A Chat with the Founder of the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF)

Last month, on January 29th 2018, the 11th Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) was launched at Vivatel Hotel announcing this year’s new and exciting programs and activities under the theme, “Forests, Water and Climate Change”. Read more about the launch here.

Submission of films is now open to all film makers passionate about sharing inspiring stories on the environment and stories that promote environmental consciousness among the global audience. The 2018 Festival will showcase dozens of new short films, documentaries, animations and public services announcements (PSAs) from international and domestic film makers under the 2018 theme.

In anticipation for the Festival, KLEFF caught up with the founder and honorary advisor of the Festival, Yasmin Rasyid, who is hoping to start locally-owned environmental film festivals in every state in the country. When not advising on the Festival, Yasmin is sustainability professional providing consultation services to private companies, and environmental organizations on strategic sustainability planning and services. Yasmin is born and raised in Ipoh, Perak before she continue her senior year of high school in Bloomington, Indiana, after which she completed her marine biology undergraduate degree from Duke University. Yasmin is now based in KL where she has over two decades of experience in the sustainability sector through a local non-profit environmental organization she founded in 2005 called EcoKnights. It was through EcoKnights that the Festival was born.

So what inspired you to start an environmental film festival in Kuala Lumpur?

Yasmin Rasyid giving an opening speech at the 2013 KLEFF Awards CeremonyYasmin Rasyid giving an opening speech at the 2013 KLEFF Awards CeremonyMy love for films, and not just any films, films in which the stories move you, inspire you, saddens you, up to a point where you would seriously wanna do something about it. I mean, as a film goer, I can’t imagine any better medium out there that can influence, change perspectives and inform the masses. Of course the other story to it is the nature of my vocation, as a sustainability advocate, I was struggling, at that time, to address public apathy towards the environment. Every sweat and blood shed to mobilize our resources to inspiring sustainability in the general population; I noticed that perhaps it’s logical to use a creative approach to this issue. Intuitively I decided to merge my passion which is in environmental protection, with films, which is really a great window of stories, and created a film festival. The intention is to use creative audio visual materials to inspire Malaysians to think about the way they consumer, live, work and relax and move towards a sustainable lifestyle.

What has the response been so far, I know that the Festival is now running in its 11th year?

The truth is the international support and encouragement we received has surpassed that of the local support and encouragement. Perhaps the Westerners are more exposed and engaged in environmental film festivals than the average Malaysians so while we gain so much international recognition and support, we are still gradually pushing for more awareness about KLEFF as a platform for the local film makers. Our local film industry, especially the documentary segment, is not really impressive. If you’re a Malaysian, you know the drill and would understand what I mean. There’s a lot of maturity required, and a lot of good story telling still needs to be worked on. That’s why platforms like KLEFF help towards building a new breed of film makers who tell stories differently, who make a real change in society and the environment. In general, the response of the public for KLEFF has been very positive, and I can only hope that the businesses see that opportunity also because to be honest, the biggest game changer is when businesses and the capitalistic world we live in today are able to address sustainability with the right people like NGOs, community groups and government agencies.

In KLEFF there’s a focus on environmental films, was it difficult to find films or even film makers that echoed your philosophy?

Yasmin with KLEFF"s festival director, Fadly BakhtiarYasmin with KLEFF"s festival director, Fadly BakhtiarNot at all actually. Funnily, we have been getting really good numbers in terms of submissions and it gets tougher and tougher annually on the jury committee in terms of selection and short listing. I am also proud to see that over the last ten years, the number of submissions from Malaysian film makers have been increasing and that’s an encouraging sign. Nothing beats local content to reduce local apathy on the environment. Additionally, KLEFF is not the only environment-themed festival around although we are probably still the longest-running environmental festival in Southeast Asia, but in the Western world, there are many of such festivals. So I believe film makers are already quite familiar to the film festival circuits.

Finally, the environment is a hot button issue right now, what do you hope your attendees will take away from the fest?

I would really like the attendees to find a cause at the Festival in which they can actively support or play a role in support of that cause. I hope that the Festival is able to provide as much knowledge and encourage as many Malaysians to take action. For the last two decades, and with digital technology and social media, there are so many information and stories out there about our impact on the environment, and despite the diversity of solutions that are shared, we in general are still taking baby steps in addressing our impact, and worse, some of us don’t even know where to begin. So I hope that KLEFF is your inspirational gateway to being an active citizen that is empowered to take action and address environmental issues. 


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