Saturday, March 16, 2019

Pesta Perdana 15 (nominations)

TEKAN MINYAK, the 1-hour, 13-episode drama series directed by yours truly, received a whopping 7 nominations at the upcoming Mediacorp Suria Pesta Perdana 2019 in the following categories;

1 x Best Drama Series
3 x Best Actress in a Leading Role
1 x Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1 x Best Editing
1 x Best Videography

(No nods for directing... I wonder how the programme comes together 😎)
Nevertheless, congratulations to all nominees.

But most importantly, a shoutout to EVERYONE in the production team, because none can shine without the other.

The award will be announced in a "live" telecast on 30 March 2019 on the said channel.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Note to newbies and wannabes

You don’t just call/write to someone whom you have just met aeons ago and spoke for less than 30mins (and then disappear for aeons again) only to contact me out of the blue for a recommendation letter.

Furthermore I cannot recommend anything if I don’t know what in the world you are doing that needs my recommendation. I need to read/hear from you what you are doing.

I can support what you want to do but hey, filmmaking is not just about you!

It’s NOT ethical and NOT professional. And it’s also downright RUDE. Hence, do you think you deserve a recommendation?

Filmmaking does not work that way.

You’re welcome.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

On the Front Page

BERITA HARIAN, 31 January 2019.

Humbled. It’s not often that you can be on the front page - for the 3rd time in the course of about 10 years, and this time sharing it with the President, Madam Halimah Yacob.

Berita Harian (SPH), 31 January 2019
Berita Harian (SPH), 31 January 2019
Read the online version here.

Meanwhile gather your friends to make a 3min short film about “Singapura” that sparks your joy. Visit for details.

The commissioned films from season 4 (THE USUAL, 2017) and season 5 (SAMA-SAMA, 2019).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Rediscovering roots.

22 years.

How have I lasted that long doing Malay (television)?

When it all started, my radar towards the Malay community entertainment was close to zero. I did not know anybody in the industry. Even up to this day, when someone approaches me to claim relative at someone already in the industry, it may be met with a “hmmm?” or “ohh?” from me. Sorry.

In the 80-90s, apart from those top 10 Malay pop songs on rotation on local radio, my awareness to my own culture was those of the late 70s Nusantara songs, satay, mee rebus, lontong, nasi lemak, sambal goreng, Hari Raya delicacies and maybe, Geylang Serai.

My first television assignment straight after graduating film school was a short segment on Dondang Sayang for a weekly morning magazine programme - miles away and on the opposite spectrum to Tears For Fears, Duran Duran and maybe Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Thanks to my first boss, Mr Yusoff, for throwing me into the deep end of the ocean. I somehow float my way around the very Malay Dondang Sayang troupe from Malacca.

Fast forward, I met many more Malays that were of interest to my research for many more Malay programmes. Many from the Malay community was very kind to me, while others were not. Much of their adversity perhaps arose from their self-righteous observation that I was not being Malay enough.

I fought back. Heck, I had a job to do and deadlines to meet. Then I thought if we happened to bumped into one of this malicious Malays, they’d probably feign ignorance and walked the other way. Fine.

I think this was where I began to develop a thick skin towards the impossible. It's all business, nothing personal.

And then I met the late Cikgu Muhammad Ariff Ahmad “father of Malay linguistics” and his contemporary Cikgu Masuri SN. I spent a lot of time with them while doing my research for a one-hour documentary series about their life and work. For the first time, I had someone who looked beyond my incapacities of my Malayness. I actually felt comfortable communicating with them in my half-past six “establishment” Malay language. Their countenances actually made me more keen to discover the Malay world. 

Cool guys, these Cikgus. 

In their own non-judgmental way, they made me eager to do more programmes in the Malay language. And yes, the Malay language is beautiful. There is so much that one can weave the Malay words to derive meanings at diverse contexts.

