Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Liew Seng Tat

Liew  Seng Tat is a passionate film maker whose his first film has won many awards. Now he is working his second film  and recently he talked to thesun about this film  project. This article appeared in theSun on Friday March 1. Here is the article 

Headline : Perseverance pays off 
By Bissme S 

LIEW Seng Tat’s debut film in 2007, Flower in the Pocket, swept up multiple awards and prizes in international film festivals such as the Pusan, Rotterdam, Fribourg and Pesaro.
But that had not made it easy for him to get his second film, In What City Does It Live (IWC), off the ground. Liew devoted four years of his life – from developing the script to getting the funds – to make this film.
Shooting for the film was recently concluded at the cost of RM2 million. The film will likely open in cinemas at the end of this year.
Liew says his biggest challenge was securing the funds he needed for IWC. But with persistence, the filmmaker managed to garner support from a number of well-known international sponsors.
They include Sundance from the US; the Netherlands Film Fund, Hubert Bals Fund and Prince Claus from The Netherlands; the Torino Film Lab from Italy; the Fondation Groupama Gan pour le Cinema from France; the World Cinema Fund from Germany; and Vision Sud Est from Switzerland.
“I would like to tell young filmmakers out there to never give up on their dreams,” says the 33-year-old film director. “If I had given up on mine, I would not have gotten all the funding for my project.”
“Nothing is impossible if you are willing to work hard. My advice may sound cliché but there is truth in it.”
Liew recalls working with his producer, Sharon Gan, to send out countless proposals and attending endless sales pitches to prospective sponsors in their quest.
He says they had to compete with many talented filmmakers from different countries vying for funds from the same sponsors.
“We were nervous each time they (the sponsors) announced the name of the successful recipients,” Liew recalls.
The amazing portfolio of foreign sponsors also managed to convince our Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture to offer partial funding through the Creative Industry Grant scheme.
“Although we did not come out with any money [of our own] for this film, we’d put our youth and a huge amount of our effort into making it,” says Liew. “If you were to convert that into cash, it would add up to a big sum.”
IWC centres on a man named Pak Awang who wants to give a house to his daughter as a wedding gift. Unable to afford a new house, he comes up with the brilliant idea of restoring and relocating an abandoned old house.
Despite rumours that the house is haunted, he manages to convince his fellow villagers to help him physically carry it back to the village.
At the same time, a street pedlar named Solomon, who is an illegal Nigerian immigrant, runs into trouble and has to lie low. He decides to hide out in the very house that Pak Awang is in the midst of relocating back to his village.
One night, one of the villagers sees a shadowy figure in the house and tells everyone that it is haunted. The villagers decide to abandon the relocation project despite Pak Awang’s pleas.
Playing the lead role of Pak Awang is veteran actor Wan Hanafi Su while Solomon is played by Tanzanian student Khalid Myboyelwa Hussein. Others in the cast include Harun Salim Bachik, Soffi Jikan, Jalil Hamid, Normah Damanhuri and Azman Hassan.
“I’m dealing with identity and perception here,” says Liew of his plotline. “I could have easily written the character as a Burmese or a Nepalese immigrant but I didn’t want to play with everyday stereotypes and wanted to go to the extreme.”
One of the challenges Liew faced on the set was building and moving the kampung house from one location to another.
“We selected three abandoned kampung houses, tore them apart, and rebuilt the kampung house we needed for the set,” says this director who likes doing things out of the box.
They then had the task of literally moving the house as per the traditional way. “The ground was not even and we had to cross a little stream. We even had to chop down some trees along the way,” Liew recalls.
He says that initially, the owner who leased the land for the location shoot was quite particular that none of the trees be damaged.
But as the shooting of the movie progressed, the owner got enthusiastic about what went on behind the scenes and even became one of the extras.
With the impressive list of sponsors backing the film, Liew says he is trying his best not to let the pressure or high expectations get to him.
“I will just follow my instincts as something good always comes out of things when you follow your instincts.
“There will be people who are bound to dislike the film and others who like it. You must understand that you cannot please everyone.
“I shall take all the negative comments in a positive way and use them to improve on my next film.”


