Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Malaysian Amanda Nell Eu is happy that her short film Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu competing at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival. She spoke to theSun about her feelings and read the full interview below
Headline: Making A First
By Bissme S
Amanda Nell Eu has created history by becoming the first Malaysian female director to have her work shown at the Venice International Film Festival.
Her 18-minute Bahasa Malaysia short, Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu has been selected for the Orizzonti Short Films Competition at the oldest prestigious film festival that was founded in 1932. Eu plans to leave for the Italian city on Aug 30 and will return home after the festival ends on Sept 9. Her short will be shown on Sept 7.
“I have no idea what to expect from the festival,” says the 31-year-old Kuala Lumpur- born lass.
“I have never been to anything as big as this.”
What is definite is that she will take the opportunity to watch a lot of films that will be screened at the festival.
“I believe that watching other people’s works will help me grow as a filmmaker,” says
Eu who is also a film lecturer and a freelance scriptwriter. Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu is the third short that she has directed. The story, which deals with friendship and mysticism, takes place in a remote village. Outcast teenager Rahmah
(played by Sharifah Aryana Syed Zainal Rashid) becomes friendly with a girl sporting long hair (Sofia Sabri). Rahmah later discovers that the girl is a pontianak (vampire). Will Rahmah abandon her new best friend?
Eu describes her Rahmah character as a shy, quiet and reserved person while the girl with long hair (the pontianak) has a wild side and loves climbing trees. When asked which character best represents her, Eu says: “I can be both. There are times
when I can be quiet, and other times, I can be wild. There is a lot of me in this short film. I have bared my soul here.”
Eu enjoys listening to local mystical stories, and of all the mystical characters she loves, the best is the pontianak.
“She is beautiful and gentle yet she can rip you apart,” says the director.
“Personally, I believe there is a pontianak in every woman.”
Her story bears some similarities to the famous Swedish horror film, Let the Right One In (later remade into the Hollywood movie, Let Me In, starring Chloë Grace Moretz). Let the Right One In deals with an awkward teenager who becomes friendly with his new neighbour. Later, the boy discovers the girl is a vampire and their friendship is tested.Eu is not insulted by the comparison, saying that she loves the Swedish version of the film but not the Hollywood version. She insists, however, that her short is entirely different compared to Let the Right One In.
Eu says she has her own style of directing. One of the ways she gets her actors into character is to give them a series of music that they should listen to before the camera begins rolling, as she finds that music indirectly helps the actors get under the skin of their characters.
She loves working with her actors, and states that her audition process is also unique.
“I will show the actors my script but I will never ask them to recite the lines,” she says.
“Instead, I will end up asking the actors a series of questions about themselves and how they would relate to the characters
that they had read.”
Eu admits to having a major flaw as a filmmaker: she cannot decide which scenes to retain and which
scenes to cut.
“I am terrible in editing my films,” she says.
“I cannot be ruthless with my work. I know I need to master the art of editing.”
Eu never thought of making films as her career. Instead, she took up a degree course in graphics and design in
London where she had been living and studying since she was sent to a boarding school there at age 10. But she remembered
stepping into a video store in London when she was a teenager and being fascinated by a series of black-and- white 1920s films the owner introduced to her.
Those films attracted her to watch more films, especially those of the horror genre. Her fascination with videos and films was evident in all her assignments she did for her graphics and design course, so much so that her lecturer told her she should be pursuing films instead.
She took up her lecturer’s advice and graduated with a master’s degree in filmmaking from the London Film School before
returning home for good six years ago.Eu loves to explore the female psyche within the context of Southeast Asia in her short
films. Currently, she is working on her first feature film.
“It is a big jump from making shorts to a feature film and I do not want to rush into it,” she says.
“I know many people who started their film directing career late in their life. But age should not matter in this
She admits the stories she loves to tell are not commercial types and getting finance for her projects is going to be difficult.
But she is not ready to change her style yet.
“I know the journey is going to be difficult but it will be worthwhile,” she adds.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Shweta Chari from India has set up an organization that donates toys, board games and have play sessions with under privilege children . She talks about her organization to theSun. Read the full interview here
Headline: Strictly All About Child's Play
By Bissme S
Playing with toys is one of the joys of childhood. Unfortunately, not every child will be able to have a toy of his or her own, especially those living in poverty. One woman, Shweta Chari, is slowly changing this situation in her native India, through her non-profit organisation Toybank.
