More to Sarawak than race and culture


By Gabriel Lihan & Neville Timothy Sanders

KUCHING: A melting pot of race and culture is what makes Sarawak truly special and that is what has been attracting tourists from around the world to visit the Land of the Hornbills.

This is true because film and cinema have portrayed Sarawak as culturally rich and beautifully diverse in race.

Film and cinema have consequently lured tourists globally to Sarawak. Well and good but does the Sarawak story lack representation in the Malaysian film industry?

Surely, we are more than just a myriad of culture and a multi-racial state with indigenous groups being an added wow factor.

Deputy Minister of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts, Datuk Snowdan Lawan agrees. New Sarawak Tribune sat down with him to get his views on the film industry.


Snowdan is very supportive of the Malaysian film industry, especially in Sarawak, and is proud that the tourism industry has boomed because of the portrayal of Sarawak’s culture and race through film and cinema.

We asked him if more films should be shot in Sarawak.

“As the government of the day, we would like to sell the place through movies.

“We want people to come here, when people come here, that automatically generates the tourism industry because people come, they live in the hotels, they buy local products and they visit the attraction spots.

Datuk Snowdan Lawan explaining the situation of film industry in Sarawak

“This will then spill over, just like the James’ Bond movie in Bali, it was popular because a James Bond movie was filmed there, just imagine that happening in our DUN (legislative assembly) building”, he enthused.

He added that he wants Sarawak to be depicted naturally, with the sole purpose of showing Sarawak’s beautiful landscape and localities.

Snowdan gave examples of the Hollywood movie, The Hobbit, where the location was in the North Island’s town of Matamata, Hobbiton in New Zealand.

“It became a tourist attraction and thousands of people have gone there, I personally have been there as well.

“They’ve preserved the place as a scenery spot, and people are willing to pay a high fee to visit the place,” he said.

He added that films produced in Sarawak or filmed about Sarawak depend on the director, the producer and the script writer.

“These are the people who will decide who are the heroes, the actors, and actresses who will discuss the locations and the type of message to bring.

“Filming a film about Sarawak or in Sarawak, puts Sarawak in the world map.”

Sarawak is a land of discovery and in relation to this, there is more to explore, he said, adding that Sarawak is also authentic.

“Don’t focus on culture and tradition, that has always been our strong attraction.

“We want to create something new, something more, culture is already our branding,” said Snowdan.


As we sat and conversed more about Sarawak’s potential in the film industry in Malaysia, the sentence often heard from our conversation with Snowdan was, “It’s not all about culture”, which he stressed numerous times during our interview.

He must have known that truly, there is more, more than just the portrayal of our baju burung, our ngajat and our longhouses.

“We would like them (filmmakers) to know, do it here (in Sarawak), not necessarily culture and it can be anything.

“As long as you promote and shoot the film in Sarawak whether it is in Miri, Sibu, Bintulu or Kapit. It does not matter, that’s how we look at it”, said Snowdan.

He believes in the potential of the film industry in Sarawak and the stories it can bring to the Malaysian film industry as a whole.

“If we do a modern movie that’s self-explanatory, that would be amazing.”

The Post Covid Development Strategy 2030, is bringing Sarawak into the digital age and Snowdan feels the film industry should capitalise on this.

“I want to see something more digital, why should we see something that’s old-school?

“We are talking about hybrids, people have already started talking about batteries, the next is hydrogen and hydrogen will be the field of the future”, he elaborated.

There is much faith in the digital age hence the belief that the creative industry and film industry in Sarawak has a bright future ahead.

“Assuming we produce a Star Trek movie here in Kuching, people will be amazed that Sarawak is doing a science fiction movie,” said Snowdan.

He said this will change the mindsets of the people, that we no longer live in trees, and that perceptions will change generally.

There was a sense of drive and passion as the interview went on about the lack of representation of Sarawak stories in the Malaysian film industry.

In order for Sarawak stories to be at the forefront, he had a message for future filmmakers and young actors and actresses keen on being a part of the film industry in Malaysia.

