Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sanif Olek & Sayang Disayang

The Singapore Film Commission has nominated Sanif Olek’s Sayang Disayang for consideration in the Foreign Language category of the 2015 Academy Awards (Oscars). Today, theSun published  my interview with Singapore based film maker Sanif Olek who talks about his film. 

Headline : Malay Movie For Oscars 
By Bissme S

Singapore filmmaker Sanif Olek is on cloud nine. The Singapore Film Commission has recently nominated his first feature film, Sayang Disayang, for next year’s Academy Awards’ consideration in the Foreign Language category. This Malay language film, which highlights various Malay cultural nuances, centres on a bitter, old man named Pak Harun, who dislikes his live-in nurse, Murni. But Murni goes all out to win the heart of the old man, including cooking his favourite dish, sambal goreng, the same way his late wife used to cook it. Playing Pak Harun is well-known Malaysian actordirector- producer-writerand- sports commentator Datuk Rahim Razali, 75, while acclaimed Singaporean stage actress-director-and-educator Aidli Mosbit plays Murni.
Sanif, who has won several awards for his television works in Singapore, started working on Sayang Disayang in 2009 but only completes the film last year due to a lack of funding. The 44-year-old filmmaker shares his thoughts on his first feature film effort.

*Have Singaporeans seen the film and what was their reaction?

The film premiered during the 2014 Southeast Asian Film Festival in singapore in May. Subsequently, it has a limited, general release during [Singapore’s] national day period in August. I’m pleased to say that the screenings were well attended by Singaporeans of all races. For many, it was an eye opener into the various Malay cultural nuances beyond the superficial traditional dances and songs that many are familiar with at typical Malay cultural showcases and exhibitions.

*Why do you think the Commission picked a Malay film like yours to represent Singapore in the Oscars?

I find Singaporeans are maturing and willing to embrace the diverse voices that make up the Singapore narrative. I recall at one point, not too long ago, that Singapore’s identity was regularly and only represented by the voice of the majority group. As a result, many non-Asians often get the impression that Singapore is not from Southeast Asia.There are many ethnicities that make up Singapore and now, these various ethnicities want their voices to be heard and film is one of the outlets where this can happen.
Technically, Singapore is located at the heart of the Nusantara (Malay Archipelago) and it would be foolish not to ‘exploit’ what this diverse region has to offer.
My desire in the film was to showcase the rich cultural heritage that the Nusantara has to offer, [and] not just on a superficial level.I also notice that many Malay language films from this region are national-centric and only focus on their respective markets [while] Chinese and Indian films do not necessarily make this distinction.
It’s [also] very hard to name a Nusantara cinematic icon that can stand among the Chinese and Indian cinematic icons, who are familiar to international cinema audiences, such as Bruce Lee, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Rajinikanth, etc.”

*Malay food plays a prominent role in your film.

I have always been fascinated by how the dishes from the Nusantara are traditionally prepared. The preparation for many of these signature dishes – sambal belacan, assam pedas, sambal goreng – are passed down from one generation to the next, usually from mothers to daughters. No two women are similar, therefore, their cooking process depends on their respective personal traits and instincts. As result, no two assam pedas dishes have the same flavour even though these dishes mighthave the same ingredients.
There is an old Malay saying that states the the kitchen is the root to the family tree and being able to feed the household keeps the family intact.

*Why a Malaysian for the lead?

When I was writing this film, I already had Rahim as the main protagonist. I have watched many of his films and I am amazed by his charisma. I know he is very selective about his film projects. When he agreed to act in my debut film, it really boosted my morale as a filmmaker.

*Who are the directors you admire and why?

Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige for their great narrative vision when it comes to cinematic mise-en-scene’ [visual theme]. When I was in film school, I had a hard time  differentiating between television and cinema. I remembered watching Raise the Red Lantern and I had a clear idea what this rather elusive cinematic mise-enscene
concept is all about.
Lars Hallstrom, for his intelligent treatment of the melodrama in his films, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, for the way he craft his subjects by the actor’s physical form and further exploiting the hyper realism through camera work and wardrobe.
Luc Besson, for his skill of mixing popcorn and art. His films can appeal to the lowest denominator yet remain stylish and sophisticated.
Also Terence Malick as he can sustain a narrative without dialogue with just his gorgeous visuals.

