Friday, November 25, 2011

Film revival?

The Temasya Kampong Gelam was held last week 18-19 November 2011, being a "festival showcase of art and music" organised by the Malay Heritage Foundation.

An invitation was graciously sent out to filmmakers via email to submit their work, in a showcase scheduled for Friday, 18 November at 9.45pm to 10.45pm. I jumped at the opportunity to showcase my film, AMEEN, which incidentally is the third film in my LOVE Trilogy film compilation. AMEEN will be in competition at the upcoming Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (13-17 December 2011). This event seemed perfect to share AMEEN to the local audience who might have not seen my work beyond those in commercial television.

The Singapore Malay Film Society "SMFS" was also approached to submit films from its members. Subsequently, AMEEN and only 2 other films from the society was eventually screened that evening. I was there to support the event in person, also this would be the perfect chance to interact with the audience.

It appeared I was the only filmmaker in attendance.

With all respect to the organisers, there were many things that were disturbing that I sincerely felt strongly about. I do not wish to comment on events other than the respective film screening.

Like all "artistes", I am very passionate about my film work. The filmmaking process is laborious. It involves
1. a period of personal experiences that are eventually encapsulated in the script,
2. pre-production that involves negotiating with the cast and crew about availability and character development respectively,
3. production where it involves the actual shooting of the film for a few days depending the complexities of the story and cast availability.
4. finally the post-production - assembling the film footage and integrating it with a soundtrack, ie., finishing the film.

The whole process for a properly-executed, short film would have taken 6 months - minimum. Also, a large number of short filmmakers complete their film using independent resources, ie self-funded.

If only the organisers had appreciated the complex process that had gone in filmmaking I would imagine they would have given more consideration into the venue and schedule of the screening. The screening was allocated at the tail end of the day's long event. It felt like an afterthought. AMEEN was the first film to be screened but I was disheartened to observe that 5 minutes into it, a large chunk of the audience, which I noted were young teens from an orphanage, was herded out of the cavernous, air-conditioned tent (the Malay Heritage Centre complex is shut for redevelopment). I understood the curfews imposed on these kids - it was already past 10pm by the time AMEEN screened.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a filmmaker whose audience walked out on your film. Or how about you sitting in a cinema and having a crowd of latecomers walk across your view, or a performer with a heckler at the front row, or a batik painter discovering your work being used as a doormat? I think you get the picture. A handful of VIPs were there but I observed they looked too exhausted to concentrate on the films properly. Halfway through AMEEN, the were only a handful of people in the audience. The VIPs left at the end of AMEEN.

Just prior to the event day, observing that no one raised the matter on honorarium, I gently voiced the issue. Typically an honorarium is a healthy acknowledgment by organisers to filmmakers and this practice is common at many film events. Nevertheless the organiser responded surprised, which stumped me.

I was stumped because I was puzzled that the issue of honorarium was raised by myself - not the Singapore Malay Film Society. I am stumped because this sort of event would be the perfect environment where the Society could have exercised its ideals, facilitated and promoted some education of the filmmaking process to the public. One can speak only of revival of the "golden age of Singapore Malay filmmaking" too easily, it seemed. I do not wish to dictate how a society or an organisation should be run but ignoring basic ethics of handling films (that include negotiating of venue, schedule and overall positive acknowledgment to the artiste) is not one of them.

I wonder how would the late Hussein Haniff might have reacted. P Ramlee would have already turned in his grave to discover how his films are being handled these days. For those unaware, these dudes were legendary Malay filmmakers.

In such an event, films, filmmaking and cinema are not about fulfilling KPIs nor it is about standing on ceremonies. Films are made to empower the community that the filmmaker choose to represent. Films give that community a voice with its stories. Like other artistic pursuits, films have a voice and this voice deserves proper avenue and facilitation so that the voices can be communicated effectively.

Is such slipshot handling of films the way forward to educate films, filmmaking and cinema to the endearing local adik-abang-kakak-pakcik-makcik?

Nevertheless, on behalf of the filmmakers whose films were screened, I sincerely extend our gratitude to the organisers for the opportunity to screen our work. I hope it would be a better showcase in future.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Film screening - overseas.

I'm very pleased to announce the following!

The film À LA FOLIE made an appearance at the inaugural Perth-Singapore Short Film Festival. This is it's premiere in Australia. Finally! The festival ran from 11-12 November 2011.

The film AMEEN is still travelling.
AMEEN was selected in Maskara Shorties - a non-competitive, curated short film festival held on 24 September, at Rumah Pena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The film, À LA FOLIE, was also screened at this event previously.

Come 13-17 December, AMEEN has been selected to compete at the Jojga-NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2011. For those not aware, this is the same festival that À LA FOLIE received the "Best Short Film" award from in 2009. I couldn't attend the festival then to receive the prize as I was in the middle of a television shoot. I'm crossing my fingers this time if I can make a short trip to meet the organisers and fellow film lovers in Jogja.

NETPAC is a very important organisation and to be recognised itself is an honour. More information to what the NETPAC stands for, kindly visit this link.

Thank YOU so much for supporting my film work.

All these films are also available in the LOVE Trilogy compilation DVD. All sale proceeds of this DVD go to the RAMUAN RAHASIA film fund.

