Sunday, January 8, 2017

ciNE65 season IV (2017)

The year 2016 ended on a rather heartwarming note for me.

I was commissioned to create a film for the annual film competition ciNE65. I have been a mentor and judge in the previous editions of the event. It's feels like a full circle to be asked to make a film.

The pressure is on. It's the case of the judge being judged haha.

The theme for ciNE65 IV is Home.Truly. I called the film THE USUAL.

This is not an easy theme to dwell on. What is home, truly?

I think I spent a few days pondering over what is "home" to me? I've decided to do some soul-searching, firstly into my past to look at situations that remind me of home. Obviously there are 1001 things out there in Singapore that I can anchor my film on. Eventually I decided to look beyond the present, far back during my toddler childhood when my late father used to bring my older male siblings and myself to our monthly haircut session at the small barbershop run by a jovial Mr Siva at Jalan Majapahit, old Jurong Road.

The trips to the barbershop was especially memorable. The barbershop had a very unique cultural setting. Mr Siva's barbershop was not spacious. It was painted in turquoise paint and had only 2 worn-out, mechanical barber chairs in red, placed closely together. The walls were filled with iconic Hindustan-Tamil movie stars of the day. On another side of the wall, it was covered with images of various Hindu deities, with a Hindu altar that occupied central position of this wall. All day long, the airwaves would be filled with a mixture of Hindi and Tamil pop songs from the movies. The whole experience was like entering into a rural Disneyland for this wide-eyed toddler.

Although I enjoyed the trips, it traumatised 😲 me whenever it was my turn to have my haircut. I think the video below summarised how I felt back then. Haha. And when my turn was over (and I've stopped crying crocodile tears by then), I would spend the time by myself in the barbershop examining the various tools while my dad and Mr Siva, while cutting my brother's hair, caught up with family news and the politics of the day.

When you are on the barber's chair, it seems that all the human liberty and childhood freedom are stripped off from your life! The sound of the clipper sounded like your head will be mowed off your shoulders any second. Furthermore, you were actually witnessing yourself getting traumatised via the mirror.

In retrospect, besides the childhood hair-raising experience, I really have to give credit to my late father for always taking us out for unique experiences outside of my Malay upbringing - and the barbershop trips was just one of them. I can't remember all of them but I do recall moments during my childhood when he would hung out at the Chinese kopitiam located along the barbershop to chit-chat with the Chinese uncles there.

Secondly, to anchor the film in the present, I've decided to use my experience in the army while serving National Service in the 1st Commando Battalion. I'm privilege to have the experience to go through what many young men can only think of.

Finally, these are the two experiences that are very personal for me. These are some of the personal moments that for me, would always remind me of Singapore - regardless where I am in the world.

Moments that will always remind me of Home⧫Truly.

I am humbled to have the Defence Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen, spare some time to appear in this little project. Thank you, Sir.

Here is the behind-the-scenes video to THE USUAL. Thank you, MINDEF, for this awesome shoutout.

Green Ummah

Hello folks, especially to my blog followers, my apologies for it has such been a long time since I've posted anything here. I don't mean to be negligent but the last few months I've been tied up work that pays the bills (reality bites, huh). Free days I'd rather be spending sleeping, haha.

So much things happened last year in 2016. Between location recce, firming up concepts, meeting clients, et al, it's become harder to return here and you know, write stuff properly.

Anyway, one of the few worthwhile projects worth mentioning that I did last year was a green project organised by the kind folks at Masjid Mujahidin. I think they have been chasing me for 3-4 months prior before I finally managed to put my thoughts into paper. The video was eventually released coinciding Ramadan 2016. Alhamdulillah.

Here is an interview excerpt that was published on the mosque's magazine publication MEQAR (2/2016).

How do you hope to contribute to our project?
I am very humbled to be invited by Mujahidin Mosque to contribute to this project. I see this project as an extension of my creative outlet to give back to the community. My previous contribution was 4 short films I made to de-stigmatise acute mental health issues within the Malay community. Caring for the environment is one initiative that I am passionate about.

How will your contribution help move it forward?
I see my strength in the emotive, visual storytelling as key in bringing the project’s intrinsic message forward, ie, saving water in the Dakwah and incorporating it as part and parcel of the Muslim way of life. My experience in internationally, award-winning filmmaking and connection as a Muslim filmmaker is applied to this project to move it forward, In Syaa Allah.