Besides donating toys and educational board games to underprivileged children, Toybank has also set up ‘toy libraries’ where Shweta and her volunteers conduct play sessions with the children.
“[The sessions are] with children [who live] below the poverty line,” says Shweta, 35, when met recently in Kuala Lumpur.
“Most of these children do not know where their next meal is coming from.”
It all began in 2004 in Mumbai, when Shweta, an engineering graduate, volunteered to teach mathematics to underprivileged children.
“They were not happy to see me,” Shweta recalls.
“They were not that friendly. And they were not paying attention to what I was teaching. I felt so frustrated that I could not connect with the children.”
Shweta decided to change her strategy, and attempted to build up some trust with the children. She picked up some toys and board games, and brought along some of her posters and music CDs to the class. “I used these objects to organise play activities with the children.”
Slowly, the children began to laugh and to have fun. Eventually, they let their guard down and began telling her their life stories.
“I thought the children were orphans,” she says.
“But I was wrong. I learned they were runaways. They ran away from their small villages and came to Mumbai to escape from poverty. Once they arrived in Mumbai, they learned that city life can be harsh too.”
Seeing how toys and board games brought joy to these children, she decided to donate more of these items to other non-profit organisations. Some of her friends decided to help out, and began donating money for her mission. Eventually, with the help of volunteers, Shweta began organising toy library play sessions for children in disadvantaged communities. Sessions would take place twice a month at each centre.So far, Toybank has over 300 centres all over India, and has worked with some 35,000 children so far.
“Some of the children clung to their toys as if they were Oscar awards,” she says.
“They did not want to play with their toys because they did not want [them] to be damaged.”
She learned that the language of play is an important factor in a child’s development.
“Play is a character-building process,” she says.
“It teaches children to make better life choices and handle conflicts effectively.”
She points out that some of the children had been abused, and had lost their self-confidence. But Toybank’s play sessions managed to bring them out of their shell. She recalls one of Toybank’s
projects working with a group of children who lived around a rubbish dump.
“These children were sniffing glue and once they got high, they became delirious and violent,” she says.
"We engaged these kids in our play sessions. We told [them] that they would not be allowed to participate in the play session if they sniffed glue. Six months later, we noticed the children were less violent, and none of them went back to sniffing glue again.”
Shweta believes that children are like clay, and they need to be guided and moulded. She feels that Toybank’s play sessions are one way to do this.
She hopes to reach out to 500,000 children through her non-profit organisation in the next five years. But, she adds, as the toys and board games get worn out, they constantly need new ones to replace them. However, she laments the fact that it is hard to get donations from corporate companies to buy toys.
“These companies will tell me that they can’t give me money ‘so that you can play with children’,”she says, adding that many of them prefer to help non-profit organisations whose aim is to end
hunger and provide education to underprivilege children.
But she says: “With hunger, most of us can see a child being malnourished physically. But what many cannot see is a child being malnourished mentally.
“Our play sessions create strong children. It is easier to [build] strong children than to repair a broken ones.”
For more, visit the Toybank website.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
I have interviewed Mahi Ramakrishnan who just completed a documentary on child brides among the Rohingya refugees. Get theSun today ( Wednesday Aug 9) Here is the full story
Headline: Innoncence Lost
By Bissme S
Malaysian journalist Mahi Ramakrishnan has, in the past two years, highlighted the plight of the Rohingyas from Myanmar who were forced to flee their homeland due to intense civil unrest and ethnic
oppression, and ended up as refugees on foreign shores.
Her two documentaries, Seeds of Hatred (2015) and Bodies for Sale (2016), explored the issues faced by these refugees both in Myanmar and in their new ‘homes’.
This year, Mahi – who had worked for Time magazine and AlJazeera – has come out with BOU a documentary that tackles the heart-rending subject of child brides among the Rohingya refugees.
“Bou means bride in the Rohingya language,” says Mahi, who took two years to complete the documentary.
