Safety was big concern when making 1MDB documentary, says director
Safety was a concern for director of documentary about the financial scandal
In making a documentary like The Kleptocrats, getting into trouble with authority figures naturally became a big concern because of the sensitive subject matter.
Detailing the story of the billion-dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial and political scandal, it seeks to explore the broader human motivations behind it, and shows footage of the characters entangled in it - fugitive financier Jho Low, former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, Hollywood celebrities and The Wolf Of Wall Street producer and Najib's stepson Riza Aziz.
The 80-minute film also features interviews with Najib's estranged brother Nazir Razak, the authors of the New York Times bestseller Billion Dollar Whale, Malaysian politicians Tony Pua and Maria Chin Abdullah, political cartoonist Zunar and even US actor Robert De Niro.
The Kleptocrats is available to stream in Singapore exclusively on www.iwonder.com.
Although nobody was in any physical danger, safety was "always a concern" for the crew and journalists involved, according to English director Sam Hobkinson, 44.
He told The New Paper in an e-mail interview: "Our rushes (unedited footage) were kept under lock and key in the office and duplicated in several places for risk that someone may get to them in the United Kingdom.
"All felt the risk was worth it if they could bring the story to a wider audience.
"But I think all would agree that their risk was a fraction of what the brave Malaysian journalists, activists and protesters underwent to break the story and overturn the regime."
Another challenge was having close to no access to the key people behind thescandal.
Dealing with a story that was constantly changing, Hobkinson said it was only during the final week of editing that they managed to include Mr Nazir Razak's segment.
The interview, which was secured once Najib's Barisan Nasional coalition had fallen, then "transformed the story with an insight into the family dynamics of power at the height of the scandal".
What motivated Hobkinson and his team to pursue this white-collar tale was their fascination with the human capacity for greed that is equally compelling and sickening.
He said: "With the right knowledge, an individual can steal billions from the people of a nation within the plain sight of the world's media.
"And of course, the irony that this money then funded a hit movie about corruption and money laundering was a gift for us."
While the 1MDB scandal highlighted the plight of people in countries where corruption and kleptocracy are present, it also provided Hobkinson insight into how Hollywood can be "so easily seduced by dirty money".
Hobkinson gave a special shout-out to Ms Anis Syafiqah, a student activist and organiser of the Tangkap MO1 rally in 2016 that called for the arrest of "Malaysian Official 1", named in the US Department of Justice civil suits seeking the seizure of assets linked to 1MDB.
He said: "(For the Malaysians) to protest, or to talk to us and other journalists, was to risk imprisonment.... (it's) something that took a lot of courage..."
Hobkinson is glad that there was a happy ending to the film when it was released last year.
"The Malaysians stood up to Najib and managed to overthrow a government that has stood since its independence from Britain.
"It would be nice to think that the people of nations who have suffered in a similar way are inspired to do the same thing."
As the 1MDB saga is still ongoing, Hobkinson has been following the reports as much as he can.
"Every time there is a new twist or turn, I wonder if we finished making the story too soon. It would be fascinating to watch another film on the scandal made in 20 years' time."