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”. 

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