Friday, October 12, 2018

Stroke support

I am privileged to be with the advocacy to bring awareness for Stroke (Angin Ahmar in Malay).

I person from 18 to 80 years old suffers from stroke every hour in Singapore. Stroke affects all ages. Stroke Support Station (an Singapore-based NGO) is doing wonderful work in bringing wellness therapies ie positivity, self-esteem (among others) to stroke survivors. Most importantly, the stroke caregivers can also receive a tip or two whilst taking care of their loved ones.

Visit the organisation’s website for details on beneficiaries, donors and volunteers.

Stroke Support Station from Sanif Olek on Vimeo.
Writer, director: Sanif Olek
Producer: Mervyn Lim
Client: Stroke Support Station
Post-production: Flashforward Pte Ltd (Singapore)

 Mrs Teo (founder S3), Mervyn Lim (Producer)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Luxurious dwellings

This year marked a first for me. 

Oxley Holdings, one of the leading property developers in Singapore, approached me to develop a series of marketing videos for their developments. They had watched my work in films and saw my strength in storytelling. Their marketing team wanted a different approach in their marketing.

Here are the videos

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Gym funkin’

It had been a long day - really long day outdoors “sightseeing” Singapore. It was both an adventure into very unique parts of the island and discovery these with potential unique angles. And I was introduced to this homegrown coffee place in the middle of the Stirling Road heartlands.

Anyways, seeing that the day had been productive, I decided that the gym was the best place to cap the day by the evening. Rae and Christian remix of Dinah Washington’s Is You Or Is You Ain’t was pumping between my ears as I walked into the hall. It was crowded but comfortable enough that one need not wait long to do whatever he wanted to do.

You will see 4 groups of guys in the gym. The first group belongs to the ones who will be hogging the free weights and in the zone. The second will be the wandering ones that wonder at how the machines work in between awkward reps and gazing at the other guys who are in the same predicament. The third will be the guys who pretend to be “busy” and telling the whole world that they have more important things to do on their smartphones than actually working out. The last will be those that are incessantly taking selfies or socialising with really lousy conversations with other guys who actually want to work out but are too kind to tell the other guy to STFU.

And there was a single unoccupied treadmill at the end of the row of treadmills just opposite the huge tv monitor. Perfect, I thought.

That trombone from Dinah’s funk was on a killer loop. Confidently I stepped onto the machine. I’m on a killer mission. The tv monitor was showing Glenda Chong and Dawn Tan on some random news of the day. But nothing could beat Dinah’s crazy funk.

And that was when this strange whiff of a smell came knocking onto my breathing space. It was a cross between stale alcohol, an early morning mouth that hasn’t been gargled for a month and a set of teeth that hasn’t been brushed with a decent toothpaste for a week. In between Dinah’s funk I was looking around for a dead lizard that could have possibly got stuck somewhere between the motors of the treadmill. Nope, nothing there.

I glanced (okey, looked) at the glass reflection in front of me. The dude next to me was sweating and panting heavily. Every time he exhaled, that special whiff brushed off my face. I tried to ignore, but no, his sexy lung air refused to go away.

While I panted (erm, gulped) and glanced at Glenda Chong and Dawn Tan pouting some very serious news of the world, my mind wondered off to a another dimension where green grasses with new-formed dew lay with hedonistic abandon early in the morning at the little HDB park downstairs and a sea of lemongrass was just starting to ejaculate its fragrance. Also I was hoping that Glenda Chong and Dawn Tan might have noticed the North Face top and Under Armour shorts that clinged onto my wet body curves. (Hey be honest, you’ve got to have some fancy motivation to head to the gym, or any other exercise, okey!)

Joe Claussell remixing Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good didn’t bring good vibes. I pressed on while Sarah Vaughn was funking her Summertime on the UFO remix. Anita O’Day was swinging with Sing, Sing, Sing by RSL, but I’m not.

My eyes glanced at the next treadmill every time the dude adjusted his buttons on the screen. Hey, he was there exhaling his lungs when I was sauntering into the gym. So at the back of my mind, he should be done 5 mins, 10 mins tops, when I joined him... right?? The guys at Fitness Family would have pushed me to carry ong in the face of mental adversary and lousy oxygen! No pain no gain, for honour and glory! Thus I need to complete this mission.

Sarah Vaughn came back aptly with Fever - funked up by Adam Freeland. I looked at the digital screen. I realised that I’m still surviving at almost 30 minutes. I didn’t have the chance to glance at Glenda Chong and Dawn Tan when I stepped off the treadmill. I trudged away to another corner of the hall.