The film maker Sanif Olek 
A scene from Sayang Disayang

Rahim Razali plays bitter widower in Sayang Disayang

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Afdlin Shauki & Sandakan Tears

Today theSun runs an interview Afdlin Shauki, a Malaysian film maker who will be co directing with an award winning Hollywood director Roger Christian on his next film Sandakan Tears.  Read the full story below 

Headline: Afdlin's Sweat & Tears 
By BissmeS

Putting Malaysia on the  world map is Afdlin Shauki’s next big dream. The 43-year-old producer- director-actor hopes to achieve this dream with the next film that he will be producing – Sandakan Tears. He will be co-directing this film with Hollywood director Roger Christian. The latter’s directing credits include Nostradamus (1994) starring Julia Ormond and F. Murray Abraham; Masterminds(1997) starring Patrick Stewart; and Battlefield Earth (2000) with John Travolta and Forest Whitaker.
Christian’s work as an art director and production designer was highly regarded. He won an Oscar for the set decoration for Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977) and received a nomination for an Academy Award for his art direction of Ridley Scott’s Alien(1979). 
“Since I started my career 15 I had a dream of making a Malaysian movie that could break into the international cinemas, or even get a nomination for the Oscars,” says Afdlin, the award-winning film director. 
“I am so happy that this dream is slowly becoming a reality. For the last two years, I have not directed any film as I have to focus on Sandakan Tears.” 
Afdlin says movies from other Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand are slowly gaining global recognition and winning international awards. 
He cited Anthony Chen from Singapore, who won an award at Cannes Film festival for ILO ILO last year. 
“It is time for Malaysian films to broaden their horizons and appeal to a wider audience,” he says. 
The shooting for Sandakan Tears will start early next year and if all goes well, Afdlin hopes to premiere Sandakan Tears at Cannes Film Festival in 2016. Currently, a pool of scriptwriters from Hollywood are working on the script and the first draft is almost completed. 
Afdlin says that one of the scriptwriters has had the experience of working with Martin Scorsese on the Oscar winning film Goodfellas. Sandakan Tears is based on a historical event called the Sandakan Death Marches. It occurred during World War II, when Australian and British soldiers were captured by the Japanese and shipped to war camps in Sandakan (Sabah).
The prisoners were tortured and given little food or medical care. There were a series of forced 
marches from Sandakan to Ranau that caused the death of more than 2,000 prisoners of war. 
“It was one of the darkest periods in our history which has not been explored on films. The movie tells of the evils of war. It’s so relevant because there are so many wars taking place in the world today.”
Afdlin admitted Christian had offered Oscar nominated actor Hugh Jackman a lead role in Sandakan Tears. Many sceptics, however, do not foresee the X-Men star taking up the offer. 
“Two years ago, when I first talked about Sandakan Tears and the desire to hire a Hollywood director to make this film, everyone was sceptical,” Afdlin says. 
“Now, that dream is becoming a reality. You will never know ... 
Jackman might just say yes as the movie touches on his history, too. 
“He is from Australia and the movie touches on the plight of Australian soldiers who had suffered in the war. He could well say yes due to sentimental or patriotic reasons. Nothing is  impossible.” 
Even if Jackman declines, Afdlin will not give up on enlisting another Hollywood star. 
“We need at least one or two names from Hollywood to pull in the crowd,” he says. 
Some critics are not happy with Afdlin using Hollywood talents as crowd puller for Sandakan Tears. 
“It is not that I don’t have faith in Malaysian talents,” Afdlin says. 
“The crew is Malaysian, including myself, on the set who will watch the Hollywood talents in action. We will learn from them. There will be an exchange of knowledge between Malaysian and 
Hollywood talents.” 
He pointed out that an Indonesian movie, The Raid, had gained successful international followings as a result of having used Hollywood stunts in the production. 
“They (Indonesia) were not afraid to ask for Hollywood’s help, so why should we?” he asks. 
True to his excitement in making films, Afdlin also talks about his role in the Berjaya Youth Short Film Competition. 
“I have been involved in the Berjaya Youth Short Film competition since it began four years ago,” he says. “And I have seen many good stories being told in this contest.” 
This short film contest offers a platform for youths from the ages of 18 to 25 to express their creativity by producing positive and inspiring stories through short films.
This year, the contest offers four themes – Culture, Eco, Inspiration and Youth. The contestants are expected to make a five-minute film based on one of these themes and submit their entries before Sept 24. The top three winners, including that for the People Choice award will be announced at the end of the year. 
Afdlin hints that the winner of this contest would also have a chance to be on the set of Sandakan Tears and learn about filmmaking from the Hollywood honchos. More on the Berjaya Youth Short Film contest can be obtained from Berjayayouth website.

