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.