Monday, May 8, 2017

Project Lapis Sagu

I have been privileged to be part of the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) initiative called, Project Lapis Sagu. Project Lapis Sagu, as the film-making contest was called when launched in November 2016, takes its name from the multi-layered dessert, and holds it up as a symbol of integration and tolerance. The contest attracted over 1,200 entries.

MCI said the films explore relationships between Singaporeans and foreigners from different angles and in different settings. The films arrive at the same meeting point where we can move beyond our differences and find common threads that bind us - if we take a moment to put ourselves in one another's shoes.

Besides myself, 3 other acclaimed Singaporean film directors, i.e. Eric Khoo, Rajagopal and Kelvin Tong, were roped in for this project. However when the four films were completed, Eric's film was pulled out due to concerns from the focus groups prior to the release of the films. I have not seen Eric's piece, thus I'm afraid I have nothing to comment on his zombie-themed film.

Together Apart was launched on April 2 2017 at Shaw Lido cinema.

My film, THE MANIFEST, is set hundreds of years in the future, in space. It explores tensions between a Singaporean space engineer and a naturalised citizen, who are on a critical mission. The theme was submitted by national serviceman Thomas Goh. On the film;

THE MANIFEST points to the fact that Kyle, the main protagonist, is returning to Earth with a special task. He has many reasons to return but one of the tasks is to bring back with him a "special cargo".

I picked this story because I feel that the setting in space is very unique. It articulates the messaging in an innovative, non-conventional way. It excites me as a filmmaker. Other than the messaging, there is also a very strong character study of the two protaganists. What would succumbing to anger and loneliness turn a person into? With THE MANIFEST, I hope that the audience will further embrace the rich cultural diversity here in Singapore. However, it takes two hands to clap — while there is so much literature about how locals should be more accepting, new migrants also need to break away from their enclaves and mingle with locals.

The film stars Keagan Kang, Sivakumar Palakrishnan and Aidli Mosbit (as ORION) and Peer Metze, with original score by Shabir.

Here is the film, THE MANIFEST


Here are all the three films presented as an anthology Together Apart


If you enjoyed the score to THE MANIFEST, here are links to the score pieces by Shabir




Saturday, May 6, 2017

Giving back

A little background on this article, 'Director with a heart to teach' (ST, April 4 2017)

I haven't been well the last few months. I think my body succumbed to the rigours of my work in production and I had to be warded for more than 3 weeks at NUH for treatment. In the midst of all these madness, my commitment to ciNE65 as one of the judges (and a commissioned film) casts its weight on top of all the other professional commitments. The folks at ciNE65 and writer Boon Chan (ST) have been kind enough to delay the interview due to my medical condition. This interview was conducted about two weeks after I was discharged. Fortunately, my mind was clear enough not to be affected by the chemicals in the medicines. I think I sounded coherent enough for Boon Chan 😅

The photo was taken before I was warded.


8Q
In his new short film, The Usual, local film-maker Sanif Olek got to direct Singapore's Defence Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen. 
He says: "Everyone on set was quite tense because this is the Defence Minister coming on set. I was star struck for five seconds and then I just focused on the directing and the story." 
The four-minute work is about a national serviceman who visits his childhood Indian barber for a haircut and Dr Ng has a post-credits cameo as a customer. 
It was commissioned for the fourth edition of ciNE65, a biennial local short film competition organised by Nexus, a department of the Ministry of Defence responsible for total defence and national education. 
The theme this year is Home•Truly and the deadline for the submission of entries is April 17. 
There was one wide shot which needed three takes as curious passers-by were caught on film peering inside the barbershop. 
On that third take, Dr Ng asked if it was the last take. 
Sanif, 47, says with a laugh: "That was like quite stressful lah." 
The television producer and director was among Ngee Ann Polytechnic's pioneer batch of diploma graduates in Film, Sound & Video in 1996. He later received his degree in media and communications from Murdoch University in Perth in 2002. 
His debut feature, Sayang Disayang (Lover Is Loved), about a crotchety widower and his live-in nurse from Aceh, was chosen in 2014 as Singapore's entry to the Oscars' Best Foreign Language Film category. 
He is also one of four home- grown film-makers commissioned by the Ministry of Communications and Information to each make a short film exploring local-foreigner relations and issues of social integration. The anthology, called Together Apart, will be released tomorrow. 

1 What is the importance of short film competitions?

Amateurs still have the idea that film-making is an expensive process and wonder if they need to buy a camera and lights and other equipment. This thought hinders that very first step to making a short film. But you don't need to have fancy equipment. You can even shoot some decent stuff on your smartphone. Competitions encourage people to cross that hurdle. 

2 You've been involved with the contest from the first edition as judge or mentor. How has the quality of entries changed over the years?

Over the years of the ciNE65 competition, production values have improved. There is a better sense of mise-en-scene, with shots properly framed and composed.
In the first edition, there was hardselling of the message of national identity, but it has become more subtle. 

3 What advice would you give to those taking part? 
Many entries focus on the technicality of a shot, such as the tracking and lighting and they forget that ultimately, people want to know what your story is all about. It sounds cliched, but story is king.
My advice is to spend some time on the story. From my experience, you can shoot a short film in one or two days, so focus more on the writing. 

4 What qualities do you look for as a judge? 
I am looking for a connection in the narrative that moves me.
The story can be flashy or simple, but the third act is the most important as it shows whether film- makers have that storytelling capability. 

5 Why do you take part in competitions such as ciNE65 as a judge and mentor? 
It's my way of giving back to the community. There's this Malay saying "kalau tak kita siapa", which literally means "if not us, who else". 

6 What do you learn from these events? 
Sometimes when you are in your own world, you think a certain way. But when I see all these entries, I get to find out what people out there are thinking, whether their storytelling techniques have changed or whether they are imitating certain Hollywood or European film-makers. It's part of my growth as a film-maker as well. 

7 What are you currently working on? 
I'm at the writing stage for a few film concepts and I hope to go into production by the end of this year. 

8 How would you like to be remembered? 
My films revolve around the Malay community and the issues that need to be addressed.
For example, Sayang Disayang touched on filial piety. These days, a lot of Malay families ignore their parents. I would like to be remembered as someone who made people think about issues with my films.

                    

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 spent a few days pondering over what "home" means to me? I did some soul-searching, firstly into my past to look at situations that remind me of "home". Obviously there are more than 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 childhood days when I was a toddler 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 honoured 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 inaugural 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.

Ameen.


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