Roger Christian- the director from Hollywood
Afdlin  spent two years on the film.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Baha Zain & Fauziah Nawi

Today theSun run an interview the award winning actress Fauziah Nawi and national Laureate Datuk Baha Zain. Fauziah who is also a director will translating  poems from the National Laureate Baha Zain into a stage production called Topeng Topeng. Read the full story here 

Headline: Stripping off the Mask 
By Bissme S

Publishing house Institute Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia (ITBM) and theatre company Stefani Events are presenting a play, entitled Topeng Topeng (Masks) from Sept 8 to 12 at 8.30pm, at Dewan Wisma ITBM in Wangsa Maju, Kuala Lumpur. 
Directed by veteran theatre actress Fauziah Nawi, the 60 minute production is a translationof more than 30 poems from last year’s national laureate Datuk Baha Zain.Fauziah, 60, has previously translated works by other renowned poets into plays. They include the late national laureate Usman Awang and Indonesia’s W.S. Rendra.
“It is never easy to turn something on paper into a visual art form,” says Fauziah. “You have to read the text many times. You have to understand the motivations of the writer to pen such poems in the first place.”
Fauziah says the play talks  about the masks human beings  wear to hide their true identity and intention. 
“The play also looks at how human beings relate to each other and that people today do not see the importance of tolerance.For everyone to co-exist  peacefully, tolerance is a must.” 
This is not the first time Fauziah is staging Topeng Topeng.She brought it to the stage six years ago, in 2008. This time around, she intends to take a totally different approach for the production.The earlier play took place in a bistro with several characters playing out the meaning behind the poems. This latest version, however, offers a more surrealistic atmosphere where the audience will see the poet going through various emotions. 
“The poet in the play is Baha Zain and we are looking at where he gets his inspiration for his poems,” explains Fauziah. 
Playing the poet is experienced actor Azman Hassan. Others in the cast include Sabera Shaik, Farah Ahmad, Chi Adzim and Mohd Nor Hafiz. 
“What I find interesting is that Baha Zain wrote these poems in 1970s, but even after 40 years, the topics that he tackles are not outdated,” says Fauziah. 
“Today’s generation can still relate to what he brought out in his poems.” 
Those issues range from prostitution to hypocrisy in society.Of all the poet’s poems, Fauziah cites her favourite as Rayuan Wanita Asia which depicts the frustration of an old prostitute in Vietnam. 
“I like the poem so much that I will be portraying the prostitute on stage with fellow actor Sabera Shaik,” she says. 
The 75-year-old national laureate was present at a recent sneak preview of the production. Baha Zain, whose real name is Baharuddin Zainal, was impressed with what he saw.
“I have always given my readers the freedom to interpret my work in any way they may want,” he says. 
“If you have a thousand readers reading your work, you are likely to have thousands of interpretations of your work. You cannot control how someone interprets your work. 
“Fauziah is a director and an artiste. She has taken the effort to interpret my work and I must respect her interpretation.” 
Baha Zain wrote Topeng Topeng when he was studying and staying in Indonesia between 1970 and 1971. 
“I found that the mask is a common feature in Indonesian culture,” he says. 
“Later, I discovered that it is not only Indonesian artistes who use mask in their performances. 
“From Britain to Japan, their artistes too have used masks in their performances.” 
This observation forms the basis of his poem, Topeng Topeng. 
“The poem is about the gap between reality and fiction, and the gap between the truth and the lie,” says the writer. 
“Some of us wear a mask in the name of duty. When I go home, I am no longer a writer. I am just a husband and a father. When you are at home, you wear one mask and when you are at work, you wear a different one. I think, in the end, everyone wears a mask.”
A sneak preview of Topeng Topeng 

Baha Zain & Fauziah Nawi ... The Poet & The Director