I took a few *really* deep, refreshing breathers. The air freshener that eluded the treadmill space was a blessing at this point. Blessed are the folks who invented air fresheners. I was still breathing and I felt blessed.

Shirley Horn was inviting herself to Come Dance With Me. Okey, let’s go Ms Horn.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A scene and soya beancurd

A soya bean cafe. Cool, rainy weather.

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap, queuing absentmindedly. His turn next to be served by the soya bean lady at the serving counter.

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans walks in. A toddler trails behind her. She turns around and picks up the toddler. She joins queue.

I look away to take a bite at the peanut rice ball in my soya bean curd. Yes, the scene developing is not from television or film or romance novel. It’s right here at a famous soya beancurd stall.

I look up again.

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap makes his order. While the soya bean lady prepares his order, big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap looks to his side.

The world freezes for 5 seconds. Petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans smiles. First.

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap smiles. Unsure.

Another 5 seconds.

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap: ...oh... hey..!

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans: ... heyyy....!

The world transforms into beautiful, soft bokeh.

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans: ...fancy meeting you... here.. it’s been ages.

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap seems not able to sink into the moment.

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans: ...what are you doing.... erm... here..?

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap: ....errrm.... just happened to be here. How about you..?

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans: Oh I was just sending... (toddler’s name) for his checkup.

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap acknowledges. But his eyes still transfixed to petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans.

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans: (toddler’s name) say “hi uncle..!”

Soya bean lady at counter: $8.60 PLEASE...!

Big dude with oversized love handles and Beats headphones over a black cap pays for his soya bean. He takes a moment to look at toddler. His eyes strays to petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans carrying toddler. He smiles at toddler’s mother. There are 1001 things running in his head, under the Beats headphone over the black cap. He leaves but smiles at petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans carrying toddler.

A petite lady in black tudung and tight jeans carrying toddler also has 1001 things running in her head, inside the black tudung, as big dude walks away.

Her gaze strays away. She sees me watching her. I look down at my warm bowl of soya beancurd with peanut rice balls.

I dig into the bowl to take another mouthful of the rice ball in soya beancurd. Nice peanut rice balls in warm soya beancurd in nice cool rainy weather.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Elite Gentlemen Golden Jamboree

25 November 2017
The moment finally arrived for me to screen the 2-part anthology The CDO Gentleman. It was a moment I had waited for close to 25 years since I ROD ORD. I braved myself to come forward for a pre-screening speech. This was a special audience. And they overwhelmed me.

This was a different crowd from the usual ‘film crowd’ that I normally speak to at film festival screenings. I’m humbled and honoured to be standing in front of almost half a century of SG Commando history. Watching me were the pioneers who carved that history, the guys who braved it all so that future generations like myself can have it ‘easier’, this was the fraternity that progressively set the standard to SG’s most elite league of gentlemen.

Most importantly these were the gentlemen who had inspired me when I was a teenager.

I had wanted to be just like one of them. I didn’t want to go for second best.

These were the guys that taught me to always strive for the best (nothing less), regardless the circumstances.

So many things I had wanted to express. While I stood there looking at these guys, I noticed that beneath all the ceremonial cliche, we are just normal folks. The years may have grazed the bite that defined us during NS but we retained that sting. The concept of camaraderie may be abstract to some people and lost to many, but when I stood there, it made sense.

It’s great to be home.

Flashback, August 2017
I received a call from CY about the upcoming Cdo Formation 48th Anniversary 2017. He watched all the videos I did for 1st Company’s 25th Anniversary on July 2017 and was especially moved by one of the videos, In Memoriam. I was asked if I would keen to do some videos for the said formation’s upcoming anniversary. CY is an administrator of a closed group exclusive for past commandos.

Almost 50 years of history.
Visual documentation.
Great Story.

I have always wanted to do a story on the Commandos. It’s a subject that intrigues the imagination and command attention regardless of the scope - as are any other stories that involved the elite military units around the world. There is a captive audience for any nugget that emerges from the fraternity.

‘Nuf said, haha.

For this project, I am interested to capture the spirit of the Commandos - the fraternity that I used to be (and still considerably) a part of.

I deliberately avoided the cliche treatment showcasing the alpha masculine bravado that the public may be familiar with. Previous documentaries missed the point about the Gentleman that makes a commando, in my humble opinion. Thus I prefer that the visuals do the talking and actual voices of past-present commandos drive the narrative.