The Model Bawean 2011

Some time during first half of 2011, I received an email from Persatuan Bawean Singapura "Singapore Bawean Association" for a little lunch meeting at Hajjah Maimunah restaurant at Joo Chiat Road. I was a little anxious when I was greeted by what seemed like the whole committee from the association! I've not been married yet, but the occasion felt like a Malay pre-nuptial merisik ceremony, haha! There were no less than 8 persons from the committee asking me all sorts of questions - all pertaining to my ethnicity and work. I guess they wanted to have a sneak of how rooted I am as a Singaporean Bawean and curious about my work.

Well to cut the long story short, I think I must have impressed them. Perhaps where I am personally and professionally, checked well into their conditions to something that I never expected in my whole life would qualify into :)

The Bawean Teladan "Model Bawean" award was presented on 11 September 2011.

This prestigious, bi-anual award is handed to Singaporean individuals of the Bawean ethnicity who have excelled in their various fields of work, but most importantly one that puts the ethnic group to the forefront in the national/international professional arena. Previous recipients were the late Hj Ridzuan Dzafir (1999; ex Director-General, Trade Development Board; ex President, Singapore Islamic Council 'MUIS'), Uztaz Hj Embik Ali (religious leader), Hj Ahmad Dawam (Bawean Putera Sepak Takraw Club), Sujimy Mohamad (media entrepreneur) and Hj Suhaimi Salleh (financial entrepreneur). I am recipient number 6.

It was only when the media reported the event on it's front page that I digested the situation. I'm humbled to be placed among the respectable award receipients before me.

It's just, surreal.

I am terribly humbled by the fact that my own community, the Baweans, recognise my work. (The other Malay main ethnic groups in Singapore are the Javanese and Bugis). It's overwhelming to know that people out there connect with what I'm doing professionally.

This award just not about me, it's about the brave elders in my family who uprooted and left their homeland. I dedicate this award to these pioneers without whom, Singapore would be a different place. Truthfully, along with the other accolades in television and still-fledgling film work, I have never envisioned that I would be a Model Bawean (or receive an award of this stature). The responsibility that comes with this award cannot be underestimated.

So, what happens after this? I hope to be consistent, both professionally and personally. This journey is a constant learning experience. And yes, I am still human.

My journey started with the intention to consistently do the best that the circumstances would have allowed. Awards and accolades are truly, bonuses. What's important for me is that my work would make a difference to people's perception of the human condition. I don't set out deliberately to make a change but I need my audience to realise and connect with me that we can make a change, that we can empower ourselves in whatever circumstances we might be in. Perhaps being one of the handful Malay students in my secondary school at Anglo-Chinese School (when there was only one ACS - Barker Road) and subsequently being one of the 2 Malay enlistees (!!) for National Service at the 1st Commando Battalion naturally taught me to stand out among the crowd. Perhaps growing up in working-class Boon Lay estate taught me to rise above that neighbourhood, to break the cycle and be the best.

I have to admit there's still a murmur of discomfort among some local-born Baweans - too embarrassed to own up their roots socially. Perhaps for the reputation that the early Baweans might have brought when they arrived these shores. We are too aware of the lingering, not-too-positive impressions the other ethnic groups might still have on the Baweans.

I only have this to say to these insecure folks - you're your own victim, when you succumb to your own baggage! You are what you perceive other to be. I quote Lady Gaga - "Just put your paws up, 'cause you're born this way baby!".

الحمد لله All praises due to Allah

I have made this short video especially for the event. It was a scramble for ideas. I didn't want a corporate video about ME. I want it to be a tribute to my family that has supported me in this journey. And to celebrate the local Bawean community that has come a long way ever since our forefathers set sail with their little "perahu" (or so I was told by the elders) on the treacherous seas separating Bawean island in Indonesia and Singapore.

I thank my uncle, Hj Ahmad Purut, for kindly obliging to be in this video at such short notice. He speaks Bawean in this video. Also my mother, Hjh Isah, who had no clue then why I would want to make a video of her making the Murtabak/Roti Bawean :P


News of the event travelled fast and a couple of media in Bawean wrote about it too! I'm pleasantly surprised. This is truely special to be acknowledged by the kind folks in Bawean! Thank you so much.

BERITA HARIAN (Page1, 19 Sept 2011, Singapore Press Holdings)

Heritage and history

Dear friends, my apologies that this blog has not been updated as regularly as much as I would've wanted to. Too many things happened and as you might not be aware, sitting on the computer nor socialising over overpriced coffee would be the last thing I want to do after 12++ hours of shoot!

If you had followed my previous blog, one of the projects that had occupied me was a tremendously satisfying documentary series called PROJECT NEIGHBOURHOOD. I have always wanted to move away (when possible) from the typical light "info-ed/magazine" programmes that you typically watch on commercial television. PROJECT NEIGHBOURHOOD was what I consider a "real" documentary. This is something I'm moving on to besides television drama series and making films for cinema. The previous documentary I did was MODERN PILGRIMS during the summer of 2010.