What do you feel about Project #GreenUmmah and what are your views about the video?
Protecting the environment is not just about recycling reusable waste or using less plastic. Being kind to all living things and saving water are two other very important basic initiatives that need to start from the self. The present generation needs discipline ourselves so that future generations can continue to enjoy the available natural resources. Project #GreenUmmah is an excellent initiative to create awareness within the Muslim community of the wider international movement to protect the environment.

What makes this videos cutting edge and different from other outreach videos?
Contemporary audiences are very innovative. It takes more than “hard sell” public service messages to sway them, in my humble opinion. Other than dramatic elements, the video incorporates kinetic motion graphics, thus creating an overall modern approach to the #GreenUmmah message.

How much potential do you think this project has and how far do you see it going?
I set out to conceptualise a public message video that is not only insular that appeals to the local Muslim community. The video shall reach out to the international audience when it goes viral, Muslims and non-Muslims.

And here is the video :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

A notable Friday

27 November 2015. 2 different films, 2 different styles but telling the Singapore narrative nonetheless. 

Not too long ago when I was focussing on television and "filmmaking" took a backseat, I recall on few occasions, I've had 2 television programmes telecast on the same week or same evening previously. 

It is gratifying and humbling to realise that yours truly will have not one, but two films that will have their world premieres on the same day, 27 November 2015, on a blessed Friday. Alhamdulillah.

VOLUPTAS (feature film) will premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival 2015. Voluptas stars Ariati Tyeb Papar, Aaron Aziz and Suhaillah Salam (Asian TV Awards 2015 "Best Actress in Leading Role" nominee), with Mastura Ahmad, Mohamed Fadly, Douglas Lam, Girish Pandey, featuring the song track "U Thought" by Mark Bonafide and Taufik Batisah

BILA LARUT MALAM "In The Still Of The Night", 1 of 3 commissioned short films, will premiere at National Gallery Singapore. Bila Larut Malam Seri Jaes, Siti Hajar Abdul Gani, Siti Aishah Ahmad and Aqmal N. 

The stars are being kind to me. MasyaAllah.

See you at the screenings.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bila Larut Malam [In The Still Of The Night] World Premiere

I am pleased to announce that my second film for 2015, Bila Larut Malam (In The Still Of The Night), will premiere on 27 November 2015 at the National Gallery Singapore.

The other film, VOLUPTAS, will have its World Premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival 2015, also on 27 November, at 9.30pm.
In this juxtaposition of P Ramlee's Nak Dara Rindu (Young Maidens' Longing) and Zubir Said's Semoga Bahagia (May You Achieve Happiness), we hear the individual and the national, romantic doubt and decisive confidence. In this film, three women struggle with an acute sense of loss related to the men in their lives, but find new strength amid the sorrow.

Bila Larut Malam is one of three short films (the other two by Singaporean filmmakers, Kan Lume and Liao Jiekai) commissioned for the Gallery's opening celebration, that will make their world premiere. This trio of films inaugurates the Gallery's annual film commission series, which premieres South-east Asian short films inspired by art in the Gallery.

2015 looks set to close with a big bang for yours truly. Alhamdulillah.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

VOLUPTAS World Premiere #SGIFF2015

I am pleased to announce that my second feature-length film, VOLUPTAS, will have its World Premiere on 27 November at the 26th edition of the Singapore International Film Festival [2015]. It will screen in the Singapore Panorama section.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the cast especially the leads i.e. Aaron Aziz, Ariati Tyeb Papar and Suhaillah Salam (with supporting cast Mastura Ahmad and Fadly Awaluddin), for their patience. VOLUPTAS was shot "guerrilla style" in 2011 while I was going through some emotional low at the prospect that my first feature-length film, SAYANG DISAYANG, might be canned due to funding issues. Nevertheless, SAYANG DISAYANG (completed in late 2013) went on to represent Singapore at the 2015 Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category - going head to head with esteemed filmmakers that I really look up to such as the Dardenne brothers' 2 DAYS, 1 NIGHT and Ann Hui's THE GOLDEN ERA. I remembered shooting VOLUPTAS as a "middle finger" to the powers that be for sidelining my effort to make Singapore's first locally-made Malay-language film since the 60s. Perhaps it's meant to be a blessing a disguise that SAYANG DISAYANG was completed 6 years later - in time to represent Singapore at the Oscars during Singapore's Golden Jubilee year aka SG50.