As much as I would like to cover more stories, there are only so much I can cover. It is what the stories offer to tell rather than the quantity that matters. Doing these documentary made me discover about myself. The process has also reconnected myself and my buddies. Yes we are still in contact and I wouldn't want to trade these relationship with anything else. They were there when I was a naive young adult in National Service and they are still here 25 years later.

The Commandos have a mantra - we don't leave anyone behind.

An episode happened during the production of these videos. These brothers rallied together to turn around the issue. I shall not dwell on it here but this insert serves to remind me later on when I come back to this story. Thank you brothers, I am forever grateful. You know who you are. 

The stint in the elite unit and wearing the red beret have moulded me into somebody that the young teenager version of myself will be proud of.

Thank You to everyone involved who had made this herculean task possible. For Honour and Glory!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A madrasah celebrates 80 years

I have always been curious about the madrasah. As I was attending Anglo-Chinese School, a Methodist institution, during secondary school, I was juggling with part-time madrasah studies at Masjid Assyakirin. The interest piqued when I made the short film, AMEEN [2010]*, that completes my anthology called, The Love Trilogy.

*World Premiere; Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
*Official Selection; Montreal World Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival

Down the line, there have been so many developments with regards to the local madrasah curriculum within the context of the Singapore education system. Their relevance and existence within the current socio-political climate have always been threatened. At present, there are six madrasahs in Singapore that offer full-time curriculums. The oldest, Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah, had recently celebrated their 90th year anniversary in late November 2017.

I was introduced to Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah through a mutual friend. I met the administration with zero expectations. My first impression of the staff was one that was very welcoming. Everyone we spoke to had warm dispositions. I remembered one notable incident was when 2 students from the madrasah were assaulted by a mentally-disturbed individual outside their school compound. The school reacted to the incident calmly without much fanfare.

During the discussions, I explained to the administration where I was coming from - that my strength is in narrative storytelling, I proposed that their video steer away from the “typical” corporate video that sells nothing but hardsell data one may find easily on Google. I was pleasantly surprised that my proposal to bring the stories of individuals that went through Al-Maarif, individuals that make Al-Maarif, Al-Maarif - was received constructively.

I was looking for that quintessential element that threads all these stories. I found that in one of the canteen stall operators - an individual the students affectionately called Cik Milah. I found the stories of how the madrasah continued to harness the best regardless of limited resources (compared to secular mainstream schools), and staying positive through the years, intriguing. I find how the students find inspiration from the pioneers, inspiring.

The results of these stories are compiled into a 15-min, beautifully crafted story.

Thank you to the administration of Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah for giving me the chance and ibadah to craft their story - 80 years of very important Singapore history. I walked away with a new sense of discovery to the vast progress that Singapore madrasahs have achieved. 

A Commando Silver Anniversary

2017 is the year that I reconnected with my buddies from National Service at Hendon Road. Along the years we have met occasionally - very far in-between, but nothing more intimately than it had been since April 2017.

It was triggered by the short film, THE USUAL, that I was commissioned to make for the 4th edition of ciNE65 launch on 8Dec 2016. Submissions for film entries for this annual short film competition closed on June 2017. The Defence Minister himself, Dr Ng Eng Hen, got involved with a cameo in THE USUAL.

I received an invite from one of my NS batch guys sometime in mid April 2017. I was still recovering from my recent hospitalisation in March. It was a call for me to be part of the organising committee at our NS batch, ie 1st Company, upcoming 25th year anniversary from the date we ROD ORD in July 1992.

Well to be honest, the Anniversary could have been our 28th if we counted from the first day that the guys at 1st Company was enlisted in December 1989. July was chosen to tie in with the Singapore Armed Forces’ NS50 campaign - 50 years of National Service enlistment, on 1st July 2017. The committee reckoned that it would be rather apt to celebrate our anniversary on this date.

From the outset I suspected that my involvement would have something to do with videos - and true enough during the first meeting this intention was articulated. Lots of ideas were thrown in about what these videos should be, but nothing was concrete. Subsequently I was given the freehand about what these videos will be.

The first thing that came to mind during the conception was that each one of us in 1st Company would have stories to tell respectively. There would be one or two stories that never left us - one that left an indelible mark even 25 years on. The outcome of these memories were compiled into the video entitled Common Threads.  

