Monday, June 27, 2016

David Teo & China

Film producer David Teo speaks to theSun about penetrating the movie scene in China.  Read the full story here 

By Bissme S 

AFTER having produced over 130 films in his 15-year career in the local film industry, David Teo wants to spread his wings overseas. 
“I do not want to be a jaguh kampung any more,” says Teo, 51. 
“I want to think outside the box [and] find new markets and new audiences.” 
Teo, who is also the chief executive officer of MIG Pictures, hopes to set up a production house under MIG Pictures in Beijing by the end of this year. 
“This dream of penetrating the Chinese film industry has been playing in my mind since last year,” he says. 
“China is a booming market. In the past, the authorities there were not keen on the entertainment industry. They had all kind of censorship restrictions in place. But now, the authorities are more open-minded.” 
Once his production house is ready, Teo will immediately start producing movies with Chinese directors and actors. He adds that he will be bringing in a crew of Malaysians to work alongside the Chinese behind the scenes. 
“China has a long history in filmmaking. They have better skills than us. They can teach our crew new skills. When our crew return to Malaysia, they will be able to  their new knowledge. They will also be earning better money in China.” 
Teo is looking into ways to help Malaysian talents get a foothold in China as well by putting them into supporting roles in the movies he will be producting. 
The director-producer also intends to sell his Malaysian films over there. Pointing out that China has over 300 TV stations and 100 online TV outlets, he says he could easily sell his Malay movies with Chinese subtitles to these stations. 
“In a way, I am exposing Malaysian movies to a different market and audience.” 
He adds that we should take advantage of China’s huge movie audience. Giving the example of Stephen Chow’s Chinese New Year blockbuster Mermaid, which collected an astonishing RM1.8 billion at the worldwide box office, Teo comments: “We are only talking about millions at our box office, and they are already talking billions at their box office.” 
One wonders if Teo has any fears entering a market that is not familiar to him. 
“I have done my homework,” he says. 
“I am certain that I am on the right track. Entering a new market never frightened me. Business is all about taking risks. What frightens me is the people I am going to be working with. People can be unpredictable. The last thing I want is to be betrayed. 
“I want to be the lucky rat that falls into a pot that is filled with rice. I do not want to be the unlucky rat who falls into a pot that is filled with worms. Betrayal can be a bitter pill to swallow.” 
In the meantime, Teo has been keeping with his busy filming schedule with two local movies currently in production. The first is a Malay language comedy, Zack Kapcai, that centres on a man involved in illegal motorbike racing. When he learns from his mother that his estranged father is alive, he goes on a journey to find him, with hilarious results. The film, which stars Fad Bocey, Serina Redzuwan, Julia Marin and Shuk SYJ, is slated for release in local cinemas on July 14. The other is another Malay language film – a horror feature called Volkswagen Kuning, which opens on Sept 22. The film is about a man named Fuad, who brings his girlfriend Khaty back to his hometown to be introduced to his parents and relatives. Unfortunately, the couple get in an accident before they can reach their destination. Fuad is badly injured, but Khaty escapes without a scratch. However, it soon becomes clear that an evil spirit has possessed Khaty, and is out for blood. The film stars Pekin Ibrahim and Atikah Suhaime in the leading role.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The courage of Refugee

Today thesun published my interview with  Mahi Ramakrishnan who talks  about an art festival that she is organizing that celebrates the courage of refugee and her latest documentary Bodies for Sale. Here is the full story.  