In the previous blog, I wrote that I'll be doing 3 episodes. But I ended up completing 4 episodes - Jurong, Serangoon, Tiong Bahru and Bukit Timah. Much thanks to the folks at Oak3 especially Wan, Amalina, Jun, the assortment of APs/researchers, Noli (!!) and Mannix, whom I sensed kinda shared the same visual aesthetics as myself. We used the Panasonic AG-AF102 to shoot this series - a first for me in regards to the camera. It was a satisfying journey for me as this series also touched on heritage and people. Doing documentary is an extension of the "info-ed/magazine" programmes that I have done in the past. We uncovered HEAPS of information that I personally would have loved to be included in the programme. But the network and executive producer :P had other objectives to fulfill. Oh well, it's television and it's, kinda cool as long as I still get to pay my bills ...haha!

Memorable moments
1. Jurong
This episode is something close to me personally due to the fact that I have been staying in Jurong all my life! However the estate still amazes me as there are still "nooks and corners" in Jurong that I have not discovered or heard of but never explored. This may sound cliche but that's the truth. For example, the Thow Kwang pottery at Jalan Bahar and that conversation with battle veteran Col (Ret) Goh Lye Choon who was one of the pioneers instrumental in setting up the training modules for National Service. It was touching to hear stories of the early settlers of the flats in Jurong. I should also add that my family was the first few families to move into Boon Lay and I could relate closely while listening to their stories.

2. Serangoon
I do not live in Serangoon but this episode relates emotionally to me for two reasons - I love Little India and importantly, the fact that Serangoon was one of the location where the Baweans pioneered in Singapore. This episode was filmed a few days after I was graciously handed the prestigious Bawean Teladan 'Model Bawean" 2011 award by the Singapore Bawean Association. It was humbling and just THE story I need to tell the mainstream audience who may not be aware of the contribution of the Baweans in early Singapore. The other main Malay ethnic groups are the Javanese and Bugis.

3. Tiong Bahru
I was a little apprehended when I was task to direct this episode as Tiong Bahru is an estate that I have no connection personally, other than the Art Deco architecture knowledge that I picked up during my previous trip to Brussels. I visited the house of Victor Horta who propelled Art Deco and Art Nouveau in Brussels. I recalled the old parts of Brussels while observing the old streets of Tiong Bahru.

4. Bukit Timah
This episode could be one of the most interesting episode for me personally. We covered Bukit Brown cemetery - a haven of Singapore pioneers, Adam Park - I didn't realise that it was the site of an actual WW2 battle field in Singapore (the other being Pasir Panjang where the Lieutenant Adnan Saidi of the 1st Malay Regiment fell), the famous Bukit Timah Nature Park - do you know that the forest is older than the Amazon and that it has the only other natural park sited in a city other than Rio De Janeiro? Bukit Timah was also where the Railway once ran through and yes, where the British totally gave up on Singapore during WW2. Further, to discover there actually existed a Mr Chew Boon Lay, whom Boon Lay estate was named after, via his tomb felt surreal. Oh, I attended Anglo-Chinese School (when it was still one school at Barker Road) thus I can relate to the theme for this episode.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ramadan/Syawal 1431 (2010)

I have meant to put this up during Ramadhan this year to commemorate 1 year of my visit to the Holy Land. I was tasked to direct the documentary "Modern Pilgrims" for MediaCorp's ChannelnewsAsia. I look back at the series with fond memories. Three things come to mind.

1. The project was delayed for one year, ie the trip was supposed to take place in 2009, but delayed by paperwork. Alhamdulillah, on 3 September 2010 the crew and I left for Madinah. I would also like to add that it was Ramadhan 1431 through Syawal 1431 when I made that trip. I arrived Madinah during the last 10 days of Ramadhan and left Makkah at the end of the first week of Syawal.

2. I was raised in a conservative Islamic environment - my parents pursued their utmost responsibilities to be the best Muslim parents. Although I attended up to Primary 6 in a Madrasah (Islamic school) - somehow, pop music seems to be more appealing. So it was high anticipation, excitement yet apprehension as to how I would "perform" in the house of GOD. I'm still perfecting my self.

3. It was in the middle of the northern-hemisphere summer when we arrived, in Ramadhan. The temperature was up to 45 degrees celcius. I had to be sure I get ALL the items I had planned to film, liaise with the ground via the fixer on our daily programmes, which was a tough call. AND on top of that the ibadah itself. It was hard, Subhanallah. I had an awakening - an awakening of my self. And the extreme humility I felt in His presence. 2 things - visiting the Prophet Muhammad SAW at his tomb and THAT sunset experience at Mt Uhud. Masya'Allah! And of course that moment as I faced the Kaabah. It was magical to be at THE centre of gravity where all of solats/prayers are directed - wherever one can be in every part of the world.

As the filming team did not restrict ourselves to just the respective city centres, we often wandered off the beaten tracks, ie, making friends with the endearing locals and visiting quaint street corners where these locals hangout in both Madinah and Makkah. I also got to know closer the rich Ottoman heritage that is being eroded and bulldozed by the current Saud government. The various stories of the human condition from people I spoke to in the streets - determined kindred spirits who made their way to the Holy Land despite poverty and other personal drives - were so inspiring and humbling! So much were going on that could be told but unfortunately were not within the documentary's narrative (and telecast duration). And I feel fortunate to be able to connect with the Holy Land this way.