“Some Rohingya men will hire traffickers to find child brides for them, and these traffickers will go back to Myanmar and convince parents to give up their daughters, [promising them] a better life in a foreign land.”
Unfortunately, a better life is the last thing these young brides will find. The traffickers torture them sexually and physically, before selling them to Rohingya men for RM7,000 each. The traffickers always target girls from the ages of 11 to 16.
For BOU, Mahi interviewed three child brides, two men who had taken child brides as their wives, and also a trafficker, to get different sides to the story. The stories the child brides told her were of unimaginable horrors.The first girl she interviewed
became a child bride at the age 11.
“Some 60 traffickers had raped her before she was sold to a Rohingya man to be his wife,” says Mahi. “Her nightmare did not end there. Her husband kept abusing her. She had no choicebut to run away from [him].”
The second child bride was abused by her husband each time she asked for money to buy milk for their only child, while the third was abandoned by her husband soon after giving birth to their first child.
“These women are illiterate,” says Mahi.
“They can’t speak any other language except for their mother tongue. So they are in a vulnerable position, and have a tough time surviving.”
She added that she also interviewed two men with child brides to hear their side of the story and to know what motivated them to get child brides.
“These men believe they are doing a favour to these girls because they are rescuing them from the misery in their home country and giving them a better life.”
She also talked to a trafficker to gain an insight on the trade. Mahi says while the authorities have taken strict measures to control the refugee problem, traffickers are getting more creative. She claims they are using flights from Bangladesh to bring child brides into the country. And they are charging more for each bride, as much as RM16,000 per bride.
While some quarters argue that child marriages should be legalised to reduce unwanted pregnancies among the youth, Mahi disagrees.
“If you want young people to behave responsibly towards sex, marriage is not the answer. Society, parents, and schools should take the trouble to teach youngsters about sex, and about the responsibilities involved.”
BOU will be shown this Sunday at The Refugee Fest:Inclusion for a Better Worldevent, which takes place at Black Box, Publika, in Kuala Lumpur, from tomorrow till Sunday.
The Refugee Fest, which premiered last year, is Mahi’s brainchild. During this four-day event, there will be activities geared to
help members of the public better understand the plight of refugees.
Among the activities are a theatre performance by a group of Syrian children, and a poetry recital by refugees in their own language.
“These poems will be translated in English,” says Mahi, adding that the festival will give refugees “a platform to channel their grievances, their disappointments, and their dreams.”
“This festival is a place where their voice will be heard.”
As to calls for nations to close their borders to refugees, including from US President Donald Trump, Mahi says:
“Trump has no authority to turn his back on refugees. What irks me is when a person who has power, wealth and fame migrates to our country,it is perfectly fine and nobody has issue with that. But these refugees have no choice. They have to abandon their homeland. If they continue living in their homeland, they would end up dead. Frankly speaking, we need to remove the labels we have attached to [people], and look at these refugees as human beings who are fleeing prosecution. And they need our help."
Thursday, August 3, 2017
Bring a box of tissues with you when you watch Jason Chong’s first attempt at directing a romantic drama. Kau Takdirku is a love triangle that promises to make you weep.
Opening in cinemas on Sept 7, the film centres on Kamar (played by Remy Ishak), who is secretly in love with Alya (Ezzaty Abdullah). Unfortunately, she regards Kamar only as her good friend. In fact, she is in love with Remy’s best friend Harris (Bront Palarae), who is a diving instructor.
Eventually, Harris and Alya get married, leaving Kamar heartbroken. But as fate would have it, Harris is lost at sea, and is presumed dead.
Alya has a hard time accepting his death. To bring some stability into her life, Kamar marries her. The new couple raise a child together, until one day, they learn that Harris is still alive. Now, Alya has to choose between the two men who love her.
“It is a beautiful love story that is engaging, and will make the audience question what choice they will make if they are in Alya’s situation,” says Chong.
“I certainly [would] not want to be in her situation.”
This is the first time the 43-year-old director is helming a love story. His first effort was the thriller Belukar while his subsequent projects were of different genres: a monster movie, and a horror film.
Chong has high praises for the cast of his latest film, adding that they were a joy to work with.
“This is Ezzaty’s first feature film,” says Chong.
