your attention, and explore that whole heartedly.” I believe KLEFF has something for everyone, but it all starts with being curious, wanting to be inspired and wanting to be part of the global network of solution providers to our dire planet.

The 11th Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) will kick-start its opening night screening on Monday, October 22nd 2019 and will end on Sunday, October 29th 2018. More information about how you can book a screening for you and your family can be found at www.kleff.my.

To find out more about the screening times and schedule, click here: https://kleff.my/kleff-2018-announces-this-years-film-screening-schedule/

Or scan the QR code below to download the PDF version of the KLEFF Screening Schedule:

Find more details on the festival website.

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