Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Munafik & Syamsul Yusof

Film maker Syamsul Yusof speaks to the Sun about his  latest horror movie Munafik. Here is the full story.

Headline: In His Father’s Footseps
By Bissme S

Syamsul Yusof has been directing since he was 19. The son of Malaysian renowned director Datuk Yusof Haslam made his directing debut for a TV series under his father’s production company, Skop Productions Sdn Bhd.
Three years later, he directed his first feature film, Evolusi KL Drift, which collected RM3 million at the box office. Since then, the 31-year-old has helmed nine films, two of which earned him the best director award at the Malaysian Film Festival, the first in 2010 for Evolusi Kl Drift 2, and the second in 2011 for KL Gangster. His latest effort is the horror, Munafik (above), which has a lot of of Islamic elements. It opens in cinemas on Feb 25.
“The holy Al Quran was one of my main references when I wrote the script,” says Syamsul.
“I spoke to many ustaz (religious scholars) before making this film. I did not want to cross any religious boundaries that may offend anyone.”
Munafik centres on Adam, an Islamic medical practitioner, who is having a difficult time coming to terms with his wife’s death. A woman named Maria believes she is being possessed by something sinister and begs him to help her. But Adam doesn’t realise that the spirit haunting Maria will also attack him. Syamsul  also takes on the role of Adam, while actress Nabila Huda plays Maria. Others in the cast include Fizz Fairuz, Pekin Ibrahim, Datuk Rahim Razali and A. Galak.
“I gave Nabila a tough time on set, but she rose to the occasion,” he says.
“Her performance will dazzle you.”
Munafik is Syamsul’s second horror movie after the 2012 Khurafat, which became a box-office hit, with takings of more than RM8 million. The trailer of Munafik looks frightening enough to ensure another success for Syamsul.
“I believe that the recipe for a good horror movie is to pay attention to the script,” he says.
“Most young filmmakers neglect the script, and put more attention in creating scary and suspenseful moments.”
Syamsul cited horror movies such as Thailand’s Nang Nak and Shutter, which have solid scripts. As for hitting box-office success, Syamsul spoke of his bitter experience with his previous film, KL Gangster 2. Before the film opened in cinemas, pirated copies of the movie were already selling in the streets.
“KL Gangster made just over RM11 million, while KL Gangster 2 only made RM5 million,” he says. “I am sure KL Gangster 2 would have made more money if not for the piracy. I worked very hard on my film. [And] someone just came along and copied my film, and made a lot of money from it. I did not get anything from the pirated copies. I felt frustrated. I almost wanted to quit making films. But I could not bring myself to do it, as making films is in my blood.”
At 15, Syamsul already knew he wanted to be a filmmaker just like his famous father.
“Most people assume my road to becoming a filmmaker was easy because [of my father],” he says. “Well, they are wrong. When I started my career, I had actors who disrespected me on the set. I had critics who doubted me. But if you want to be successful in your field, you have to develop a thick skin, and learn to ignore your critics.
“If you are in the film business, you will always have to face the critics. Even great films like Avatar have critics. You cannot impress everyone.”
What does his famous father think of him as a filmmaker? With a laugh, he says: “My father has never praised me. He is my fiercest critic. Strangely enough, behind my back, my father will say great things about me and my films to his friends.
 “When I met [those people], they would tell me how my father is very proud of me, but I had a hard time believing them.
“Now I am older and I understand my father’s motivation better. He criticises me because he wants me to improve my skills as a director. He does not want me to be complacent with my success.”

