The 2008 winner, Nazim Mohammed Esa (Pic courtesy of BMW Shorties)
AS the BMW Shorties enters its third season, it is throttling up its use of the internet to promote the annual short film competition aimed at nurturing young filmmakers in Malaysia.
One telling sign is the range of social media tools on the BMW Shorties 2009 website, as it tries to engage its audience through Facebook and Twitter. On top of that, visitors can also share what they like through MySpace, Digg, Delicious and reddit.
The look and feel of the website have also evolved, from a nicely-designed but rather straightforward information and feedback site into a blog-like space with a more edgy persona. There are splashes of black and grey on the website, silhouettes of a boom microphone operator and a cameraperson, and section titles scribbled on the page.
(From left) Edmund Yeo, whose film Chicken Rice Mystery received an Honourable Mention Award in the 2008
BMW Shorties, at the Rome International Film Festival with Italian actor Luca Argentero and
BMW Shorties judge Abdullah Zahir Omar (Pic courtesy of Edmund Yeo)
The BMW Shorties team posts regular updates and features related to this year’s theme, “Life”. Among them is a quick chat with Dick Chua, who directed The Negative Effect, a documentary about young people passionate about lomography and experimenting with different perspectives through analogue film photography in an increasingly digital age. There are comments from 19-year-olds on the somewhat hackneyed yet timeless and profound question of the meaning of life. There are also links to other award-winning films about life, and death.
These are in addition to the showcase of past winners and their films, information on how to participate in the competition, and BMW’s role in supporting filmmaking. And really, the only way to pack in so much, with numerous links to external sources and which allows visitors to interact with the information, is through the internet.
Leveraging on the internet
“The internet is absolutely critical to the BMW Shorties because this is a non-profit project and so there isn’t the luxury of big budgets,” says Vijayaratnam Tharumartnam, the press and corporate affairs manager at BMW Group Malaysia.
The project’s budget is mainly used to fund events related to the competition, such as filmmaking workshops and visits to film-related events, and the prize of RM75,000 in production money. As there is no advertising budget for this corporate responsibility project, BMW Shorties is leveraging on media coverage and the viral effect of the internet to promote the competition and raise awareness on indie filmmaking.
Last year, it posted viral videos — in the form of short films of course — on YouTube to call for submissions.
The good thing is, the audience that appreciates the short film genre — which tends to be unconventional and edgy — usually already spends a lot of time on the internet. The BMW Shorties website sees high traffic during the duration of the competition, which is about three-and-a-half months from the launch date to the end of the competition. Vijayaratnam says traffic in the first three months of the competition in 2007 was higher than what the company’s Malaysian website got in about a year.
During the competition period in 2007, the website had 11,200 visits, 366,118 page views and 1,174 viral video views. In the following year, it received 12,435 visits, 406,500 page views and a jump in the viral video views to 13,217. The visitors were logging on from Malaysia, Germany, Singapore, the US, UK and the Philippines.
Vignettes of life
Moving on from past concept-driven themes such as “Mobility” and “H20″ in 2007 and 2008 respectively, BMW Shorties expects this year’s broader theme, “Life”, to give the participants greater freedom for interpretation. If the past submissions are anything to go by, the judges should not be disappointed.
“I didn’t expect so many issues-oriented films coming from these filmmakers … and some of them were college students,” Vijayaratnam says.
What bowled him over was “the voracity of the dissent, the frustration, the anger and the sense of moral outrage” conveyed in the films submitted to the competition. “This was not what we set out to do but we’re happy for people to put things out there to discuss, or to agree to disagree,” he says.
(From left) Ghazali Bunari and Sasitharan Rajoo, whose films Kiri and Singgam respectively, won the Honourable Mention
Awards in 2007 and the opportunity to visit the Cannes Film Festival that year (Pic courtesy of BMW Shorties)
He also thinks the internet has provided a crucial social platform that allows the films and the issues they explore to be viewed and discussed by a wider audience. “We gave them (filmmakers) a virtual cinema. The internet has always been there but we provided a focal point to draw attention to the films. That to me was the most powerful result or effect of the internet when used in an honest fashion,” he says.
Vijayaratnam is also proud of how the Shorties has set the stage for the winners to bring their works to a bigger, international platform. The grand prize winner in 2007, Abdullah Zahir Omar, produced Teddy and I with the prize money. The film premiered in 2008 and was later shortlisted to participate in the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival.
In 2008, the grand prize went to Nazim Mohammed Esa and his submission For the Love of Drowning. Nazim and some of the finalists were invited to international screenings, such as the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival, Naoussa International Film Festival and Rotterdam Film Festival.
(From left) BMW Group Malaysia managing director Geoffrey Briscoe, June Wong, Surinder Jessy, Abdullah Zahir Omar,
Ida Nerina and Vijayaratnam Tharumartnam at the launch of the 2009 Shorties on 14 May
(Pic courtesy of BMW Shorties)
Aspiring filmmakers have until 30 June to submit their 12-minute shorties. These will be judged by indie film activist and director Tan Chui Mui, the 2007 Shorties winner Abdullah Zahir Omar, The Edge (Options) editor Surinder Jessy, The Star executive editor June Wong, and actress Ida Nerina. Visitors to the website also get to be judges by voting for the People’s Choice Award winner online.
Cindy Tham is business development manager at The Nut Graph. She’s also interested in how different people and organisations promote their ideas, brands, products and services on the internet, whether for commercial or non-commercial reasons.