Born in 1972 into a Muslim family in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Amir Muhammad is one of the most unusual film directors on the contemporary non-fiction scene. A writer rather than a filmmaker (he describes himself as a “writer and occasional filmmaker”), he made his first film in 2000 (Lips to Lips
) which he says was so bad that from then on he could “only make better films”. In 2002 he presented a series of six short film essays –6 Shorts
– in which he applies the basic principles that have guided his work since then: a clear desire to create essays, politicalcontent,
a newlook at his country’s recent history and a refreshing sense of humour.
The Big Durian (2003), which can be considered the first long essay by Amir Muhammad, made him a major figure within the new generation of independent Malaysian filmmakers. However, in contrast to the rest of his colleagues, he opted for non-fiction films as the main vehicle of his work. Amir Muhammad’s work is basically committed and controversial, involving a series of propositions that analyse his country’s situation through an essay-based approach and ask questions about national identity, a theme that includes universal issues in a globalised world.
In 2005, together with three other independent Malaysian directors (James Lee, Tan Chui Mui y Liew Seng Tat, Amir Muhammad set up Da Huang Pictures,
a production company that would disseminate their films and those of other contemporary colleagues. In 2006 he made a documentary-musical The Last Communist
, a film that combined different registers of genre in a masterly manner and also made historical references to talk about his country’s present. The film was censored, and Amir Muhammad –never lacking humour– made 18MP
in response, a short which showed how pathetic and ridiculous the reasons of the members of the commission that refused to allow his film to be shown were. Although Amir Muhammad’s films have not had much luck in his own country, they have travelled far and wide, being premiered and shown in festivals such as Berlin, Sundance or Rotterdam. In 2008 he was one of the invited authors to the Flaherty Seminar. His latest film, Malaysian Gods
(2009), is possibly his most liberal, ironic, amusing, committed and vital work to date.
In 2007 he also created his own publishing house, Matahari Books
, in which he publishes essays that cover issues from the fields of political criticism, sociological studies and culture.