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Sunday, December 31, 2006

VIDEO: Filmmakers Anonymous, Indiescene Cafe.

Filmmakers Anonymous, at Indiescene Cafe (29th of December 2006)

Since my return from Perth more than three weeks ago, I've been stuck in limbo, like a Wong Kar Wai character perpetually stuck in a stagnant state of existence whilst the rest of the world blurs by like the flitting of a hummingbird's wings. While taking my (absolutely needed) rest after months of working on my last short film, Girl Disconnected, my filmmaking endeavours were put on hold, just so I can figure out what the local filmmaking scene is like. In Perth, I got to know how things work, how to contact actors, composers, production houses, etc. Over here, I feel like a helpless foreigner.

Then I heard about the Filmmakers Anonymous via the Malaysian Cinema mailing list last week, an interesting event where short films would be screened at the much-talked about Indie Scene Cafe (a cafe meant to promote, ah, the indie scene, be it films, art, music and literature) on the 29th of December 2006, with the filmmakers available for a Q & A session with the audiences, where everyone gets to socialize, interact and share their love for films.

So I went, bringing a DVD copy of my own short film, Girl Disconnected with me just so it could be screened during future sessions. Last night's event was the very first session they had, but I was surprised by the amount of people who went, considering the rain, and the time of the year. Nearly thirty plus people were there, much more than the seminar organized by Sin Chew Jit Poh (the country's leading Chinese newspaper) that had award-winning directors James Lee and Tan Chui Mui speaking to my dad (a film critic) last July, I wonder whether it had to do with the lack of interest from the Chinese-speaking community? Or some marketing blunder by Sin Chew?

Despite being a regular for such events in Perth (like the Sony Tropfest, which I wrote about here, or the Artrage, where I went to see Drawing Restraint 9 with Justin) I've personally never attended anything like that before in Malaysia, so I was somewhat intrigued, although my initial expectations were tainted by the numerous horror stories my other aspiring filmmaker/ film buff friends like Han, Chewxy, Sebastian had told me after attending some short film screenings of their own over here...

"Er, we saw this film, where, ah, we saw this girl, sitting in her room, doing nothing for ten minutes. Then ah, it turned out that there's this pages-long psychoanalysis thingie given to us by the filmmakers telling us what it was supposed to mean. It's totally, like, arty."

"Very slooooooooow! Boring, man! We were made to watch paint dry, no, I meant that literally! Watching paint dry, it seemed, was meant to symbolize the slow evolution of mankind, where blah blah blah. Our inability to understand the film meant that we were too uncultured and slow to appreciate fine art and life's deeper meaning."

"Watching some of the winners of the Astro Chinese Short Film competition made me want to commit seppuku!"

All right, most of what they said were fictional, made up by my own excessive imaginations. But basically, neither of them seemed to have really pleasant experiences at the short film screenings, so I myself became rather apprehensive too. Wondering whether I've been so long numbed by Hollywood explosions and the smell of popcorn that anything less compromising would fly over my oversized head completely.

To my surprise, and unbridled joy, that didn't happen during last night's screening. The ten short films, entirely different from one other, were stuff that, in my opinion, deserved more awareness from the public, not just locally, but internationally, because they were screaming to tell us all how complex the local filmmaking scene actually is.

Malaysian films, apparently, are not defined only by the stuff that are shown in cinemas, or on television, or those that are currently gaining international acclaim by winning awards at foreign film festivals. That's just a part of it. There's still more waiting to be discovered, screaming for an audience, for wider acceptance.

Now, I'll list out the films that were shown, and also provide some brief thoughts of my own in BOLD.

1. Fairuz Sulaiman: WHERE IS MY INDIE ROCK DARLING (3mins/color/music/2006)

Screenshot from Where Is My Indie Rock Darling by Fairuz Sulaiman

A film about the ever continuing search for reason and purpose in life.

Fairuz Sulaiman is a videographer involved in experimental video performances, theatre productions, video installations and productions. He lectures part time in video making in a local art college.

Strange, the description here sounds different from the film I actually saw during the screening but if it is, then I can say that I like the merging of music and surrealistic images in this experimental video. It's short, but it's nice to look at. I can't really say much about this cos' this was the first film shown and I wasn't really prepared to ah, pay too much attention.

2. Chi Too: WHILE YOU ARE EATING (2006/Digital/4 mins)

A double dinner date goes 'boink' in the night.

Chi Too makes films for fun, love, and activism. His films have travelled to various film festivals around the world. He one day hopes he can travel the world like his films do. Previously made films include 'Out Of The Closet', 'Just Pretend', 'The Chinese Dilemma', 'Goodbye Luang Phabang', 'Paradise Bus', and many more. Visit his blog.

Two couples (?) having dinner, peaceful music of 'Girl From Ipanema' playing in background, a dude and a chick excused themselves from dinner table, the other two resumed eating, loud sounds of, ah, lovemaking were heard from beneath the table. Pretty out there.

3. Crystal Woo and Sidney Tan: IT'S NOT ABOUT EVERYTHING, IT'S ABOUT EVERYTHING (2006/ 14 mins)

Screenshot from It's Not About Everything, It's About Everything by Crystal Woo and Sidney Tan

A short film about Yee May who finds herself caught between two men and turns to unconventional means to solve her dilemma.