6 television awards for Malay television, 1 feature film and numerous other shorts later, I still find that the Singapore-Malay world is intriguing and amusing at the same time.
Fasih Bahasa Melayu tidak bermakna Melayu nya cerdik.
Lebih baik faham sahaja Melayu daripada tak faham bahasa.
Don’t fret if your kids do not do well in their respective “Mother tongues”. Most important, imho, that you keep harnessing their interest to the culture and ethnicity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rewind 30 years

Who would have thought this casual snapshot will make it nationally almost 30 years later!

It was February, at north-north of Singapore.

We had recently received our beret. The men in the picture were my batch boys from 1st Company, platoon 3, section 2 (1989-1992). The weather was terribly dry and hot. Much of the greens had turned brown and the open tracks turned dusty in the air as we walked over. The region straddled between the temperate and humid. While trekking we chanced upon this dramatic looking cliff, hence this group picture. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, we DO NOT normally wear the red-colour beret in the field, because red is Just. Not. Camouflage-friendly.

This picture happened because many newly-minted, very young proud NS commandos would want to show off their coveted red berets whenever we have the chance. Also, because we could ahem, look "garang" effortlessly 🤩. 

We sometimes packed the beret with us when we moved out to visit these unique terrains to take "garang" pictures - because preparedness for 1001 contingencies is always something we are well-known for 😎.

On hindsight I am reminded of those war television series, Band Of Brothers and Pacific (and a couple of other films from Hollywood) where historical pictures of war are keyed-in or superimposed against the bigger narrative. Hmm, perhaps this could be it haha. Something for me to think about.

PS: I was also featured on Singapore Armed Forces' monthly Pioneer magazine (December 2018).

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Welcoming 2019


I look forward to a SINGAPURA that celebrates diversity, embraces differences. A Singapura that evolves strength with common values. Regardless our respective definition of Singapura, they all matter. Sama-sama (together) we make Singapura special 🇸🇬

SAMA-SAMA, a commissioned film for the ciNE65 season 5 (2019, theme ‘Singapura’), written & directed by yours truly. A reeljuice production.

Starring the people of Singapura 😎

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Pioneer Magazine (December 2018)

So I appeared on the "People" feature writeup in Pioneer Magazine, a monthly magazine published by the Ministry Of Defence, Singapore. It was heartwarmingly written, imho.

I never thought that a simple childhood fascination on the elite force would make me a feature for one. An honour to share my journey in the 🇸🇬 Commandos and filmmaking. I hope it inspires young people out there, especially those in the ‘hood, to never stop reaching for the stars. Nothing is unattainable, you are your own adversity. To grief is human. Fatigue (mental and physical) is a state of mind. Overcome and you’ll be a glorious version of yourself.

Coincidentally, the Formation will celebrate it’s Golden Jubilee, aka 50th anniversary, later in 2019. A shoutout to the past and present band of brothers. I remain in awe at the pioneers of the brotherhood! I’m privileged to be walking among legends

Thank you so much to Benita Teo the sweet article. The original article is reproduced here.

03 DEC 2018 | PEOPLE


Ever had an experience so impactful you made a movie about it? Local filmmaker and ciNE65 mentor Mohamad Sanif Olek is doing just that.

"Old Commando, old Commando!" Mr Sanif said with an embarrassed chuckle as he limped cautiously. He was nursing an old hip injury that had acted up during a weekly run with his former National Service (NS) buddies.

Yet he struck up pose after pose for the photoshoot, joking and apologising for taking too long.

Who would have believed we were actually in the presence of the filmmaker behind Singapore's first Malay language film to get close to an Oscar nomination?

One big step for SG filmmaking

Director and writer Mr Sanif, 48, is no stranger to local television, having forged a two-decade-long career producing Malay language programmes. But behind the big screen is where his passion and talent lie. 

In 2015, his debut feature film Sayang Disayang (My Beloved Dearest) — a Malay-language tale of an Indonesian domestic helper’s relationship with her wheelchair-bound employer — became Singapore's official entry to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. 

"I made the film because I believed in the story. I just wanted to talk about Nusantara (Malay Archipelago) food and music. And I wanted it to be identifiable to everyone in the Nusantara," said the veteran filmmaker.

