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

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.

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 :)