Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Redha & Tunku Mona Riza

Today theSun featured my interview with film director  Tunku Mona Riza about her film Redha. Here is the full interview  

Headline : Giving Voice To Autism 
By Bissme S

The challenge of raising a child with autism is the main focus of the film, Redha, which opens in cinemas on April 14. 
The film focuses on six-year-old Danial, who is diagnosed with autism, and the difficulties his family faces trying to reach him and raise him in a world that does not understand him. 
Produced by Current Pictures Sdn Bhd at a budget of RM3.5 million, Redha is director Tunku Mona Riza’s first feature film. The 49-year-old mother of two teenagers had previously directed commercials and telemovies. 
Mona  first encountered an autistic child 20 years ago, when she went to a close friend’s house-warming party and was introduced to his five-year-old daughter. 
The little girl was aloof and completely ignored her. It was then that her friend told her that his daughter had autism and that she should not take offence to the child’s “unfriendliness”. 
Mona says: “I did not know what autism was all about then, so I did not ask my friend to explain.” 
In 2012, she was searching for material for her next telemovie and decided to focus on the subject of autism. She contacted her friend and they had a heart to-heart talk about his daughter and her condition. Her friend also introduced her to other parents raising children with autism. The more she talked to them, the more she was convinced the subject would be best depicted as a feature film rather than a telemovie. 
“With a feature film, you can reach a bigger audience than a telemovie,” she says. 
“I want Redha to be a movie that represents the voice of families with autistic children, and what they have gone through to bring them up. Almost all the scenes in Redha are based on true experiences.” 
However, she adds that her movie will not play like a documentary on autism.
“I just want to pique the audiences’ interest to find out more about autism on their own accord.” 

Redha features two child actors in the role of Danial. Harith Haziq plays the sixyear-old Danial for most of the film, while Izzy Reef plays a 13-year-old Danial later in the film. 
“I was very impressed with their auditions,” she says. 
“They were not shy.” 
Most of the conflict in the film comes from Danial’s father Razlan (played by actor Namron), who is devastated to learn that his son has autism, causing him to become distant from the child. 
The 47-year-old Namron, whose real name is Shahili Abdan, says: “As an actor, I always want to use my talent to change society for the better. I am glad to say Redha is giving me the chance to do that. The movie not only entertains you but also creates awareness about autism. It tells you that no child should be discriminated against. All children deserve to be loved and cared for.” 
Being a father of two young daughters helped him play Razlan more convincingly. 
“I could relate to the emotions that Razlan is going through [as a father],” he adds. 
The role also presented other challenges. Some of the major scenes in Redha take place on a beach in Terengganu’s Redang Island. Because some scenes called for his character to swim, Namron had to take swimming lessons before shooting began. 
The actor is also joined by his wife, June Lojong, in the film as his onscreen wife Alina. 
Namron had to act out some tender scenes with June. He recalls: “Initially, I felt awkward doing all the romantic scenes with my wife in front of the camera and the crew.” 
With time, he learned to put aside his embarrassment, and enacted the romantic scenes with June professionally as an actor rather than as her husband. 
Another key player in Redha is Nadiya Nisaa, 31, who plays Danial’s aunt Sasha. She is one of the few people who loves and cares for Danial without any prejudice. 
Nadiya is impressed with the amount of research Mona has done on autism before the start of the shoot. 
“She is passionate about this subject and if you watch the film, you can see her sincerity shine through,” says Nadiya, herself a mother of a five-year-old son, and who is also expecting her second child. “Before shooting the film, I had zero knowledge of autism. Now, it is a totally different story. I am sure the audience will go through the same emotions that I am going through.” 
Mona also made arrangement for Nadiya to meet with several parents with autistic children, which helped her get into the character of Sasha. 
“I really admire these parents,” she says. “It takes so much grace and patience to love their kids." 

The director on the set

a scene from Redha

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hanyut & U Wei

I met the well known film director U- Wei Saari at Chawan, Bangsar and asked the following questions. This interview was published in theSun today. Here is the full article  

Headline: Bleeding For His Art  

Award winning filmmaker U-Wei Saari has put his heart, soul and sweat into his latest masterpiece, Hanyut, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1895 debut novel Almayer s Folly. 
The story centres on Dutch trader Kasper Almayer living in colonial Malaya who dreams of finding a mythical gold mountain. He faces many enemies, including his own scheming wife, Mem. Starring Peter O’Brien, Diana Danielle, Sofia Jane, Adi Putra and Khalid Salleh, Hanyut (top) will open in cinemas at the end of this year. 
During a recent preview of a rough cut of Hanyut, UWei (below) answered some questions posted to him. 

* Hanyut has a budget of RM18 million. Some would say this is too much. 

Four years from now, everyone will say: ‘U-Wei was right, you need that amount of money to make an international film’. If you want a wedding dinner that [has good food], you have to pay for it. Same goes for movies. In the past, people said that my film Kaki Bakar (the first Malaysian movie shown at the Cannes Film Festival) was not a film because it was shot with a video camera. Now, many people are using video cameras to make films. 

*In all your films, your protagonists are always flawed. Why the fascination with flawed characters? 

“Angels are boring because they have no flaws. Angels are jealous of humans because humans have flaws. We have the choice to be good or to be bad. The best thing in life is to have choices.” 

*You like to feature bad marriages in all your movies. Any reason? 

“I am unlucky in that field (laugh). I write good bad marriages. Bad marriages give you drama, and a dysfunctional family is more interesting.” 

*What motivated you to turn Conrad’s novel into a movie? 

You cannot go wrong with a good book. Conrad’s not so condescending in the way he portrays us in his novel. It’s also interesting to see a white man afraid of a Malay woman. Conrad understands the mystery of a Malay woman. Men like to believe that they are smart and they can manipulate women. But in reality, women are the smarter ones, and they manipulate men.” 