Three years ago, in 2010,  I also interviewed him about an interesting project where a kampung house was literarily moved from one location to another…. Read more here 

Headline : Literally moving House 
By Bissme S

In the  old days, whenever a villager wanted to shift to another location, it was common for fellow kampung folk to rally together and literally carry the entire house to the new place.   
Over the years, this practice of moving houses has slowly died out. 
But filmmaker Liew Seng Tat, who is also the co-founder of independent production house Da Huang Pictures, hopes to revive interest in this practice through his latest project called Projek Angkat Rumah.
Collaborating with local theatre company, Five Arts Centre, Liew is inviting members of the public to participate in a special event tomorrow which will see a typical Malay kampung house, built specially for this event, being carried and moved to a new site.
The kampung house will be moved from its present site at SK Sentul Utama to its final destination at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) in Sentul.
Members of the public are invited to assist in carrying the house or join in the festivities by walking alongside and cheering those carrying the house. The event will start at 9am and is expected to end at noon. 
At its new location in KLPac, the house will double up as a stage on that day for those who want to sing, dance and perform. The festivities will last till late in the evening.  
Liew says the idea for this project was partly inspired by a photograph that appeared in a local English daily in August 2007 during the 50th Merdeka anniversary celebration.  
The photo caption told of how a farmer, Abu Hassan Ahmad, decided to move closer to his mother-in-law in order to care for her poor health.  But he was reluctant to move into a new house.
As a result, 150 villagers helped him carry his house to the new site, which was half a kilometre away.   
“The idea is to get everyone come out and do something together,” Liew says. “This way, we can relate to the gotong-royong spirit again. We’re spending far too much time in front of the computer or television.”  
Sharing the same view is June Tan, a member of the Five Arts Centre and co-producer of Projek Angkat Rumah. 
“Our neighbourhoods have now become gated communities,” says Tan, a producer of plays such as Cuckoo Birds (2009) – a theatrical performance dealing with crime and violence, and That Was the Year (2007) – a musical examining the racial riots of 1969. 
“This project (Projek Angkat Rumah) is borrowing the spirit of a bygone tradition and it is supposed to be fun, exciting and a vibrant event.” 
Yet, there will be some who will criticise Liew for using a Malay traditional art to gain publicity and, perhaps, even bastardising it. 
“I could have done something that I’m familiar with,” counters Liew. 
“I could have made a movie or even a stage play. I wanted to do something that was out of my comfort zone … something I’ve not tried. I’m not trying to be superficial here. It’s also my way of understanding other people’s culture and art.”  
Liew is using this project to explore the theme of togetherness and trust.  “To carry a house from one place to another, the people involved need to trust each other.”   
He is also planning to make a film that touches on a similar topic next year. 
It will centre on a father who wants to give a house to his daughter who is getting married. But he cannot afford a new house, so he entails the help of his fellow villagers to move an abandoned house to a better location. 
Incidentally, the prestigious Torino Film Lab in Italy has expressed an interest to invest in this film. 
Liew’s first feature Flower in the Pocket was a favourite in the international film festival circuit in 2008, picking up awards in Pusan, Rotterdam, Fribourg, Deauville, Pesaro and Toronto, among others.  
Dariush Mehrjuim, head of the jury panel at the 12th Pusan International Film Festival, in a commentary after awarding Liew the New Current Award for Flower in the Pocket, said that Liew has created “a touching and humanistic story that tells the story of a neglected father-and-son relationship with a sense of humour, while using a beautifully composed cinematic style”. 