“She has to play a wife who has lost her husband, and also [play] a mother. But she is young and has not gone through those experiences. I had to ease her into the role. She worked very hard, and I am glad to say that she delivered the goods in the end.”
He adds that Ezzaty managed to hold herself up well against the two veteran lead actors. When asked about the message behind his film, Chong says: “When you put money in a bank, you will
get the interest. Unfortunately, love does not work like an investment. Sometimes, when you love someone, you may not get the same emotion in return. Your love will go unrequited. But love is supposed to be unconditional.”
Chong never dreamt of a life in showbiz.
“I was so poor that I did not have a television in my house,” he says.
His father was a lorry driver, and his mother was a housewife.
“My two sisters and I had to peek through our neighbour’s window just to watch television shows [on their TV set].”
Interestingly, his childhood dream was to be an astronaut.
“I thought it would be cool to travel to outer space,” he says.
Later, he wanted to join the army and serve his country. But being the only son in the family, his mother forbade him from enlisting.
“My mother kept telling me that good boys never become soldiers,” he says, laughing out loud.
Eventually, Chong became a model at the age of 18. After several years in the entertainment industry, Chong realised he preferred working behind the scenes, and became a casting director.
When one of his talents did not show up for a TV series shoot, he decided to fill in himself.
“I’m an accidental actor,” he says, starring in several television and film productions, and eventually making the move to work behind the camera.
He learned the art of scriptwriting and directing through observing other directors, and by researching online.
“There is a wealth of information on the internet,” he says.
Kau Takdirku has several memorable underwater scenes, which were not easy to shoot. Interestingly, his next film will also have a lot of underwater scenes. That film will focus on the lives of our Malaysian coastguards, and the dangers of dealing with hijackers at sea. Shooting will start at the end of the year.
Chong’s next dream project is to direct a war film, harking back to his youthful army ambitions. He is currently writing a script for the film.
“I [have] always had a high respect for people who put their lives at risk to defend their country,” he says.
“This film will be the closest I will get to my childhood ambition of being a soldier.”
When asked what is the biggest change he would love to see in the Malaysian film industry, Chong says: “In the 80s, we were making less than 10 movies a year. But now we are making about 60 to 80 movies. There are far too many Malaysian movies in the market. As a result, some good movies have gone unnoticed. We need to produce fewer movies, but more quality ones.”
Monday, July 31, 2017
George Orwell famous novel Animal Farm will be presented in a Bahasa Malaysia stage play called Kandang. Here is an interview with the director Omar Ali in theSun today.
Headline : A Play On Power
By Bissme S
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s the premise of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, first published in 1945.
Director Omar Ali will be presenting this wonderful piece of literature in Bahasa Malaysia, in a stage production entitled Kandang. Both he and his father, author Tan Sri Muhammad Ali Hashim, painstakingly translated the work into the national language.
This political satire will take place at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts (klpac) from Aug 10 to 13, featuring a cast that includes Ashraf Zain, Farah Rani, Joe Chin, Clarence Kuna, and Faez Malek, among others.
The story centres on Old Major, a prize-winning boar, who gathers the animals of the Manor Farm for a meeting in the big barn. He tells them of a dream he has, in which all animals live together in a land with no humans to oppress them. He believes all animals should be treated equally.
Old Major later dies, the animals decide to come together and make his dream a reality. They manage to drive out the owner of Manor Farm, Mr Jones, and rename the property Animal Farm.Initially, the animals are able to create a paradise on Animal Farm.But slowly, the animals start to oppress one another, and equality becomes a forgotten vision.
“I love the fact that the author used animals as allegory [for] humans,” says 34-year-old Omar.
“The ideals they spoke about were supposed to free them. But in the end, the same ideals caged them instead. Sometimes, your solution becomes your problem.”
This inspired the title of his play – Kandangliterally means ‘cage’.
“My goal is to examine and analyse what this word means and represents,” said Omar.
He admitted that to a certain degree, Kandang is a politically-charged play, but it also has a lot of humour.
“It is not a play about bashing any [person] or any politican,” he says.
“With power comes the issues of accountability, responsibility and public trust. But when one gets a taste of power, one becomes intoxicated by it, and try to grab more power.