Best of the best

Telling authentic stories is Mr Sanif's guiding principle to filmmaking. And in Sama Sama (The Same) — a special commissioned film for ciNE65, a biennial short film competition — the ethnic Boyanese chose two subjects he knows best: Commandos and Boyanese chauffeurs. 

"I've always been fascinated by films and narratives that involve elites," said the former Corporal in 1st Commando Battalion (1 Cdo Bn). 

He explained that, like the Commandos, Boyanese chauffeurs were deemed elites in their profession and were trusted for their professionalism and pride in their work during the colonial era.

"Both have traditions that go a long way back… People look at chauffeuring like it is a lower-class profession, but not many know that Boyanese drivers are traditionally the elite drivers," he elaborated, adding that "Ahmad" (local slang for a driver) used to refer specifically to this respected group.

"Boyanese drivers had little education and some couldn't even speak English, yet they made it by being the best drivers they could be."

Brothers from different mothers

A story about beating the odds is perhaps one that mirrors Mr Sanif's own NS experience in 1 Cdo Bn. 

"I always looked up to the ideals of bravery, patriotism, and what it means to be a soldier and serving your country. And then I had the chance to 'join the legends'."

Although his first days were not easy, he soon learnt to be disciplined and take on any challenge. 

"Being a Commando is not just about the physicality, but the mental fitness to push on. 

And also contingencies — whenever we went out for operations, we always had several contingency plans. 

"That mental preparation helped me a lot in my work too, because anything can go wrong on set but you still need to continue shooting because of deadlines. My training helped me to prepare for all these things."

And it may have been more than a decade since he has donned his red beret, but his ties with his buddies remain just as strong. They go on weekly runs together, and are ever ready to lend a hand. 

"For instance, if someone says in our chat group that Brother A is in bad shape, within a few days, everyone will galvanise and help him out. That's still happening now, after almost 30 years."

He added proudly: "I think it's amazing how these guys become your second families."

Telling the Singapore story

Asked about his greatest achievement, Mr Sanif does not mention his brush with the filmmaking industry'’s biggest platform. 

Instead, it is the appreciation he receives from those closest to his heart — the everyday Singaporeans.

"I think the best thing is when someone on the street comes to me and says, 'Hey I've seen your work, I really like it.' I think it's a good validation for why I'm doing what I'm doing — that my work is not just for my peers, but also the wider community," he said thoughtfully.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Elite Suria 2018

Another year another reality-based talent search programme.

I have been following many reality-based talent search programmes on Mediacorp Suria (and other local channels) - it’ll be a cardinal sin if I don’t, for being in the industry and responsible for writing and directing many of it’s critically-acclaimed programmes since late 90s - not to gloat but to be grateful and privileged to have been a large part of the Singapore television Malay programming, collaborating with many, many talented people of various backgrounds of diverse creative leanings and artistic spectrum. My takeaway from these collaborations is always constant - never stop caring for all that you’re tasked with, never stop learning because being creative is always about interpreting new ideas (without compromising your creative center) and importantly, to always stay hungry.

When you stay hungry - you’re always interested, you never stop chasing that little dream of yours when the world stop believing, because the award you received is only valid for One Year. Yep, people don’t care.

Now, going back to the just-concluded Elite Suria congratulations to all participants - all 16 of them. To be one of the 16 among the plenty that attended the open auditions is itself a winner! The difference between the last 16 and (real deserving winners) Hans Hamid and Hana Rosli are your nerves, communication with audience and your BS level in front of the camera.

The Real competition is when you’re working on the ground post Elit Suria. On that note, here’s what I’ve observed from past local Malay reality talent shows - many of the champions somehow fizzled after 1 year (2 years max) for whatever reasons. Instead, the ones that sustained prominence are the non-champions. No disrespect, but I wonder why.

Regardless, Stay hungry. Stay interested. Stay relevant.

Mickey Go Local 2018

Mickey before
In conjunction with the 90th Anniversary of Mickey Mouse, I had the honour to reinterpret Mickey at Disney’s MICKEY GO LOCAL, in support of the President’s Challenge 2018.