The 2nd video is Journeys. It was rather complex to bottle 2.5 years of National Service into a few minutes. The genesis of this video is from my fond memories to the close bond and camaraderie we developed, shared and some of us subsequently retained 25 years later. Upon reflection, I remembered that we were all just very young adults navigating ourselves in regimental communal settings.

The next video, In Memoriam, is perhaps the hardest to make. It was hard to make because I find it terribly complex to define a person in an obituary. There were three of us that went too soon.

Lee Chee Hoong was a buddy from Section 2. I remembered one incident in Temburong, Brunei. In one of the exercises, we were all tired and starving. None of us had fresh ration (apparently due to some miscommunication in the logistics department). In one of the harbour points, a packet of hard biscuits aka dog tacts, was passed around and I was fortunate enough to have the last piece of half biscuits. As I was finishing that piece, Chee Hoong, huddled next to me, offered to finish the crumbs that contained in the packet that I was holding. Everyone was hungry. I am not sure if Chee Hoong had his share of biscuits. Everyone could only be selfish. I remembered his expression when he asked me for that crumbs of biscuit. On many weekends, when the boys hung out partying, Chee Hoong and I went back together because we were the only ones who stayed at the west area. I was told that Chee Hoong passed away from heart failure - only a few years after full-time National Service ROD ORD. Too young.

Mahesvaran was a fellow Weaponman in vocation. He was a soft-spoken buddy, but had a very warm disposition once he opened up to you. And when he did, one will often be taken surprised of his dark, off-beat humour. He was from different platoon. We connected because we were of the same vocation. Being an ethnic minority, he was one of handful of people that I confided in when I had my doubts about the military experience. Occasionally we did guard duty together as prowlers. It was during these walks that I connected with Mahesvaran. I was informed of Mahesvaran’s death only recently, from L, another Weaponman. I bumped into L while I was passing Jurong Point for the SMRT train. I was shocked to hear that Mahesvaran had taken his own life.

Ling Sien Boon was another buddy from another platoon. I did not manage to know Sien Boon personally, other that the cordial hi-byes in the barracks and the little chit chats during in-between guard duty breaks. The last time I met Sien Boon was in Dec 2014 at fellow camp mate, J S, house gathering with some of the boys. I was informed that Sien Boon passed away in Taiwan. He was in a bicycle race. According to witnesses, he stopped by the side of the road. He was found slumped - unconscious. He had lost his life.

I discovered many things about myself doing these videos.

I rediscover real friendship. I rediscover what it means to be surrounded by friends that do not judge and know very well if you are bullshitting, haha. Those that you lived with in close quarters, may form a perspective of you as a person when we were very young adults. As we mature, our perspectives change. As we meet again 25 years later, we are able to overlook our past, including all superficial veneers - to be real gentlemen and accept one another. We forge new friendships based on our personal and professional achievements 25 years later.

In this context, PALACE (Sam Smith), aptly describes these rediscovered friendships and lives I have missed over the years.
My head is filled with ruins
Most of them are built with you
Now the dust no longer moves
Don’t disturb the ghost of you
They are empty, they are worn
Tell me what we built this for
On my way to somethin' more
You’re that one I can’t ignore
I’m gonna miss you
I still care
Sometimes I wish we never built this palace
But real love is never a waste of time
Yeah, I know just what you’re sayin'
And I regret ever complainin'
About this heart and all its breakin'
It was beauty we were makin'
And I know we’ll both move on
You’ll forgive what I did wrong
They will love the better you
But I still own the ghost of you

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Another Lost Sole

My late father lost his slippers one fine afternoon at the mosque. We never discussed how the slippers got lost, except that the thought of taking another pair that could be found (easily) at the premises was not an option. I never saw the logic. I ended up making a short film of it.

During my second visit to Madinah, in one of the visits to its Grand Mosque, I had forgotten to take along a plastic bag to keep in my slippers when I entered the mosque. Good luck to anyone who leave their footwear at the grand doorway to enter the mosque, and finding their respective pair on their way out.

Yet, during that visit, I decided to just leave my slippers at the doorway - a pair of footwear among the hundreds of footwear that have been left by the thousands of pilgrims in good faith. In good faith I left my slippers at one of the grand doorways - tucked at a little “safe” corner. At the back of my mind, it was a little social experiment - I had also wanted to see if my slippers was going to still be there. Yes, on the way out, I couldn’t find my slippers. Fortunately my hotel was about less that 200m away. So I walked back barefooted. My father walked 2km.