Scenes from Munafik 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Review on OlaBola

Today, theSun runs a review on OlaBola Here is the full story 

THE STORY starts in the present time with a young professional broadcast journalist (Marianne Tan) who is disillusioned with life in Malaysia and prepares to head for greener pastures in England. She is given a final assignment: to do a story about a multicultural team of footballers who are trying to overcome the odds and their personal problems to achieve international Olympic glory. The film goes back to 1980s and focuses on three individuals in the team – team captain Chow Kwok Keong (Chee), striker Ahmad Ali (Luqman), and goalkeeper Muthu Kumar (Saran). Chow is torn between giving his family a better life and his passion for football. Muthu faces objections from his father over his fascination with football and Ahmad wants to be the best player in his team, but has p r o b l e m controlling his temper. I am sure director Chiu is feeling some pressure.
Two years ago, he delivered the touching The Journey, which went on to break box-office record as the then highest-grossing Malaysian film, collecting more than RM17 million. (That record has since been broken by Polis Evo last year.) Now, everyone is expecting him to recapture the magic with OlaBola. I am sure most of them are going to make comparisons between the two films. Well, I will try not to succumb to temptation, and instead judge OlaBola on its own merits.
For starters the movie was well shot. The cinematography was beautiful. The football matches were intense, and will have audiences at the edge of the seats. Chiu has managed to capture era magnificently. A lot of attention has been put on the costumes and the set. The actors also gave convincing performances including the new ones like Chee, Luqman and Saran. Sometimes, new actors have a tendency to look awkward on the screen. This did not happen here. Yet, OlaBola is far from perfect.

The biggest flaw I felt lies in the script and dialogue. The message of unity among different races and the ultimate love these characters have for their country is continuously drummed into the audience. These messages of patriotism can be overwhelming and at times, a little irritating, and could have been delivered in a more subtle way. While Chiu has given us a very sweet cake of a movie, what it badly needs is a little bitterness to cut down on that overt sweetness.

The Look of Silence

theSun got Joshua Oppenheimer to talk about his documentary The Look of Silence that is being nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary feature.  Here is the full interview 

Headline: A Festering Wound   
By Bissme S

Director Joshua Oppenheimer and his team opened the world’s eyes to the genocide that took place in Indonesia from 1965 to 1966 in their 2013 landmark Academy Award-nominated The Act of Killing. The documentary highlighted the large-scale killings in Indonesia that targeted communists, ethnic Chinese, and alleged leftists. It is estimated that 500,000 people were killed. The purge was a pivotal event in the elimination of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as a political force, the downfall of then-president Sukarno, and the rise of Suharto as the second president of Indonesia.
Oppenheimer and his team have since followed up that story with a second documentary The Look of Silence, which showed what it is like for those who survived the genocide. The Look of Silence has already won awards at international film festivals in Berlin and Venice, and has given the director his second Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature.
This documentary focuses on Adi Rukun an optometrist who was born after the genocide. Yet, he is haunted by the fact that his brother Ramli was murdered during the brutal event. His mother cannot come to terms with Ramli’s death. What makes her pain unbearable is that the men who carried out the killing are still free.
With the help of Oppenheimer and his team, Adi is able to confront the men who killed his brother. He had hoped to see some regret and remorse in their eyes. Instead, most of them try to justify their actions. The Look of Silence is a compelling, intense and heartbreaking documentary of the pain that still festers in the heart of those left behind.
The scene where a mother laments her son’s death, and hopes that the killers and their descendants will lead horrible lives is heart-rending. Another touching scene is when a daughter of the one of the killers pleads with Adi to forgive her old and sick father, and to let bygones be bygones.
This is indeed a well-made documentary that deserved its Oscar nomination. In an interview with theSun, Oppenheimer says: “It is incredibly humbling to be nominated, again. We could not have made this film without our anonymous Indonesian crew, and our gentle protagonist Adi, who risked their lives to share their story.
“The genocide began years ago. But it hasn’t ended for the survivors because the perpetrators are still in power, and millions are still living in fear. The Look of Silence helped Indonesians express their yearning for truth, justice, and reconciliation.”
The documentary also features the risks undertaken by the team and by Adi during the course of filming. In the scenes where Adi confronts the murderers of his brother at their residence, there is a palpable sense of danger in the air and fear for Adi’s safety.
“These confrontations could have been dangerous,” Oppenheimer says, explaining how they had to take many precautions to prevent any untoward incidents. When he met with the perpetrators, he only brought along Adi and a small crew.
“Adi would come with no identification card,” he says.
“All of us would empty all the numbers from our handphones and bring a second car so that [we could switch vehicles] minutes after leaving their houses, making it harder for the perpetrators to follow us.”
Oppenheimer is thankful that none of the confrontations ended violently. He feels the reason for that was because of Adi’s patience and empathy with his brother’s killers, and the fact that the perpetrators were not quite sure how to react to the confrontation.
“I was aware Adi would not get any apology from them and I did not hide this fact from him,” Oppenheimer said. “But I told Adi that by documenting the perpetrators’ inability to apologise, maybe we could show how torn the social fabric of Indonesia is.”
Oppenheimer believes that if he could film their complex reactions of fear and guilt at being visited by their victim’s brother, then perhaps, he could shed a light on how these feelings represent the divide between Indonesians and their own past, and from each other.