Headline: Seeking Humanity in the Arts 
By Bissme S 

Documentarry filmmaker Mahi Ramakrishnan and audio visual artist Goh Lee Kwang are the brains behind the three-day Refugee Festival, taking place at Black Box, Publika Solaris Dutamas, in Kuala Lumpur, from June 24 to 26. 
“It is difficult to live the life of a refugee,” says Mahi in a recent interview, pointing out the fact that these people have left everything behind in their home countries, where they are often oppressed and suppressed. 
“They come to a new country in search of a better future,” she adds. 
“They are not victims. They are survivors. And this festival celebrates their courage.” 
The festival will feature screenings of short films and documentaries, photography exhibitions, poetry reading, dance performances, and a bazaar selling food and artworks by the refugees.
 However, there are Malaysians who believe refugees add to social ills here. “We are always afraid of something we do not know,” says Mahi. 
“Come to the festival, and meet the refugees and listen to their stories. You will realise that they are just like us. “
All they want is a better life for themselves and their family. 
“We have to realise that these refugees are a part of our community. We should create a conducive environment for them to live in. “Malaysia can be a role model for other countries to follow in dealing with the refugee issue.” 
One of the highlights of the festival is an art exhibition by 16 refugee children depicting their lives in Kuala Lumpur, entitled KL Kita Je. 
Visitors can also write their names (with their IC number) on postcards which are addressed to our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak. These postcards will be sent to the prime minister to urge him to provide proper education for the refugees’ children. 
“We have about 34,600 refugees below the age of 18, and it is important for these children to have a proper education,” she says. On her new documentary entitled Bodies for Sale, set to be screened at the festival on June 26 at 2pm, she tells of the heartbreaking and shocking stories she has documented. 
The 30-minute documentary depicts the abuse the Rohingyas have to endure at the hands of human traffickers. They range from rape to starvation, all while they are fleeing from persecution and injustice in their home country of Myanmar. 
“Whenever we talk about rape, we often imagine it is a woman getting raped,” says Mahi. 
“This time around, I managed to get a Rohingya man … to speak about his experience.” 
The man tells how four traffickers held him down, while taking turns to rape him. Mahi says that the rape took place in front of everyone, but none of the other refugees dared to stop it because they feared repercussion from the traffickers.
Mahi is also told of a sick game the traffickers used to play on the refugees. They would shout out that the authorities were conducting a raid and watch the refugees panic and start running for cover. The traffickers would then chase after the female refugees, catch them and rape them. 
“These sick people just love the thrill of scaring their victims,” Mahi says. 
“It [was] not only men and women who got raped. Children got raped, too.” 
For Mahi, these horrific tales were depressing to listen to, gut-wrenching and extremely upsetting. “
There is sense of helplessness and hopelessness in their situation,” she says. 
“It is difficult for me to emotionally detach myself from what I am hearing. I feel so sad and angry that there are people who have the power to stop this abuse, but they are doing nothing about it. 
“This has motivated me to make this documentary and show it to the public. I am hoping that, after watching this documentary, perhaps we could put our minds together and find a solution to stop the abuse of the refugees.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

K Rajagopal & A Yellow Bird

I had interviewed the Singapore  director K Rajagopal whose film A Yellow Bird was showed at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. The story was published in theSun today. Here is the full story  

Headline: An Eye  For Realism 
By Bissme S

To have your film screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival is a great honour, and 51-year-old Singaporean director K. Rajagopal earned it last month with his first feature. A Yellow Bird, which tackles issues of racism and migrants in Singapore, was shown at Cannes under the International Critics’ Week category.
"The audience in Cannes found the film intense, and felt it showed a different side of Singapore which they were not familiar with,” says Rajagopal, in a recent interview with theSun. 
A Yellow Bird centres on Siva ( played by Singaporean actor, producer and director Sivakumar Palakrishnan) who is released after eight years behind bars. But when he returns home, his mother ( Seema Biswas) does not welcome him and his wife has abandoned him, taking away their only child. While searching for his wife and daughter, Siva saves Chinese immigrant Chen (played by Chinese actress Huang Lu) from a violent man. 
Chen is working as a prostitute to pay off her family’s debt. The girl begins to see Siva as a kindred spirit in a brutal world, and a relationship develops between them. But Siva’s violent past will not leave him alone. A Yellow Bird will be shown in cinemas in Singapore at the end of the year. 
“I have always given voice to the minority [groups] in my short films,” Rajagopal says. 
“Racism exists everywhere. In Singapore, racism is not overt but is simmering beneath the skin. The minorities shy away from discussing this issue as it can be uncomfortable to talk about it in a multiracial and modernised environment.” 
Explaining the title of his film, he says: “When I was a child, my mother used to say that if you see a yellow bird, make a wish because you will meet someone nice or receive good news. 
“I grew up believing this myth. I wanted to explore the idea of hope and false hope in my film.” 
To get the best out of his cast, Rajagopal held vigorous rehearsals. “The characters were quite dark and intense, so the actors must be carefully handled to get the best out of them.” 
Rajagopal had nothing but praise for his cast. 
“They were very much an intuitive and sensitive bunch, who took on the challenge to work hard and achieve the realism that was necessary for the film.” 
He even got lead actor Sivakumar to live on the streets for few days. He says: 
“The film is solely dependent on his character, as we follow him from beginning to the end. He needs to be very convincing as an ex-convict and homeless person and, at the same time, displays a strong sense of loneliness and hopelessness.” 
Rajagopal himself started out as a theatre actor. He has worked under renowned Singaporean directors such as William Teo, Pao Kun, Keng Sen and Ariffin Noer. 
“I learnt a lot from them,” he says. 
“But I wanted to be my own storyteller.” 
He began writing very simple stories which he made into award-winning short films. Rajagopal’s confidence grew with each win. He then focused on making films for televisions before venturing into his first feature effort. 
Rajagopal picks Adoor Gopalakrishnan as his favourite director as he admires this Indian director’s films. 
“He was one of the first filmmakers of Parallel Cinema in Kerala, India.” 
He also likes filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Francois Truffaut, the Dardenne brothers and Mike Leigh. 
“They laid [open] life experiences in their films in a very realistic and lyrical manner without the frills,” he says. 
One can certainly see similar elements of realism in Rajagopal’s works, too.

A scene from the movie