Menunggu Masa @FreedomFilmFest 2018: Interviewing filmmakers Seira and Sherrie

The FreedomFilmFest is back in its 16th edition this year. This year's festival is a call to action to “Mend The Gap”. Despite progress in science, technology and democracy, the gaps between the rich and poor, the have and have nots, the powerful and the powerless are getting deeper and wider. This year’s 8-day festival programme from 29 September to 6 October in Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, consists of a total of 53 films and 15 thematic talks, workshops and masterclasses. The festival is also going on a long road trip throughout several cities in Malaysia before ending off in Singapore in November. Really bringing cinema down to the grassroots level!

One of the festival films, Menunggu Masa,  is a 30 documentary by Seira Sacha Abu Bakar Sherrie Razak Dali about a father who has been on death row for 14 years and raises questions about the death penalty in Malaysia. Agilandewari Mainthan was just 3 years old when she was last held by her father. Her father, Mainthan has spent the last 14 years on death row after being convicted of murder. A murder, her father claims that he did not commit. A total of 19 judges have heard the case, but Mainthan remains behind bars. 

With multiple discrepancies in the case and with newly surfaced evidence, Manthan’s lawyers filed for court reviews, but none were granted. This film follows Agilandewari, her mother and siblings as they wait for him to come home, while Mainthan waits to meet his fate. 

SINdie interviewed the filmmakers, Seira and Sherrie, both full-time lawyers about their journey in making this film.

For a start, what's your view on the death penalty in general? 

We are against the Death Penalty and we are both advocating for the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia. 

What do you do in your full-time jobs?

We are both full-time practicing lawyers and we both run a legal firm together here in KL by the name of Messrs. Seira and Sharizad. We practice criminal law, corporate and commercial litigation and conveyancing practice. 

Was it difficult to get the family to share its story for the film? Could you share a bit more about your relationships with your subjects? 

It took us some time to warm up to the family. We made several trips to their home for the filming as well as getting their story. So far, we have gotten to know the family more and they also know where we are coming from by doing this film. Mainthan was detained 14 years ago. He was the sole breadwinner. His eldest child was 4 years and the youngest was 1 years old. They have 4 children. The wife, Vasanthy had to work after Maithan was detained and she had to support Maithan's parents, herself and their 4 young children. Maithan's parents passed away few years ago. The children grew up knowing and loving their father from their visits to prison. They are all hoping that Maithan will come home and come back to them. 

What were some of the most shocking things your learnt about the case and the death penalty in the process of making this film? 

There are many loopholes in the case as we were going through the materials for the film. We had the notes of proceedings which was filed in Court. The notes of proceedings transcribes what witnesses testified in Court, included the exhibits tendered in Court, written submissions filed by the prosecution and Defence lawyers as well as the grounds of judgment by the Judge. There were doubts in the case but yet Mainthan and 3 other accused were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to the death. The identity of the murder victim is still questionable to us. The new evidence that surfaced last year. The person seen on the floor of the crime scene who was allegedly dead is still alive. Maithan filed his second review on this new evidence but unfortunately the Federal Court dismissed his application. In total, 19 judges have heard Maithan's case throughout 14 years. 

Did you manage to interview any officials? Or shoot in prison or premises of the authorities? How was it? 

We do not have any interviews with any officials except with the lawyer who represented Mainthan for the two review applications filed at the Federal Court. The case happened 14 years ago. We are not allowed to interview inside the prison. As lawyers representing clients, whenever we visit clients in prison, we are not allowed to bring in any digital devices including our mobile phones. 

Do you these laws will eventually change under Pakatan Harapan (PH)? 

There is evidently a lot of expectations placed on the PH government post-elections. We are not sure whether the laws will eventually change under PH but we are hoping and still pushing for the death penaltyy to be abolished. Besides the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Pakatan Harapan also pledged to repeal the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the National Security Council Act 2016, and any provision for a mandatory death penalty previously. 

What aspects of the filmmaking process did you find most fulfilling, compared to your usual activities as lawyers. 

Film making is about story telling. For a lawyer appearing in Court, it is the same as well. We are the mouth piece for our clients. For films, we are the curator and presenter of the story that we show. Legal practice has it's own challenges similarly to filmmaking. The difference is, for filmmaking we can archive our story through a visual format where it can be seen for many years to come. The visual content can be also used to compliment the legal process. For instance in this case, despite the legal battle, the film is used as part of advocacy tool for people to get to know Mainthan and his story and to promote the abolition of the death penalty. If we just rely on the legal process, the awareness may not be able to achieve that objective. Mainthan is currently serving on the death row and he is still waiting for the decision from the pardon's board. We may not be able to say it is fulfilling but being able to have his story presented and what it meant to his family and friends to help him in any possible way is something we feel strongly about. 

Screening Date: 6 October 2018 
Screening Time: 3.30 pm - 5.30 pm

Menunggu Masa's screening will be accompanied by a talk titled 'Law Reforms under the new Government: Where are we now?'

Alongside the more commonly known laws such as SOSMA and the Sedition Act, the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA), which allows for detention without trial, and provisions under the Penal Code which provide for the Death Penalty have no place in a country which portrays itself as a rights-conscious democracy. The PH manifesto promised to repeal/review a number of arbitrary laws, which was warmly welcomed by many Malaysians, but progress appears to be slow. Our panelists will discuss some of the challenges they face in their work advocating for law reform and to what extent public opinion and pressure can help bring about change. 

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