Harry Fear & Palestine

Recently I had a chance to interview Harry Fear, a British Journalist and documentary maker who have covered the war  that  is taking place in Palestine. This interview appeared in theSun on Wednesday Feb 27. Here is the story

Suggested Headline : Fear-less pursuit of Truth
BY Bissme S

HARRY FEAR is an independent British journalist, documentary maker and human rights advocate. His live reports on the carnage meted out by Israelis against the Palestinians has attracted a large following in the social media. Highly respected for his honest reporting, he is known to flesh out poignant insights that take place in war-torn Gaza.
Recently, Viva Palestina Malaysia, a local non-governmental organisation, invited him here to give a talk. Fear took some time from his busy schedule to answer questions from members of the press.

What is the greatest misconception Malaysians have about the war in Gaza?

That it is a religious conflict – which is a terrible misconception. Many of the Palestinians are Christians. When you to go to Gaza and you speak to Christian Palestinians, they just resent the identification as Christian Palestinians. They will just say ‘I am just Palestinian. It is a political conflict which started 65 years ago. It started between an indigenous population and a settled colonial population. It is really about land theft. Today, Palestinians are only living on 13% of the land that they were living on 65 years ago.

Do you think there will ever be a peaceful solution to this 65-year-old war?

Yes. There are reasons to be hopeful. If you look at the civil society of the world, people are increasingly fed up (with what’s happening in Gaza). The world is increasingly united and willing to do something and not just be sympathetic.

What motivated you to report the situation in Gaza?

The main reason is because I care. I do not want to die not having done anything. If you don’t do anything and when you look back at your life, you will say that you have wasted your life. And I do not want to waste my life. I feel personally motivated by my moral responsibility to bring some justice to the people of Palestine. The reason why Israel can kill 62 Palestinian children in two weeks is because people don’t do anything.

Does the situation in Gaza depresses you about life in general?

I am able to deal with the pain. In the situation of such pain, it can go two ways. It can go up or it can go down. In Gaza, it goes up and it is very hopeful. The people are unbreakable and if the people are unbreakable, then Israel cannot win. And that is very inspiring.

Do you think your work gets a lot of attention because you are a white man reporting on this war?

I get upset when people ask me about my race. In a lecture at The Hague, a young academician asked me whether I have ever thought about the effect I have as a white journalist. The way she put it was quite cynical. I was honest with her and I told her that I find her question
I’m a young white man, fairly intelligent, fairly well educated, fairly articulate, who has gone to Gaza and I know this combination of my identity is what most people see me as, as a journalist.
Of course, I exploit this for the benefit of the Palestinians, using my skill as a journalist. Do I exploit my race? No, I don’t.
I never think of my race, especially when I am in Gaza [which] is the least racial orientated place I have ever seen. The Palestinians are ethnically mixed. It is not relevant whether I am white or not.
The reason we are having this interview is not because I am white. It is because I am fairly articulate. I am able to explain the situation (in Gaza) fairly well to the people.”

Are you a Muslim?

No. I believe in God but I am not a religious person. This is not a religious conflict. It is a political and humanitarian issue. It doesn’t matter what my religion is. In every single religion, there is a responsibility to help people.

What is the greatest misconception people have about you?

Some people who hate me are ignorant. Some of the reasons they hate me is because they think I’m rich. But I am not. My family is not rich, too.
People say that I’m a white saviour and I’m the voice of the Palestinians. But I have never claimed to be the voice of the Palestinians. I only represent myself.
I went to Gaza as a people’s journalist. I report what I see. I want the killing of the Palestinians to be stopped. I want the Palestinian children to be given a chance to live. I want Israel to stop shooting people in the head. I want the war to end.

Some documentary makers make films on the future. Do you have similar goals?

I am not interested in fiction. I have never appreciated fiction even as a child. The reality is richer than fiction. I became a documentary filmmaker because it is a powerful way to communicate with people – to get them to understand and feel (about the issues presented) and then do something about it.

Do you think documentaries can effect change?

In this 21st century, many films are made to entertain … just to give people an emotional ride. They lack political and moral context. You have a good cry in the cinema, you go home and you do not know what to do next, so you can forget about it. That is not good enough. You have to leave people with a sense of hope. You have to leave people with a sense of action, of what they can do next. Otherwise, what is the point of documenting the suffering?