In the midst of these challenges, I completed a total of 4 Umrah rounds in Makkah. The first round was completed at around midnight on 1st Syawal 1431. We returned to Singapore on 18 September 2010. Alhamdulillah

Here is the documentary.

UPDATE: Since 2010, I have been blessed with resources and time to revisit the Holy Land again during the summers of 2012 and 2015. Alhamdulillah.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Project Neighbourhood

I am currently researching/shooting/editing a new series called Project Neighbourhood. I'm drawn to the series because these series is about a celebration of the community spirit as well as an analysis of the efforts and movements that help to uphold it. It is about the people and their memories, the effects of infrastructure on people, the lifestyle that binds people and the future of the people. It's also about heritage which I'm growing to be more interested in.

I am directing 3 episodes - Jurong, Serangoon and Tiong Bahru.

Having lived in the west since I was forever :) I thought I'd have Jurong at my fingertips. Man, I was wrong. Firstly it was nice to reminiscent my childhood. Apart from the new housing flat buildings, there was really nothing much else in Boon Lay. I remember many of us could still smell the paint and concrete from the flats. The piece of land where the markets and malls are located along Boon Lay Place was still a barren grassland. I'm also intrigued by the stories of two gentlemen who were among the first batch in the National Service. There is also the pottery factory along Jalan Bahar that is just counting it's away days to closure. Now, I've stayed in the West all my life and I've only stepped into this pottery heritage enclave. An then, there's the quaint story of Pandan Gardens. Do you know that Pandan Gardens was considered a backwater estate in its early days. It's amazing to listen to stories of it's residents who stayed and formed close-knit communities. At one point, I recalled hearing stories of how Pandan was sinking! Not forgetting is the story of a funeral broker whose perspective of business of the dead changed when there was a death in his immediate family.

The Little India neighbourhood has always fascinated me with its authentic colours, smell and beat. But Serangoon offers more than that. There was a map drawn by a Mr Jackson during colonial times that suggests Serangoon Road runs across Singapore, beginning "downtown" Singapore of the time and Northwards to Hougang thru Sembawang! It could stand as the longest road in Singapore. Some said Serangoon comes from the bird, the ranggong, that once populate the area. Besides stories of the pioneering Indian merchants and ex-convicts (during colonial times, Singapore was an Indian penal colony) there were also stories of the Baweans. Now you wonder where or who this group of people are. There hailed from Bawean, an island north of Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia. The Baweans occupied many of the shophouses that they called the Pondok (or Ponthuk), which turn out to be a large, encompassing support system providing refuge for the new arrivals and Baweans who arrived prior. It's fascinating that at one point the number of Pondoks was so overwhelming that the area where they resided, ie Kampong Kapor, was also known by Kampong Boyan. There was even a mosque built by and named after the Baweans. Further up northeast, there is of course the hip, middle-class enclave of Serangoon Gardens. IN the midst of the tranquility, Serangoon in the past was a refuge of big-time criminals! Many shootouts (!) took place too when police raided these refuges.

Tiong Bahru
Tiong Bahru conjures images of art deco, whitewashed residential flats. The flats are unlike the 20-30 storey housing flats you see in the heartlands. But these are 3-5 story walk-up apartments. Dwelling further, Tiong Bahru in its heyday was like the present "Punggol 21" estate. It housed mainly 2nd generation Singaporeans of middle-class parents. Many of the residents were regular wage-earners. Take a walkabout along the lanes in this district, one is transported back into the 50s and 60s. There is a sort of vibe that one feels when one takes a walk into the old estates. The only other estate that brings me that sort of throwback is Old Airport Road. Do you know that many of the swinging pop bands of the 60s were from Tiong Bahru. There is also the Monkey God Temple that has just commemorated its 91st anniversary. Away from Tiong Bahru, there were the folks from the quarters at Singapore General Hospital. This estate was a total contrast to the swanky Tiong Bahru. LIke Bukit Ho Swee, the folks from the quarters represent the real working-class residents. However, regardless of their background, these folks have one thing in common - The Great World, a mega-huge entertainment center that catered to all walks of life and tastes.

NOTE: Project Neighbourhood is an 8-episode, 1 hour documentary series to be telecast on the OKTO channel. (Date + time TBC)

Friday, July 29, 2011

An upcoming judging gig

It is always an honour when I get that call to share my experience in television or filmmaking to respective enthusiasts. In the 15 plus years I've been in this industry (since graduating from film school in 1996), I may have not gone through as much as others. My journey is still a work-in-progress, but I look forward to share these pains(!!) and joys I experienced - with the hope that others do not have to go through (again) these pains, or at least not the full yard. And of course, celebrate the joys of creating and collaborating with like-minded creative souls.

I have been invited by the organisers of an upcoming filmmaking event called ciNE65, to be one of its judges. One of the reasons I agree to this gig is that the competition dwells on the Singaporean identity - what is contemporary Singapore and what a rooted, Singaporean is like. I have visited and revisited these themes in all my films.

We are all unique Singaporeans. Come participate and tell our stories, with our own voice. A Malay saying goes, "Kalau bukan kita sendiri, siapa lagi?" - go figure this one out yourself, it's expressed in the Singapore national language!

In studying the final submissions, I personally would like to see something beyond the typically sentimental/rose-tinted/romanticised approach that has flooded local videos/films when such nationalistic/heritage/nostalgic themes are touched on. Just like the national anthem, we progress onward! Majulah Singapura!!   