As to the possibility of making feature films, Oppenheimer has no plans to do so. “Non-fiction filmmaking is my way of working with real people to create occasions in which the mysteries of being become palpable,” he says. “Why would I want to give this up?”

Adi and his mother talking about the past

Monday, February 1, 2016

Yellow Boat Of Hope

I am highlighting a feature story where some children had to swim their way to school to get an education. This article was published in theSun today.  

Headline : The Yellow School Boat
By Bissme S

Going to school was not easy for the children of Zamboanga City in the Philippine district of Mindanao. Up to 2010, they had to literally cross the river on foot with their schoolbag,  that contained not only their books but also their school uniform and shoes, over their heads to get to school. Once they reached the other side, they had to change out of their wet clothes into their uniform and shoes, and put the wet clothes wrapped in a plastic bag into their schoolbag. And they had to do this every day to and from school.
When philanthropist Jay Jaboneta (below) first visited this community, he was impressed by the children’s determination to get an education despite all the obstacles they had to face. He posted their story in his Facebook and it created some interesting discussion between him and his friends. They then decided to collect money and buy a boat that could ferry these children to and from school so that the children would no longer get wet going to school.
Jay had the boat painted yellow (bottom) because he wanted the boat to resemble the colour of the yellow schoolbus that one sees in movies.
“Both of them have the same function,” he says.
“Their aim is getting the children to school. The only difference is that one travels on the road and the other travels on water. Yellow is also the colour of hope.”
Their contribution did not end with one boat for one community. Jay and his friends went on to create the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, and over the last five years, the foundation has presented some 2,000 of these yellow boats to more than 50 communities in the Philippines.
“One story that truly touched me was [about this] boy who was placed second in his class … but since [getting the boat to go] to school, he [is now the top student] in his class,” says Jay.
 “We never imagined that one day, a single Facebook status and a single yellow boat would launch thousands of [such] boats and even inspired other organisations to start their own school boat projects.”
Jay firmly believes that every individual can make positive changes in society.
“The great thing a little lamp can do which the big sun cannot is to give light at night,” he says.
“It shows no one is superior by size. If we cannot do great things, we can do small things in a great way. “In my eyes, all our volunteers in the yellow boat [project] are ordinary heroes who strive to make a difference in their specific communities.”
 The foundation has since building classrooms, schools and dormitories for those children who not only have a hard time getting to school but are also studying in dilapidated classrooms or even under a tree! As Jay says, they want to create a comfortable environment for these students to study in comfort.
 For him, the biggest challenge he faced running the foundation is raising the funds needed to help all the needy communities.
“Our approach is volunteer driven and it is also quite hard to find local volunteers who can implement our projects on the ground. We are looking at raising enough funds to pay people to work for us and make our work more sustainable.”
 Jay says there are 7,107 islands in the Philippines and the Department of Education has identified more than 1,000 communities where children may need either boats or other forms of transport such as bicycles to get to school.
“I believe it was Nelson Mandela who said education is the best weapon which you can use to change the world,” says Jay.
“Education allows those who live at the bottom of the economic pyramid to gain access to opportunities so that they can provide for themselves and their families. It is our undying hope that one day there will be no child left behind and all children of school going age who want to go to school are in school.”

For more, go to http://

Going to school without getting wet 

Children has to swim to school