Good things come to those who wait, indeed.

Let's see where VOLUPTAS' journey will take us to.

(#SGIFF2015 press launch, 20 October 2015 | Photo credit: Studio Alpha)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

MANJA Sept 2015

My Ramadan/Syawal Umrah sojourns to the Holy Land got the attention of Singapore's MANJA Magazine (Mediacorp publishing, September 2015). I'm so much humbled. Thank you to the publisher for taking the interest. 

I pray HE grants my intention to make these trips a regular (bi-annual) affair.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Umrah Ramadan/Syawal 1436

Alhamdulillah, after missing my trip last year I managed to visit the blessed Holy Land for my bi-annual Umrah trip - the third. Below are selected posts from my Instagram - visit @sanifoo for more pictures.

Many times great patience and divine intervention work together in ways you least expected, In Syaa Allah. Those familiar will tell you of the passive push and shove involved at Ar-Raudhah. By His grace I got not one but two spots (and several rakaats) - the second after being offered by a kind brother to his when I was further inside. Alhamdulillah. At the Ar-Raudhah exit I realized it's almost Tahajjud. The guards were clearing the place of streamers. I immediately took my spot. It was then I realized I was directly behind the imam. The snail-paced 10 rakaats session, lasted about 2 hours. On "normal" evenings, only one's determination and concentration to overcome the only-human, past-bedtime weariness will get through the session. But last night - it was a breeze. It didn't even feel like 2 hours. And I felt so close to the Prophet Muhammad SAW, who's tomb was only a few meters to my left and the Ar-Raudhah behind me. MasyaAllah, MasyaAllah, MasyaAllah. Alhamdulillah #umrah2015 #umrah1436 #ramadan2015 #ramadan1436 #exploreMadina #exploremedina #madinah #saudiarabia #alhamdulillah #islam #muslim #masjid #mosque
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

During Iqtikaf I had the opportunity to make friends with Muhammad Iftikhar (white shirt) and Shabier. Both are from Pakistan. Iftikhar's from Lahore and he has been a Hafiz for the last 4 years, teaching folks in USA and New Zealand to read Quran via Skype, while Shabier's from Karachi but now works in Riyadh as an electrician. Iftikhar was more chatty as he spoke English reasonably well. He asked if I read the Quran well, I said errr... that I'm still learning. He offered to help via Skype, ikhlas if I want to. In Syaa Allah. I told him I'm a (ahem) scriptwriter. He wants to learnt from me too haha. He plays the cricket if he's not teaching folks reciting Quran. We had Iftar together. We exchanged numbers and hope to keep in touch In Syaa Allah. #umrah2015 #umrah1436 #ramadan2015 #ramadan1436 #exploreMadina #exploremedina #madinah #saudiarabia #alhamdulillah
A photo posted by Sanif Olek (@sanifee) on

Sunday, August 2, 2015

15 minutes

The following article is reproduced from NewsLoop. Thank you so much. 

This is part of a series of interviews by NewsLoop with prominent Singaporeans, to celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday. Visit NewsLoop regularly and tap on the “Exclusive SG50 Interviews″ trending topic for more of these stories.

15 Minutes With Top Malay Director, Sanif Olek

Long-time film-maker Sanif Olek may have worked on many television and short films since 1996, but his first feature film was only released in 2014. Sayang Disayang is produced in Malay language about the Malay community in Singapore.

With so many years of experience to back him up, it probably isn’t very surprising that the film has received such an acclaimed response. The film won Best Cinematography & Story at the World Film Awards 2014 held at Jakarta, and was nominated to represent Singapore in the Best Foreign Picture category of the Oscars 2015. The film is available on Singapore Airlines’ in-flight entertainment, so you can watch it the next time you travel by SIA!

We caught up with Sanif Olek over email to find out how his childhood in Singapore was like.

NewsLoop (NL): What is your fondest memory of growing up in Singapore?

Sanif Olek (Sanif): Before my family moved to the HDB estate in Jurong, we used to stay at a little sub-rural community near Nanyang estate (where the present Jurong West Sports Stadium stands). There used to be little dusty strip made up of trading shops where families make their weekly trips for groceries and general household items. There were also two barber shops that were run by a Chinese and an Indian man.