Let's be clever with originality.

Several videos to serve as notes for filmmakers have been recorded. You can find these videos below. Thank you to the team at Sinema for making me look good :)

Participate. Collaborate. Tell your story, convincingly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The LOVE trilogy dvd

To push fund-raising efforts for my upcoming, still-incomplete feature film, RAMUAN RAHASIA, I have compiled my short films into a single dvd disc, called The LOVE Trilogy.

The LOVE Trilogy consists of the award-winning films LOST SOLE, À LA FOLIE and AMEEN.

Each of these films has different themes and the characters that reside in these films echo the various interpretations and personifications of what love could be about. LOST SOLE takes off after Friday noon solat when kiayi Haji Sabtu discovers to his dismay that his slippers are missing. The search to find his slippers leads to self-discovery. À LA FOLIE takes its inspiration from the classical Ramayana texts. Set in Singapore’s “Little India” at Serangoon Road, this second film in the trilogy explores love with a post-modernist take on this much-beloved literary classic. The final film, AMEEN, explores what it means to love behind facades of spirituality and flawed veneers. Visit this link for details.

S$20 each. Overseas orders add S$10 for postage (registered airmail).
Transaction methods
PAYPAL acct:
Post Office Savings Bank acct no: 085 827 227
Please email for quantity & postal address.

The LOVE Trilogy is also available at Wardah Books (Bussorah/Arab Street) and BooksActually (Tiong Bahru Estate), Singapore.

All proceeds from the sale of The LOVE Trilogy dvd goes to the RAMUAN RAHASIA film fund appeal.

The soft launch of The LOVE Trilogy dvd was held on 19 June, in conjunction with KONSERT RAMUAN, a music festival that brings together various international and local-based Singaporean artistes, performing in solidarity to raise funds for RAMUAN RAHASIA. Please visit this link for the concert.

UPDATE: Here is the review of The LOVE trilogy dvd.

The idea of using children for the cover is to illustrate LOVE in its purest form and a child's innocence exemplifies this perfectly. Artwork by Sanif Olek.



PS: Just in case you are wondering, these kids are my nieces (Syiqin & Adila) and nephews (Alif & Syafiq), in a beautiful moment captured on my camera more than 12 years ago.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


KONSERT RAMUAN is a music festival that brings together various international and local-based Singaporean artistes, performing in solidarity to raise funds for Sanif Olek’s yet-to-be-completed feature film, RAMUAN RAHASIA. Together, fascinating flea market with vendors selling eclectic products adds colour to the event!

Date: 19 June 2011
Time: 10am – 6pm
Venue: Goodman Arts Centre. 90 Goodman Road, Singapore 439053
Public transport: Mountbatten MRT station | Bus 30, 196, 14, 158, 401

Raise Money Online with

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Art and the “lowest denominator"

Please allow me to ramble...

2011 marks fifteen years eversince I graduated from film school in 1996. When I first enrolled into film school in 1993, it had been a case of circumstantial convenience than a deliberate “plan” to “be” a director in film or television.

Between the first humbling industry award to the most recent one I received in March 2011, I reflect upon the many questions that has been posed to myself. The questions range from innocent ones like “have you always wanted to be a director” and “is directing hard” to “does it pay well” and more profound ones like “what sort of change do you intent to make with your work”. Pondering over how to best respond to these queries, I often mused at how these “standard questions” are now turned to me – I have been the one to post these. But none had really prepared me to face what eventually became a main critique to my Malay television work – that my work in drama tend to be too “arty-farty” for television.


I have a simple philosophy when it comes to work - to stay committed and complete it effectively respective of the circumstances. I recall during national service a sergeant major, in optimism, would constantly remind us “there’s always the 50-50 chance a mission would fail”. This advice prepares and challenges me to come up with effective solutions.

Growing up in the local Malay community, observing them and subsequently serving them with television content, my like-minded peers strive to produce content that steers away from the “makcik-makcik” (loosely translated, “matronly”, or non-contemporary) appeal. There is always a struggle to cater to commercial television that attempts to net the widest demographic groups and appeal to the vast spectrum of intellectual leanings as much as possible within a single programme. The network’s strive to hit high "ratings" for these respective programmes (which translates to the healthy bottomline) for itself has been a bane to producers and directors like myself.

I stress that my intention in television is always about serving the community. I have always been thoughtful about my audience and my training in anthropological analysis and social documentary at the university have made me sensitive to the fragile human condition and how to serve it effectively. Before attending film school, I was doing photography and my transition to the video spectrum had been a breeze. From film school, I learnt that structure in storytelling and how to tell that story effectively cannot be underestimated. And one of these methods to communicate one’s storytelling is the mise-en-scène.

...Recently, the term has come to represent a style of conveying the information of a scene primarily through a single shot - often accompanied by camera movement. It is to be contrasted with montage-style filmmaking - multiple angles pieced together through editing. Overall, mise-en-scène is used when the director wishes to give an impression of the characters or situation without vocally articulating it through the framework of spoken dialogue, and typically does not represent a realistic setting... (WIKIPEDIA)

Now, when the critique to my television drama work is that it's too arty-farty, I am puzzled - primarily for two reasons. Firstly it attacks my sincere intention and secondly, it promotes an inaccurate, unhealthy perception of my work and my self. This association simply disregards my philosophy of promoting education to my production and to add value to my content. Furthermore, it simplifies my capacity as a multi-genre television director. I believe the television awards in various genres I have received up to this point stressed my capabilities.

