A local newspaper posed some questions recently when my film feature debut, Sayang Disayang, got streamed over at NETFLIX.
The following are the questions and my responses in full. It may get edited for space when the article is published in the newspaper.
1) How did you feel when Sayang Disayang is now on Netflix?
Each achievement that Sayang Disayang gained beginning in its world premiere in late 2013 has been a great milestone for everyone that has been involved in this film since production began in 2008. Being on Netflix is another great milestone for everyone involved. When production began, it never crossed in anyone’s mind, including mine, that it would have achieved these “slow-burner” achievements, including having the honour to be the first Malay language film as Singapore’s Official Entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Sayang Disayang was conceived from the belief that there is an important story to make – an important documentation of Singapore’s place in the Nusantara.
2) What were some feedback from friends who watched it for first time?
I think Sayang Disayang is a unique film where many in Singapore has heard of but not many has actually seen it. The last wide public screening was 2 weeks during National Day of 2014. Thus, there is a word-of-mouth buzz and perhaps a genuine interest to what this buzz is all about. It has been about 7 years since Sayang Disayang was had its world premiere in late 2013 in the Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival. I received many DMs on my social media from friends, film lovers and strangers who admitted Sayang Disayang is a very different film from the Malay films they watched, ie in particular with regards to the narrative structure, the subject matter and even the casting of the protagonists. But the most inspiring notes are the ones that thanked me for putting out a refreshing perspective of Malay social drama in the visual narrative. I have also received many DMs from younger generation Malay filmmakers who felt inspired from the style of filmmaking.
3) Why Sayang Disayang was special for you?
Sayang Disayang was special for me because it was actually completed from the effort of the Malay community. It was special because I think I had the genuine “Duas” from the community who had genuinely wanted a Malay-language film that speaks from the heart of the contemporary Singaporean-Malay. Konsert Ramuan was a crowd-funding event that was held in 2011 by 25 band acts and more than 100 performers from the Malay performing community with a common vision to generate awareness and funds for Sayang Disayang (it was called Ramuan Rahasia then, thus the name of the event). Although it did not generate the targeted fund, the spirit of the organisers and performers were enough to make me not give up but to complete the endeavour of making this important Singapore cinema milestone.
4) Where has it travelled to?
Alhamdulillah, Sayang Disayang has actually travelled to all continents in the world. It world premiered in the Philippines in 2013 at the Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival in 2013, where it received the Best Asian Film (Jury Prize). Some notable ones are the prestigious Asia-Pacific Screen Awards (in-competion), Hawaii International Film Festival, Phnom Penh International Film Festival (opening film), Silk Road International Film Festival (China), etc. It was even screened inflight on Singapore Airlines. And of course screening to the members of the Academy Awards that organises the Oscars.
5) Why do you feel stories such as this should be on Netflix? What other works of yours do you feel worth to be on Netflix?
Just like printed literature, it is very important that film-goers are exposed to diverse voices and various storytelling structures. The human condition is complex. This complexity is a cause for celebration, not discrimination. Being an important international streaming platform, it is thus important that Netflix continues to provide diverse and bravely showcase complex narratives to its audiences.
The Singapore-Malay voice has been underestimated for so long, largely because of the commercial viability in relation to its national demographics. Thus importance and “screen time” has always veered towards the appeal of the dominant demographics. Perhaps mediacorp should consider many of the award-winning shows from Pesta Perdana for Netflix.
6) Netflix introduced Malay interface, adding Malay content - how do you see this as giving a spark of hope for our little community of Malay filmmakers?
This is a very important milestone, not just the Malay voice but Singaporean-Malay voice. From my own experience, one of the huge reason I made my first short film from the Malay-Bawean-Singapore perspective in 2005 was because I did not see any representation of the Singaporean-Malay onscreen in both the local and international film festivals prior to that. Thus we cannot underestimate the power of representation onscreen, in this case Netflix, would do to the many aspiring Malay filmmakers in Singapore.
An independent film review of Sayang Disayang.