Malay films recognised by Unesco

Malay films recognised by Unesco
Still grab of Mat Bond

A cache of Malay movies made in Singapore from the 1950s to the 1970s has been recognised by the United Nation's cultural body as an important part of the region's heritage.

The 91 films, made by Cathay-Keris Studio and deposited with the Asian Film Archive (AFA), have been officially listed with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (Unesco) Memory Of The World Asia-Pacific Regional Register.

The films joins artefacts given similar recognition, such as Iranian nature documentary Soul Of The Reef and a collection of Laotian newsreels and documentaries about the Indochina War, the Neo Lao Hak Zath Film Collection.

The AFA's executive director, Ms Karen Chan, says the Unesco recognition supports the idea that films, even those made for mass appeal, can be valuable historical artefacts.

"There are a lot of people who don't see film as heritage documents, that they are just entertainment," she says.

The Cathay-Keris Studio collection, deposited with the AFA in 2007, includes works from popular directors such as M. Amin's drama Chu Chu Datok Merah (1963), Hussain Haniff's period drama Dang Anom (1962), L. Krishnan's fairy tale Bawang Merah, Bawang Puteh (1959) and Mat Sentul's spoof on James Bond, Mat Bond (1967).

The films are "historically and culturally important" and "embody Singapore's heritage", an AFA statement says.

From 1953 to 1973, Cathay-Keris Studio produced dozens of Malay-language comedies, dramas and horror films from its base in East Coast Road.

The 91 surviving titles are "in decent condition", says Ms Chan. There are some 700 reels and professional video tapes stored with the National Archives at Fort Canning Rise and they are part of its collection of more than 1,600 films from around the region.

In recent years, the AFA's Malay films have been screened at community centres, schools and other public events.

As part of its Singapore Golden Jubilee activities next year, the AFA is asking the public to contribute movie reels kept in personal storage, in any language, from any era, as long as they are in 35mm or 16mm negatives, postive print reels or soundtracks.

These reels will be considered for archival. Those interested in contributing can e-mail the AFA at

This article was first published on Dec 11, 2014.
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