One only needs to listen closely to the ground the common complaint to local Malay programming is its regressive tendency for mindless, dumbing-down programming at the audience. This is where I feel mise-en-scène, on top of a good script, would perhaps alleviate these concerns. Low-denominator appeal doesn’t mean low-brow nor low-concept. Mise-en-scène goes a long way to inculcate quality programming on easy entertainment for my heartlander Malay audience.

Have I overestimated the audience in applying mise-en-scène to my work? Does local Malay dramas have to regularly site itself among the generic, recycled and inward? Does the local Malay audience deserve constant dumbing down programming?

Here I would like to stress that television, like film, is primarily a visual medium. A good script doesn’t need implausible, didactic dialogues. I need not tell the audience I am drinking Milo from a red cup when the audience can see the red cup. However the audience want to know why I’m using a red cup to drink that Milo.

Or perhaps the important television folks have miscalculated my techniques? Perhaps they have underestimated the essence of directing itself – that directing is not just a technique of framing actors, recording them emitting dialogues lines and ensuring camera continuity. Perhaps they have overlooked the positive feedback from the ground that my work is often unique, identifiable and “different”. I humbly mused when audience says my work looks appealing or “beautiful”. Thank you :)

Even cooking shows need mise-en-scène to render the food featured appealing on television. Many such shows produced locally in my humble opinion has fallen into the generic, in such a way that these have failed to communicate the essence of the flavour and taste of the cooking. But I digress...

Elaborating on Wikipedia’s definition, the mise-en-scène encourages motivation and brings nuance to the actor’s movement, the dialogues, the location and finally the framing of the action. A composition without mise-en-scène is like a Malay rendang dish without the kerisik (grated, toasted and grounded coconut paste), the Chinese laksa without coconut milk and the Italian spaghetti dish without the tomato base.

The human condition is sensitive. Each story deserves its own visual character and treatment.

Perhaps my recognition in recent years as a “filmmaker” has further clouded them into thinking that I’ve been too arty-farty to "dumb down" or steer myself for other genres. One only needs to study my past television portfolio to see that I have done comedy programmes too. I couldn't speculate more.

One should remember that the cast in the television series, Friends, are not comedians, but actors. Thus, perhaps these detractors need to do their own research to understand the “filming language” before diluting my techniques.

Just as it has been my ambition to propel Malay films in a manner Chinese films have been brought to international appeal by Zhang Yimou, I would like Malay television to level it’s standard to the best that comes out of Hollywood. I would like these critics give room for people like myself to nurture and improve Malay televison as much as I, in my capacity as a director, listen to my actors to earn their best performance and always keep to the plot. It's a small enough industry, let's not further wedge its development.

Assumptions are termites of relationships.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ramuan Rahasia 10:3

You may be wondering about the digits in title.

It was about 10 years ago (since 2002) when I conceptualised RAMUAN RAHASIA ("the elusive ingredient", loosely translated) as a film and 3 years ago when the 1st phase (February 2009) of filming the feature film began. Since then, I have gone through interesting personal and professional journey at various levels. This experience highlights to me the meaning of humility and value of compassion. Importantly, it has taught me the value of engagement - of discovering my self and utilising the creative gift I have to affect change, for the benefit of society and my community. It has also taught me to appreciate the creative company I have been blessed with and those before them to further the cause for social change. Their perseverance inspires me. Their friendship gives me strength and reason for being.

I used to wonder why I'm still on RAMUAN RAHASIA, putting myself out there when many would have considered the project as a "lost cause". No, it's not glamorous having my face splashed on main feature articles when the discussion is about the lack of money to complete a project. It's not glamorous obliging to full-page write-ups pleading for money hoping for a kind soul out that would be moved by the real intention on making RAMUAN RAHASIA. However these need to be done to connect with my audience and appeal to new ones.

I am blessed with compassionate friends in the industry and I sincerely thank them. I appeal to keep RAMUAN RAHASIA in your radar, please.

I have been doing a lot of soul-searching. On several internet responses addressed to my Malay community I posted this,
I consider myself an observer, storyteller and filmmaker. I'm not good at expressing myself in smart-sounding posts and essays, but I do find joy in expressing through the visual medium (film, television), where I humbly consider myself more proficient. I want to serve my community - via the respective familiar platforms that I can communicate my thoughts. I don't believe that posting questions and rhetorics on the whys and hows to be cathartic.

The film medium cuts all boundaries and is accessible to everyone. I believe that when the film, RAMUAN RAHASIA, is ready, perhaps it would bring us to another level of LOVE and appreciation to what makes kita orang Melayu (the Malay) unique. This is not my film. RAMUAN RAHASIA adalah filem kita - untuk santapan masyarakat kita (is our film - for us). Like the written prose, films contribute to our community's cultural development. It documents our current being. Thus, if you are concerned about our community please open your hearts and support generously to the RAMUAN RAHASIA film fund appeal. Let's walk the talk together.