The message is that we have to be more than what we already are.

“If a Sarawak film director can produce a futuristic movie like a given example, Star Trek, Sarawak will be seen as an advanced industry.

“People’s perception will now no longer be that we stay on trees, but on spaceships,” Snowdan said jokingly.

“If we produce such a film, the film can portray where we stand and it will be a shortcut message on how advanced Sarawak is becoming.”

Glen Pengiran directing the filmmakers

“We want to see more films shot in Sarawak, it does not have to be cultural, we specialise in that area especially tourism.

“But, I wish to see the creative industry boom, we have to be creative, we have to be on par with other countries – we want to see Kuching, a city full of creativity.

“Perhaps even a recognition for being creative,” he said.

Independent filmmaker, Glen Pengiran was also happy to share his thoughts on this subject.

“There is some form of representation, not just films but also in photos like an orang ulu costume. Although it’s there, its not accurate because there is a tendency to mix it up.

“Due to the lack of representation, there is misrepresentation.It’s always represented in an Iban costume, a man in a tattoo or in a longhouse.

“That is representation, but that doesn’t mean we live like that, it is shown by the other side because we’re exotic and unique, it is a representation but that is not it,” said Glen.

Like Snowdan, the young filmmaker, said we are represented that way because its beautiful and filmmaking and media is about romanticising stuff and that’s beautiful about Sarawak.

He added that the problem is not about representing us that way but that there is an imbalance sometimes.

“Its tourism, its advertisement and its media. They are going to show the pretty parts,” he said.

From a young filmmaker’s perspective who has had opportunities to explore and work with different people, Glen also feels ‘there is more’ that Sarawak has got to offer.

And, he doesn’t see any wrong in it, because that is the identity of Sarawak.

“You don’t see Kelantan or Penang, you don’t see them getting represented in such a way but you see Sabahan and Sarawakians represented this way, because of that identity”, said Glen.


Sarawak is committed to fund for the future, for the next generation.

TVS was a step towards the next generation, creating job opportunities and providing training for locals to showcase themselves.

Filmmakers have pitched ideas to have their works documented and screened on television.

These are evidence of funding for the future.

Interestingly, the conversation with Snowdan also touched on zombies created by Hollywood makeup artists for television series, ‘The Walking Dead’ and Korean makeup artists, with the blockbuster movie, ‘Train to Busan’.

“Make up is very good, it’s how they do it, we must learn these things and the techniques of it.

Glen Pengiran directing the filmmakers

“The training is very important and it requires money, of course we want to see more films shot here in Sarawak and that automatically will put Sarawak in the world map”, said Snowdan.

Everything, after all, does need money.

“We have the strength, the landscape, but it is the matter of how we promote Sarawak.”

Then the conversation shifted to investors, those who would be attracted to Sarawak if our film industry boomed.

Certainly, that would be a lucrative idea for everyone involved in the film industry.

“When investors come, it creates job opportunities for Sarawak and that’s good, it will bring two-three billion to Sarawak and that is the point of view of business,” said Snowdan.

Speaking of financial budgets, equipment in filmmaking is very expensive.

“Cameras are very expensive, amounting to RM30,000 to RM50,000.

“There are two types of camera, one is for the TV screen, the other is for the cinema and both are very different,” said Snowdan.

Datuk Snowdan Lawan explaining the situation of film industry in Sarawak

With that, this is a funding for the future, for future Sarawakian filmmakers to enjoy and create.

Snowdan added that the government can create a platform for the pool of talented people.

He stated that there are two things which are essential, firstly, foundation and its platform, secondly money and the allocation for the pool of talented people to showcase their talents and skill.

“The government can provide these allocations and facilities but there must be a point of sustainability and making sure the system runs continuously for the next pool of talented people to showcase themselves too,” he stressed.

He added that the government can help but it must be passed on to the younger generation.

As such there is confidence in the commitment of the government in helping the film industry and the creative industry succeed.

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