“Everyone wants glory but no one really wants to do the work.”
Prior to this production, Omar Ali directed Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Bahasa Malaysia in 2016, and the play was a huge success. More recently, his Bahasa Malaysia translation of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal was directed by Joe Hasham, of The Actor’s Studio.Omar strongly feels there is a resistance towards adapting Western literature into the Malay language.
“These critics keep saying [these are] their (foreigners) stories and not ours,” he says.
“They keep saying that is how the Westerners will behave, and not us. That is quite a shame. The West has a wealth of stories that we can learn from. The message in their stories is relevant to us. Ultimately, their stories tell us that we all are humans and make mistakes.”
A trained graphic designer and copywriter, Omar stumbled into theatre by accident. His ex-wife was in theatre, and he used to send her to her rehearsals. One of the theatre productions wanted an extra for the role of a zombie, and Omar was invited to join in. It was the “best experience of his life”.
“I wanted to do that for the rest of my life,” he adds.
When asked if he likes to dabble in television and film, Omar says: “I am very open to explore different mediums. But at the moment, I am happy with theatre. It allows us to put a slice of our life on stage. Ultimately, theatre explores humanity.”
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Film maker Osman Ali talks to theSun about his latest film Kau Yang Satu and the changes he love to see taking place in the Malaysian film industry. Here is the full story
Headline : The One Great Love
By Bissme S
When asked what is the biggest change he would love to see taking place in the Malaysian film industry, director Osman Ali states: a bigger marketing budget for local films.He says: “Other countries are using aggressive marketing tools to inform the world about their films. Some are willing to invest big money in promoting their movies. Sometimes, their marketing budget [is] as big as their movie budget. But we are not doing this here. We are totally neglecting this aspect. Our movies have gone unnoticed. When the audiences are not aware of the existence of our movies, they will not take the trouble to catch our films. That could be one of the reasons why our films have been doing badly at the box office. We simply believe marketing a movie
is not important. We need to change this mindset if we want to see our film industry progress.”
Osman’s latest film will premiere in cinemas tomorrow.The story, based on a bestselling novel by Nia Azalea, centres on Datuk Mustaza (played by Zaidi Omar) who is rescued from drowning by a fisherman named Sulaiman (Wan Hanafi Su). Mustaza is naturally grateful to Sulaiman for saving his life, and when he meets the fisherman’s beautiful and kind-hearted
daughter Salina (Izara Aishah), he decides to marry her to his son Taufiq (Aaron Aziz).
However, Taufiq already has a girlfriend Isabella (Soo Wincci) and refuses to marry someone he does not know. But Mustaza, who disapproves of Isabella, forces Taufiq to marry Salina. Taufiq refuses to stop seeing Isabella even after his marriage to
Salina, and an angry Salina packs her bags and leaves him.
Slowly, the couple decide to find some common ground and try to make their marriage work.Osman says: “Kau Yang Satu
is about two complicated people who are trying to make sense of their relationship. Adjustments are necessary for
any relationship to work. The audience will get to see a roller-coaster of emotions. Love, and marriage, are things not to be
This is the third time Osman has adapted a novel into a film. His first two adaptations were Ombak Rindu by Fauziah Ashari, and
Pilot Cafe by Ahadiat Akashah. While some people have pointed out that Kau Yang Satubears a lot of similarities with his
Ombak Rindu , which coincidentally also starred Aaron in the lead male role, Osman dismisses the criticism.
“Kau Yang Satu is nothing likeOmbak Rindu,” he insists, adding that the film’s female lead, Salina, is completely different from Ombak Rindu’s Izzah, played by Maya Karin.
“Salina is rebellious, headstrong and feisty,” he says.
“She does not take her husband’s trangressions lying down.”
But Aaron, who plays the leading man in both films, portrays a similar character of a hostile husband who treats his wife shabbily.
Osman still insists there are differences in both characters.
He says: “Aaron has [given a] different [portrayal] to his character in Kau Yang Satu[His character] was more
arrogant in Ombak Rindu while in this film, he is more annoying and ‘naughty’ [rather than arrogant].”