*How faithful are you to the adaptation of this novel? 

The only thing you should be faithful to is to your wife and even that is very difficult for me. I believe in creative infidelity. I am not here to film his book. I am here to interpret it. When I made Jogho, I told the author (S. Othman Kelantan) that I cannot be faithful to [his works], and that his novel is just raw material to me. “In an interview, he jokingly said: ‘U-Wei is very clever and when he writes the script, he did not even see me’. But he likes the movie. I believe a filmmaker should not be intimidated by the author behind the book he is adapting.

* What do you feel when you watch Hanyut, again? 

I feel like throwing up. I try not to watch my movies after I have edited them. 

*So, you are not proud of Hanyut? 

“I am proud of all my works. But it hurts me whenever I watch my movies again. I wish I could have directed them better. “I always doubt myself [at every] creative moment. But doubt is good. Doubt makes you think. When you have doubt, you are not full of yourself.” 

*Your movies do well at international film festivals but never locally. 

I feel disappointed. I feel like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. There is a famous line she said: ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’ I am the same. 
Her other favourite line is: ‘I don’t want realism. I want magic’. I want the same thing, too [for my movies].” 

*DuBois ends up in a mental hospital. Will you suffer the same fate? 

Sometimes, the Malaysian film industry can be like a mental institution – the haphazardness, the lack of infrastructure, and the regimented rules … We have campaigns like bring Malaysian movies to international cinemas and encourage filmmakers to think outside of the box. The clich├ęd taglines of these campaigns are not even fit to be written on a T-shirt.” 

*Why don’t you make more commercial movies? 

I want to hang on to my vision. I have to do the kind of movies I want to do. That is my curse. Of course, I get hurt a lot. But I survived. I can sleep easily. I do not suffer from bad dreams. Some make films because they want to tell the world they are filmmakers. That is why you see them rushing [around] making one film after another. I do not need that. I take my time to make movies. There are few things I want to say in my films. 

*What are some of them? 

Not all marriages are good. 

*Do you ever feel like quitting? 

I cannot give up because filmmaking is the only thing I know how to do. But there are times I’ve asked myself: ‘Why am I doing this? Am I a machoistic?’ Before I became a filmmaker, I only thought women bleed. Now I know I am wrong. Filmmakers bleed, too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Train Station

Today, theSun featured my story on Train Station, a feature  that combines  40 filmmakers around 25 countries including two Malaysians,  Tony Pietra Arjuna and Isazaly Isa. Read the full story here  

Partners in Crime From left : Isazaly and Tiony 

Headline : A Real Global Effort
By Bissme S

They  say that too many cooks spoil the broth. But that does not seem to be the case at Detroit-based film production company CollabFeature. Its latest project, Train Station, which is currently making its rounds in several international film festivals, involved a total of 40 filmmakers from 25 countries taking turns at the helm. 
This film is likely to set a new Guinness World Record for the most directors in one film beating the current record holder, another CollabFeature project The Owner, which was helmed by 25 filmmakers. 
Train Station follows a single character, known only as ‘A Person in Brown’, as the character goes on a journey to major cities in the world such as Tehran, Berlin, Athens, Newcastle, Chicago, Dubai, Barcelona, Mumbai and even Kuala Lumpur. 
A Person in Brown is played by 40 actors of various ages, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation in the 40 different segments of the film. Along the journey, the character is presented with choices that trigger different paths, giving us a universal story of fate, decisions and destiny. 
Among the 40 filmmakers involved in Train Station, two are Malaysians – Tony Pietra Arjuna and Isazaly Isa – who handled the Malaysian segment of the film. Tony is both producer and director while Isazaly is producer and co-writer. 
Recently, I was given a chance to watch the full movie. Initially, I thought I would get confused with the character switching from male to female and from one race to another. Thankfully, the film was easy to follow. 
The opening scene shows a man at a train station who learns that his train might not arrive because of a terrible accident down the line. As the movie progresses, some segments show the character deciding to wait for the train while other segments show the character leaving the station and heading for home. But each of the character’s choice and journey is filled with memorable events and people. In one scene, the character gets robbed

while walking home. In another, he enters his house and finds out his spouse is unfaithful. 
The Malaysian segment opens with A Person in Brown (played by actress Annie Too) at a riverbank. She has just killed her unfaithful husband and her lover. Their bodies are wrapped in black plastic bags, which she is trying to dump into the river. At another part of the river, she sees a man (Michael Chen) also dumping some black plastic bags in the river. Seeing her having difficulty with her bags, he comes to her aid. The man later asks her out for coffee at a restaurant. As the two of them begin to get comfortable, she spots a policeman walking into the restaurant.... 
The story for this segment is written by Isazaly, who first got involved in Train Station back in 2011. At the time, he was intrigued by CollabFeature’s setup after hearing about The Owner. 
He recalls: “I was curious how they 18 got so many directors from different parts of the world working together on one feature film through the internet and without meeting anyone face to face.” 
Isazaly visited CollabFeature’s website, and when he heard they were beginning work on Train Station, he pitched his story idea on a forum, which was later approved. Sadly, Isazaly had to pull out from the project. 
“I had pending deadlines for many other film projects,” he says. “I had also just become a father and I wanted to spend more time with my daughter.” His place was taken over by Tony, who was impressed by Isazaly’s initial story and decided to keep it, with a few minor tweaks. Isazaly says he is extremely pleased with the end result. 
Now, he and Tony are planning to have Train Station screened in Malaysia. As Tony explains, “if you want different cultures in one film, this is the one you have to see”

Scenes from Train Station ( Malaysian Segment)