Mickey after 1.
Mickey after 2.
Mickey after 3.
Mickey after 4. 
My inspiration for Mickey Go Local was from the myriad of cultures that make up Singapore. We celebrate our respective festivals by immersing ourselves in the diversity of fragrance, sound and taste. The markets, the foliage, the multicultural residents, the flags, the food vendors, the malls, the faiths, the common HDB corridors, the hawker centres – add to the merry kaleidoscope of colours that we readily embrace.


SAMA-SAMA, maju ke hadapan...
What is your SINGAPURA?

I am grateful and honoured to make another film to kickstart season 5 of ciNE65 (2019). This is the 2nd time that I’ve been commissioned to do so - THE USUAL (season 4) was the first.

I have been involved with ciNE65 since season 1, ten years ago, as a mentor and jury. I hope to be involved for the long term. ciNE65 is unique from the other competitions because each season explores the Singaporean identity. I was approached by the Nexus team at MINDEF in May 2018 for a commissioned film in season 5 of the bi-annual ciNE65 film competition.

This season, the theme is SINGAPURA.
In support of the Singapore Bicentennial in 2019, the theme SINGAPURA calls on film-makers to reflect on the stories that our past generations have shared that make us Singaporean and how we want these stories to live on for future generations to come, through a 3-minute film.
From as far back as we can trace our ancestry, each of us has a story to tell. Each story a piece of the history of how this land in which we live became a nation and how we became Singaporean. Tell us your story. What did your forefathers pass down to you, and what will you want your future generations to know? What does Singapura mean to you most?
I thought hard about this. Thus I reflected on 2 very important life journeys - being raised in a Singaporean-Baweanese household and National Service, where I rediscover my roots and made many lifelong friends respectively.

The Chauffeurs
One of these traditions is the local Baweanese chauffeurs. Back in the day, the Baweanese chauffeurs were highly-regarded for their discipline that the tycoons only insisted a Baweanese to be their personal drivers. It was also said that the Baweanese chauffeurs were good at keeping secrets to some of their wayward tycoon's movements around town - even from these tycoons' respective families.

Baweanese chauffeurs had existed since the colonial era.

(courtesy of Hazrul Azhar Jamari)
 (courtesy of Hazrul Azhar Jamari)
I recall during Baweanese weddings, a handful of relatives would arrive at the wedding in luxurious European-made sedans. In the 70s-80s, much of the Baweanese community were living comfortably but not too comfortable enough to own these European sedans. Imagine the look on the faces of the polite guests and hosts when these cars arrive. Nevertheless the grandiose was received good-naturedly. The more outspoken but well-meaning relatives would tease at the drivers for their luxury.

Remarks such as, "Wah, mak mon-char dhal-luk...!!", would go fast, furious and loud.

It was only later when I was older I found out that the male relatives who arrived in these sedans with their families, were actually chauffeurs.

This is Haji Akhmari, a first generation migrant to Singapore from Bawean Island, Indonesia. Like many others from the little island (north of Surabaya), Hj Akhmari sailed (!) on the rough Java sea to seek fortune in Singapore - to build a better life for himself and his family. Like many others, he had little/no education, except life’s hard knocks topped with a mindset that things Will be better here in Singapore. It was a hard life but what kept him going was that regardless of the situation, this adopted homeland was still better than the island in his memory. Hj Akhmari found a job as a driver. It was the best job he had. A job he held on until he retired. He raised many kids in Singapore. They attended good schools and had good jobs. And they become good Singaporeans. Hj Akhmari was not just a “driver”. He was a chauffeur, who drove many post-colonial tycoons in Singapore. Name one famous tycoon in Singapore and highly likely Hj Akhmari had driven him. Hj Akhmari was a unique chauffeur because he belonged to a special breed (and much-sought after) of chauffeurs that dated back to the colonial days. You see, other than that famous tradition of working at the Turf Club, many first generation local Baweanese in Singapore worked as chauffeurs. They were special because they took their “jobs” very seriously. In fact, so seriously that the cars they drove became their second homes. To a Baweanese, a home reflects the state of his well-being. A happy home reflects a good family and a good family reflects good lineage. Baweanese are house proud. Thus a clean, welcoming car is like an inviting home. A boss needs an inviting home after a long day at work. A Baweanese driver took care of these needs Very well. Hj Akhmari may not have realised much his esteemed profession contributed to Singapore’s nation-building. I am glad to know many, humble 1st generation Baweanese like Hj Akhmari who, regardless of the profession (there were hundreds of chauffeurs like him), worked proudly, professionally and became Very Good at it. #reeljuice #akandatang #filmmaking #filmmaker #storytelling #storyteller #sg #iremembersg #sghistory #history #bawean #nusantara