Osman’s next project will be the romantic drama Pinjamkan Hati, about two people with a terminal disease who meet and
fall in love. The film, which will star Shaheizy Sam, Ayda Jebat and Farid Kamil, will open in cinemas at the end of the year.
Osman has already lined up two future film projects. The first is a romantic horror titled Langsuirand the second is a
horror film titled Timah Putin.
Langsuir is about a group of youths who go fishing and get stranded on a haunted island. One of the boys falls for a
langsuir (a female ghost), bringing the audience into a world of mysticism.
Timah Putin is about a traditional Malay dancer who is murdered by her father. Her restless spirit begins to haunt both
him and the people in her village.
“I have written the script [for Timah Putin] a long time ago,” he says.
“I am glad to see [that] the script will finally become a film.”
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Today, theSun publishes my interview with the film maker Syed Zul Tojo who is making a film about a woman who loves her art and her religion, and how her two world clashes. Read the full interview here.
Headline : Breaking Barriers
By Bissme S
At the ripe young age of 55, Syed Zul Tojo has finally achieved his childhood dream of becoming a filmmaker. His first feature film, Hijabsta Ballet, will be opening in cinemas on Aug 3.
“You are never too old to make your dream a reality,” says Syed who is the director, producer and co-writer for Hijabsta Ballet.
The film centers on a girl named Adele, who is studying ballet, and has dreams of becoming a world-renowned ballerina. But when she starts to wear a hijab to her dance classes, her new dress sense does not go down well with her dance mates and tutors.
Adele also has to contend with her ambitious mother Diana who feels Adele is making the biggest mistake of her life and destroying any future she has as a ballerina. This causes friction between mother and daughter.
Newcomer Puteh Maimum Zarra plays Adele, while singer-actress Betty Banafe plays her mother, Diana. The film also stars Aida Khalid, Aman Graseka, Sally Bruce, and Azeman Aliff.
Shot in Perth, Australia, as well as Kuala Lumpur, Hijabsta Ballet was later shown to some 2,000 test viewers from diverse backgrounds to gauge their reaction.
Syed revealed that 80% of this test audience said they enjoyed the film, while 16% said it was average, and 4% hated it.
The film also touches on the issue of Islamaphobia, drawing interest from several foreign markets.
“I try not to plant messages in my film,” said this father-of-four.
“I prefer to let viewers have their own interpretation of the movie. [The issue of wearing a] hijab is a popular topic being discussed around the world today, and I am just highlighting that in this film.
“I am just telling the story of a woman who loves her art as well as her religion, and how her two worlds [clash].”
Syed also points out that one test member, an American, did not notice any Islamphobia elements in his film. Instead, the
man told Syed that he saw his film as being about a mother-and-daughter relationship.
When asked to express how he feels now that his longtime dream has become a reality, Syed says: “It is like you are running a marathon. When you are running, you do not feel tired. But when you reach the finish line, the [fatigue] hits you, and trust me, you’ll feel totally exhausted.”
But Syed’s energy seems to have been renewed as he is already working on his second feature film. The new film will be about a historical figure, Panglima Awang Hitam, also known as Henry the Black or Enrique of Malacca. This 15th century Malay warrior was said to have sailed all over the world on a trading ship, before finally returning to his village. Currently, Syed is looking for funding for the film, which he hopes to begin shooting next year.
Syed’s fascination with film making is partly due to his mother’s influence. When he was a child, she used to take him to watch Bollywood movies. He was fascinated by what he saw on screen.
He recalls: “I lived in their world and I understood their situations. I could feel their emotions.”
This fascination created a need in him to explore the medium. He studied advertising and joined the industry making commercials. But that was not enough for him.
“I wanted to make feature films,” he says.
So he left the lucrative advertising world and started dabbling in various art forms, from photography to short films. Fulfilling his film making dream has not been an easy task.
“I had to face a lot of struggles and rejection,” he says.
“Every artiste goes through that. But you have to develop a thick skin to face rejection, and have perseverance to continue believing in your dream.”
Syed has no regrets that he achieved his dream this late in life.
“You have to understand life before directing a film,” he says.
“[It] is not something you can rush into. You really have to take[the] time. When you are younger, you have energy on your side. When you are older, your energy will dwindle. But you [will now] have knowledge on your side.”