I get asked repeatedly why I have not applied/received any financial support from the relevant film bodies or organisations. I don't wish to discuss that here as this post is not about that. Furthermore it won't be enough to fit 13 years of that here. It's also unhealthy to speculate these speculations in print as doing so would possibly invite legal suits. RAMUAN RAHASIA would prefer to expend its money constructively.

To those unaware, I have been on a crowdfunding campaign since early 2010. Subsequently, I have set up a new funding here. The response since the 1st crowdfunding call has been good but very slow. What is humbling for me is that many of the contributors have been the "little people" (I've yet to hear from the big-wigs) - people like you and I who take the trains and buses to work. It is the things they wrote (I wish I can share all of them here) that move me a lot. It is these little, sincere notes that make it all seem worthwhile. And no, it's not just coming from the Malay folks. They just believe. So, tell me my friends, how could you not be moved by these gestures???? These and the support from industry peers has made me see the need to complete this film, regardless of the odds.

Last I spoke with Cathay-Keris (Singapore) I was assured (in-principle) they would be keen to exhibit the film - but no money for production - when the film is finally completed. I'm humbly appreciative of the gesture. This is one more assurance to push for additional funding to complete RAMUAN RAHASIA.

I realised some time ago that despite my accolades in the television industry, I have to work harder when it comes to making films and selling them. I am among the millions of first-time feature filmmakers who aspire to share the stories of his community to the world by having my community's cultural record be projected on the giant cinema screen. As a document for future generations, much like how the late, great Malay filmmakers (P Ramlee, Hussin Haniff, M Amin) who made their endearing stories at Jalan Ampas (Shaw Brothers) and Jalan Buloh Perindu (Cathay-Keris) have done with their films.

The journey for a new product entering the market is as uncertain as Nemo's (yes, that film cartoon character) first adventure in a fish tank. Hey, Nemo persevered and endured because of the eclectic friends and alliances he made with total strangers who eventually lead him back into the ocean. The fish tank was a scary environment for Nemo but he return to the ocean a better fish with the experience in the fish tank. Understably, not many folks dare to make that first venture nor pay for an untested, new product - but a trusted brand should never be complacent too. Subsequently I believe a set of collected samples and regurgitated business models cannot guarantee fixed Return-On-Investments (ROI).

Filmmakers like Majid Majidi, Pedro Almodóvar and Zhang Yimou inspire me greatly. Their resilience to communicate their respective stories in their native tongue humbles me, who is still struggling to speak Bahasa Melayu effectively.

"If music be the food of love, play on..." (TWELFTH NIGHT; Act 1, scene 1)

Looking ahead and reflecting the journey I've walked in the last 3-4 years (emotionally and professionally), I can only hope that my audience would see through my intentions. RAMUAN RAHASIA is not just a "Malay film". Nor RAMUAN RAHASIA is about the race to be the "1st Singapore-Malay Film". Nevertheless, there is the urgency to project a particular Singapore Story. Singapore has developed rapidly over the last 50 years that the world has found it harder to connect with contemporary Singaporeans on a human level. RAMUAN RAHASIA is a discourse that I would like the larger audience to engage with me - of a cultural collage unique to Southeast Asia.

This video gives me hope in my journey with RAMUAN RAHASIA.

(No, I don't have commercial affiliations with Apple)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kuda Hitam

There was a period from the late 70s till early 80s where I listened to Malay radio a lot. The song, Kuda Hitam "Black Horse" is one of the songs that I had liked since I was a child. This evergreen Indonesian song has lyrics that stay true to the traditional, Malay-styled nature of imparting advice - non-confrontational, courteous and analogous. Sounds simple but isten to the song carefully.

The Malay language is simple yet intensely clever. They say that to know the language is to know the culture. How apt.

I especially like this version sung by the legendary songbird, Hetty Koes Endang.

Kuda Hitam
Kuda hitam aduh... kuda hitam
Tak dihitung namun berbahaya
Lari tenang aduh... pelan-pelan
Tau-tau bisa nyampai keluan

Gadis manis aduh... kulit hitam
Hidung mancung agak... berbahaya
Tenang-tenang aduh... menghanyutkan
Tau-tau bisa bikin kejutan

Kalaulah naik kuda hitam
Lari kencang nafas pun panjang
Kalaulah punya pacar hitam
Walau hari panas senyum senang

Jangan marah aduh abang-abang
Hati-hati hidup di dunia
Jangan pandang aneh pandang ringan
Aku nyanyi bukan sembarangan

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Majulah Singapura.

I'm a Singaporean and I hold my pink IC proud. But when a party chants Majulah PAP, Majulah Singapura at election campaigns... I Malu-lah, Singapura! (Singapore, I'm embarrassed).

I believe Zubir Said wrote the National Anthem for Singaporeans, not for any political party.