My fondest memory of growing up was the bi-weekly trips my father, my brothers and I used to make to the barber shops. My father would put me on his bicycle as he pushed it while my older brothers would walk alongside.

While waiting for our turns, my father would be chatting non-stop with the barber as the latter’s scissor snipped our hair. I seldom listened to their conversation. They would talk about family and the weather. I got bored whenever the conversation moved on to politics. I got restless easily, so I played with the equipment at the barber shop when not sitting on the barber’s chair.

After we had our haircuts, we would cross the road to the trading shops. I loved going to the trading shops as I enjoyed browsing at the latest plastic toys that were put on display. The shopkeeper was usually kind enough to let me play with the sample toys. On some days, he would hand me little sweets. He had children but they were unsociable girls older than me. They would leave me alone to do their homework behind the counters. My brothers would be outside to look after the bicycle and acting like the adults. These happened while my father settled payment for the groceries that my mother had bought during the week. Sometimes these visits at the trading shops would take some time as my father would be too caught up catching up with the friendly shop owners. I remembered that all these conversations my father had with the Indian and Chinese “uncles” were in bazaar Malay.

NL: What do you think has been the biggest change you’ve seen in Singapore in the past decade?

Sanif: On the surface, the most obvious transformation that has taken place in Singapore is the rapid urbanisation of its skyline.

Nevertheless, beyond this exterior transformation, the diverse communities that make up Singapore is evolving deeper into a cultural fusion. I remember perhaps ten years ago when one sat on the MRT trains, it was perhaps easy to distinguish the respective, main, local ethnic races, i.e. Chinese, Malay, Indian, that make up Singapore. However, if one happens to take the train these days, it is getting rather complicated to identify these respective “traditional” ethnic races.

Other than English, which is spoken by most commuters, we are also listening to other languages. Furthermore, the three main national languages may also be spoken with non-local or non-familiar “Singaporean” accents.

I think this simple observation speaks a lot about the diversity of people who currently live in Singapore. The cultural representation of the current third-generation Singaporean and general population who live in this country have moved in tangent to the first-generation of Singaporeans. This evolution with regard to the ethnic composition makes the population more dynamic for growth in the long run.

NL: What do you think it will mean to be “Singaporean” in years to come?

Sanif: I lived overseas for long periods of time while pursuing my studies, and subsequently for work. It was during these periods that the attachment to the homeland became impactful. I became fond of the familiar spaces and faces that I identify with in Singapore.

For the gentlemen, the shared experience during National Service often becomes typical ice-breakers during conversations. I remember on several occasions when I was overseas for long periods of time, it was comforting to hear Singlish from a mile away and subsequently speaking it in a conversation with fellow Singaporeans. Spicy local food that we used to take for granted at the neighbourhood hawker centres became comfort food in the middle of winter.

I also think many Singaporeans who grew up in Singapore will agree that it will take some time to adjust to the respective cultural attitudes overseas when it comes to studies and work. Furthermore, as more inter-marriages become common, Singaporeans have generally become more tolerant and I think this helps us to adapt easily in cross-cultural environment overseas. I suppose in years to come, there is not one identity that makes a “Singaporean”.

NL: What’s the one thing that you love about Singapore?

Sanif: I always have a peculiar sense of relief when I step into Changi International Airport after returning from overseas. This relief stems from the comfort that there is a system that not only “works”, but works effectively in Singapore. It’s like coming home to re-appreciate the familiar environment that we have taken for granted.

NL: What are your hopes and expectations for Singapore in the next 50 years?

Sanif: I consider the first 50 years as the first phase of identity building post-independence. During this first phase, we have sought to build ourselves economically and to some extent, socially. We can only move forward when Singaporeans have a strong mutual sense of belonging. This shared experience and identity are the qualities that shall keep us united to move forward and competitive as dynamic people. On that note, we also need to be able to maintain our tolerance to not only hear, but listen to the different voices that make up this multicultural homeland. Taking my own experience in the Commandos as an example, we need to be united in looking out for one another as brothers, sisters and family. It is only when these bonds are strong that we can grow together as Singaporeans and stay ahead of the competition. Each one of us is a pillar to remind one another that Singapore is our homeland. A home requires everyone’s responsibility to keep it comfortable and safe to survive the next 50 years and beyond.