It was in the middle of summer. My nimble feet felt like it had walked on cooling embers of coal. I looked around and there were other pilgrims who were barefooted, but they seemed to soak up their situation within the marbled mosque compounds.

This evening, as I entered the mosque, I spotted a brother pacing along the walkway. He was looking for his slippers. He looked at me, his subconscious was frail. I understood. Must have been the same look when my dad lost his. And mine.

As I found a spot to remove my shoes, he returned with a pair of slippers. He explained meekly that he has taken the slippers from one of the toilet cubicles. He meant to return it next time he visits the mosque.

It’s ok brother, you need not explain.

Monday, September 4, 2017

An afternoon tea.

Ext. Nondescript Sarabat Stall in the City

A breather from day's errand, people watching with a teh tarik.

Abang rider: what's your next drama?

M: ...still writing it, bro.

Abang rider: I missed your film, the one with Rahim Razali and that Alin Aidli Mosbit girl. Eh congrats lah. Bangga orang kita boleh fly the Singapore flag everywhere.
M: ...terimakasih bro.

Abang rider: But I caught your second feature, I don't know the title but it's the one with Aaron Aziz and Ariati Tyeb Papar. Couldn't really understand what's the story about, but I know what you are doing with the visuals. I gotta watch it again lah to really tangkap this kinda treatment without much dialogue. The Europeans have done much like this. I am happy that you are trying something yang tak ramai masyarakat kita buat. Drama kat tv sekarang semua dah merepek ah...

M: ....

(So okay, this is getting awkward, but gerek lah this Abang Rider may understand some film theory, but I still don't know where this conversation is heading to.)

Abang rider: I see that many anak orang kita pergi seberang tambak. Why haven't you done that too? But then again, I think we don't need to be out of SIngapore to fly the flag. Just like what you are doing. Your work travels all over the world, way beyond the causeway. That's good. Kalau semua lari Singapore, who will tell our stories...?

Abang rider checks his messages.

The sugar in the teh tarik making M's throat dry. Perhaps it's the high humidity.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sayang Disayang on Bluray

Sensual debut powered by sights of spicy delicacies and sounds of lovelorn music. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
I am pleased to announce that my debut feature film, Sayang Disayang is now available on bluray format.

The journey to realization of the Blu-ray edition of the feature film SAYANG DISAYANG (Best Asian Film Jury's Prize @ Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival; Singapore's official 2015 Oscars® entry, Best Foreign Language film... among others) has taken sixteen years.

This journey began in 2001. After successfully producing several critically acclaimed television series, I considered that a feature film was the next natural progression, because you see, every film school graduate has ambitions to be That feature film director (...and producer).

Little did I know that the process to create a feature film requires another level of persistence and energy!

The process was close to impossible. However, perhaps driven by the conditioning I had at Hendon Road I pressed on. The notions acquired there that nothing is impossible, of never giving up when the challenges come pounding, of not forgetting your reasons for starting in the first place, of holding on to the beliefs in the face of hurtful social distractions, and finally - importantly - staying true to your voice while reflecting on your original motives when others stop believing, helped me conquer the impossible.

These notions may well sound a little clichéd in today’s cynical world but all made sense during those sixteen years. You grow up. You sieve the doers from the poseurs. The wheat from the chaff. You discover real friends. You quit trying to validate your own worth. You are energised with new found positivity and courage.

Sixteen years also highlighted what it meant to push the bar, especially in Singapore with a film told from the perspective of a Singaporean Malay-language voice.

Cultural narratives evolve. We become culturally regressive when we set our cultural reference to one that may has gone past its use-by date, in my humble opinion. In films, romanticising a bygone era may be sexy, but that sexiness should serve to question ourselves of its relevance. One can choose to go for the tried-and-tested narratives, or brazen with story concept that can sustain its relevance 10, 20, even 50 years ahead.

Thus, the last sixteen years have challenged me with a steep learning curve to climb. Like all film, Sayang Disayang is not flawless but over those sixteen years, Sayang Disayang has been perfect for me. The perfect gift takes time to present itself. The view from the top of the curve is encouraging.

Bluray content
1. Theatrical release (newly colour-graded)
2. Bonus features 1
3. Bonus features 2

Purchase details
SGD$35 each*
*add SGD$2 - local SG postage
*add SGD$7 - international registered postage
*PM/email screenshot of bank transfer receipt
*PM/email delivery address
Bank transfer @ acct no 135-105-819-1 United Overseas Bank Ltd