Majulah Singapura (original Malay version)
Mari kita rakyat Singapura
Sama-sama menuju bahagia
Cita-cita kita yang mulia
Berjaya Singapura
Marilah kita bersatu
Dengan semangat yang baru
Semua kita berseru
Majulah Singapura
Majulah Singapura
Marilah kita bersatu
Dengan semangat yang baru
Semua kita berseru
Majulah Singapura
Majulah Singapura

Onward Singapore
Come, fellow Singaporeans
Let us progress towards happiness together
May our noble aspiration bring
Singapore success
Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Let our voices soar as one
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore
Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Let our voices soar as one
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore

Please be respectful.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ramuan Rahasia in print [February - April 2011]

"In search of the missing ingredient".(page 1/2) *MANJA magazine, April 2011.
"In search of the missing ingredient".(page 2/2) *MANJA magazine, April 2011.
*The New Paper, 24 March 2011. Photo by Marcus Mok. [PS: hey, I'm not 45, yet ...hehe :P]
"Sanif incorporates Malay perspectives in filmmaking". *Berita Harian, February 14, 2011.

*Manja is published by MediaCorp Publishing, Singapore.
*Berita Harian is published by SPH Publishing, Singapore.
*The New Paper is published by SPH Publishing, Singapore.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A glimpse #2.

VOLUPTAS ~ "What you don't need, you don't keep."

An upcoming, independent feature film directed by Sanif Olek.
Story by Sanif Olek & Hady A Hamid. A reeljuice production.

Release date: TBC.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pesta Perdana 2011

At Pesta Perdana 2011 (presented March 4), the drama series, Ayah @Rumah "Stay-home Dad", was awarded "Best Director, Drama" for Sanif Olek and "Best Lead Actress" for Sharon Ismail.

It was nominated in the following categories
1. Best Drama: Ayah Kat Rumah
2. Best Scriptwriter: Muzafar M Yusof
3. Best Director: Sanif Olek
4. Best Actor: Osman Sulaiman
5. Best Actress: Sharon Ismail
6. Best Child Actor: Akid Fauzan Boey

Thank you Papahan Films for getting me involved in Ayah @Rumah. I take the award back to that meeting Raihan & myself had at maccas Bras Basah, where we first discussed the direction that Ayah @Rumah should take.

I share this award with Hady A Hamid - the other deserving director!! (We directed alternate episodes).

To Osman and Sharon for working their a*** off on this production, yes they did! To Akid and Nazrie too. To the production crew + technical crew + interns (...too many to mention here, but you kickass mofos know who you are!) for putting it all together. To Yane and his crew for the sofa and World Cup.

It was hard work and much sacrifice. It was not perfect. But the laughter kept us all together :)


This award was presented before the "live" event, ie pre-recorded (...WTH!). Would ceremonies such as the Oscars/Emmys/Baftas/Arias have done that to this award category?

This is the 2nd consecutive award for myself in this category, ie Director, drama series. The first was in Pesta Perdana 10 (2009). In 2005, I received the same award but for a Special Drama category.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Ramuan Rahasia" feature film funding appeal

Please help to spread the word.

This is an appeal to assist funding to complete the still-in-progress feature film, "Ramuan Rahasia" [The Missing Ingredient]. Production commenced in 2009 but has stalled due to insufficient funds. Read on for funding details..

Also visit the appeal page on Facebook.

"Ramuan Rahasia", blends spicy food, classic Nusantara Malay songs and unrequited love into a digestible contemporary platter. The film not only entertains, your monetary pledges will support to document a cultural collage unique to Southeast Asia.


If music be the food of love, play on... (Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1)

"Ramuan Rahasia" is inspired by food films such as Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, Lars Halström’s Chocolat, Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast and Alfonso Arau’s Like Water For Chocolate.

Thus in "Ramuan Rahasia", the dish used is Sambal Goreng, a signature Malay dish. To further anchor the work in the regional social context, evergreen Nusantara folk songs such as Si Jali-jali and Sayang di Sayang, have been incorporated which will be sung by and give greater dimension to key characters in the film.

"Ramuan Rahasia" also pays homage to the musical film genres directed by the late P Ramlee and M Amin at Shaw and Cathay-Keris Studios respectively.

Potentially the first full-length Malay-language feature film made in the country in forty years, imagine "Ramuan Rahasia" as the meeting of Zhang Yimou's Raise The Red Lantern peppered by Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding with a dash of Robert Benton's Kramer vs Kramer.

Rahim Razali, a legend in Southeast Asian Malay cinema, heads the list of well-known talent.

The cross-cultural components that make up "Ramuan Rahasia" taps on the ready Malay-speaking audience in 'Nusantara', where a majority totalling 370-million reside in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia alone. The film situates itself as speaking from the centre of the Nusantara. On top of that, the cross-cultural themes in the film are a magnet to the Malay diaspora and lovers of Malay culture around the world. The universal theme of love lost and reconciled should guarantee it a wide potential audience.

The project needs S$300 000 more to complete. This fund is required to film the remaining 10 days of shoot, including post-production costs. The initial 65% was filmed out of Sanif Olek's own resources.

Transaction methods
PAYPAL acct:
Post Office Savings Bank (Singapore) a/c no: 085 827 227

All currencies in Singapore dollars.

BASIC $10-100
Immense gratitude and appreciation

PREMIUM I $200-300
Signed script.

PREMIUM II $400-500
Signed DVD + Credit on website

PREMIUM III $1000-2000
Signed DVD + 2 tickets to the premiere screening.

All of the above + Thank you credit on film

All of the above + Opening credit on film

PRODUCER $50 000
All of the above + Opening credit on film