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

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