A post shared by Sanif Olek (@sanifoo) on
The Turf Club
The other famous tradition that was much synonymous with the local Baweanese were horse wranglers and stable boys or grooms. It originated at the stables of the Singapore Turf Club, before the Club moved to its present location at Kranji from Turf Club Road at Bukit Timah (and Race Course Road near Tekka Market before that). The profession was so widespread it had its own little community that mushroomed into multi-generational Baweanese families from the first-generation of horse wranglers and stable boys. This close-knit community at Turf Club Road even produced a prominent Singaporean champion jockey, Saimee Jumat.

The other consideration was from my National Service experience with the elite Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation. My first ciNE65 commissioned film, THE USUAL touched this experience briefly via its protagonist, Rosli. I decided to bring Rosli back in SAMA-SAMA to explore his journey. One may view Rosli's journey as my own semi-autobiographical journey in the Commando Formation.

I have decided from the onset that I want to feature real Commandos, albeit an NSF ones, as extras in SAMA-SAMA. It was part of the process to be authentic. Actors just won't hack it. Furthermore I think I owe it to the Formation to showcase the essence of the brotherhood. Everything in the screenplay with regards to the Commandos, ie the cold desserts, running together topless, nasi lemak, etc, are all quintessentially what we do together - they are not figments of my imagination!

When I was enlisted at Hendon Camp in the late 80s, my father was the proudest Malay father at the Boon Lay neighbourhood. Although my older brothers did their national service in the army too, no one could advise my family about my NS journey. The juvenile competitions at the common corridors and playground during childhood might have prepared me to be streetwise, but nothing could prepare me for the implications being enlisted at Hendon. I was thankful of the Commando experience. I had the full support from my buddies, who on the onset, trained together and looked out for me as one of the brothers. I learned that in time of distress, your buddies will have your back.

My take on this season's theme, SINGAPURA represents the common values such as industrious work ethics and initiative of the Baweanese enriched by traditional traits of the Commandos such as persistence, excellence and sense of brotherhood "leaving no man behind".

Recent reports about inequality and elitism in Singapore has made me wonder - how do we define a person?

Do we judge a person’s worth by how well they do in life? Do we define a person by the kind of jobs they do?

The first generation Baweanese arrived in Singapore with no formal training or education. They did menial work and became the best at their profession, ie chauffeurs, horse wranglers, nannies, etc, that future generations can be proud of. 

Watch the video below for my insights in writing SAMA-SAMA,

Raised in the blue-collar industrial estate of Jurong, it has always been about perseverance and chasing higher aspirations. I look around my neighbourhood and wonder why do people work so hard?

SAMA-SAMA "The Same" and THE USUAL mirror the unique life journey of a boy from working-class neighbourhood in Jurong. It takes perseverance, of chasing one’s dreams diligently to one’s values regardless of the circumstances. I remembered how my late father reminded my siblings that regardless who we are as adults in profession, life is good as long as we become someone that is respected by the community and country.

Singapore owes its development to its cultural diversity and our common values. Perhaps the most important place to reflect on the last 200 years (and earlier) is to return to our roots – to ponder who we were and what we have become. 

Celebrate our differences. Majulah Singapura!

Thank you to EVERYONE at the Singapore Armed Forces Ministry of Defence, Singapore (MINDEF), who have made this complex filmmaking possible and supported this journey.

The challenge has been very worthwhile.