Director's Profile
Crystal Woo and Sidney Tan have collaborated on various projects that include short experimental video works, comics, and films. Sidney Tan draws & designs for a living, and Crystal Woo art directs and writes for a living. Together, they are fascinated by pictures in the head…ideas in space…and stories floating everywhere.

Gold Prize Winner for Malaysian Video Awards 2005 (Experimental Video Category)

Not sure whether the title listed on the Filmmakers Anonymous is accurate, I remembered it was It's Not About Everything, It's About Anything, or was it It's Not About Anything, It's About Everything? I like this film for its tongue-in-cheek and stylishness, very nice postproduction work, I like the colour grading and the blurry surrealistic (seem to use the word a lot) effect here. Very wonderful use of music. Yee May's method involved time-traveling, it's pretty nuts. Ending's a hoot. :D

4. Tony Pietra: MY MIND (2006/ 5 mins)

Screenshot from Tony Pietra's My Mind, a music video of the band, Rabbit

A promotional music video for the first single from MANGO OVERHEAT, the latest album by Malaysian electro/new wave/dance-rock artist Rabbit. Made on a shoestring budget but given the treatment of an MTV-caliber product, the video is an eclectic post-modern homage to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, classic film noir, 1980's futurism, Stephen Chow, and anything else you'd care to point out.

Tony Pietra is a former TV commercial editor. He now works as a film director with FYI Creative (a collective of aspiring filmmakers). His showreel includes some PSA's and TVC's, music videos (for local artists Pete Teo, Rabbit, and Shelley Leong), and independent short films (WRATH: CURSE OF THE KERIS). He has won a few awards, such as a Bronze for Best Editing (a TV station promo directed by Yasmin Ahmad)
at the 2002 Malaysian Video Awards, and two Cyberjaya Digital Video Competition awards for Best Documentary (YOU GOT A LIFE, YOU GOTTA EAT) and Best Short Film: Drama (SEEING THINGS) in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Very... VERY cool music video that had everyone bursting into giggles by its silly coolness. Come on, a homage of Clockwork Orange and Kungfu Hustle, what else do I have to say? Just watch the music video below yourself and tell me what you think. The rabbit ears won by the band members were similar to the one worn by Grace in my film, Girl Disconnected. I think Justin will like this.

My Mind - Rabbit

5. Mien Lor: MY CONFESSION – THE PICTURE DIARY (2005/10 mins/silent)

Screenshot from Mien Lor's My Confession - The Picture Diary

The filmmaker's picture diary reveals her innermost thoughts on the politics of space and desires.

Mien Lor is a full time activist who makes film for expression, for exploration and for air. She believes that filmmaking is at once personal and political. She produces documentaries and social films for www.komas.org and organizes the only human rights film festival in Malaysia www.freedomfilmfest.komas.org.

The IIC IAWRT Asian Womens' Film Festival 2006, India

Avant garde experimental stuff. We see footages of a girl saying random stuff accompanied by text from diary entries. Footages were used for illustration or juxtaposition. There was a scene that said 'I ran naked at the fields when I was young', unfortunately, all we had was a silhouette of a naked woman. Darn. Yes, the film's totally silent, but pretty meditative. Mien Lor's one of the people behind the Filmmakers Anonymous, and was also involved in the production of many short films screened that night. Yes, she's totally active.

6. Amy Lim: MY NEW HOME (2006/11 mins)

Screenshot from Amy Lim's My New Home

Coming from a Chinese-only background, a family from Kampar moves to a multi-racial environment in urban Kuala Lumpur. With each family member reacting differently to their new surroundings, the story challenges the social interpretation of our society today.

Amy loves colors, movements, and adventure. She starts off as an
editor, and now gets her hands dirty in the real production. She has
worked on a few short documentaries and tv programmes. Currently she designs, edits and explores.

Like many people at the place, my first response when seeing the first scene was... "WHAT THE... THAT'S JAMES LEE PLAYING THE DAD!!!" Photo of me and acclaimed director James Lee can be viewed here. His sheer display of dramatic acting skills boggled my mind. But to correct the summary a little, this film is about a Chinese family of three moving to an Indian environment. The dad had to do this for work, the mom was uneasy, the little daughter was happy. Uneasy racial tensions that still exist in contemporary Malaysian society is displayed here. Effective short film.

7. Margaret Bong: TUDTU (2006/15 mins)

Screenshot from Margaret Bong's Tudtu

This is a story of a young, vulnerable Kelabit boy from the Bario. Raised in a salt making family, the film shares his life and his world that is still filled with innocence as well as his struggles towards the Kelabit Culture.

Margaret Bong, born 1981, has a Degree in Cinematography from Malaysia University Sarawak (UNIMAS) and a Diploma in Broadcasting. The filmmaker has been involved as director, writer and producer for the following films: Tudtu (short documentary), Lie Beneath (short fiction) and Red Drawing (short fiction).

This unflinching documentary is very educational as it shows us a culture unknown to most living in the modern world. The sight of a boy, barely more than ten years old, smoking (pot), playing truant, getting expelled while needing to aid his poor family in salt making can be pretty disturbing. Makes you realize that despite how much our country's developing, there are still certain areas that demand some attention. This documentary has to be seen by more.

8. Nadia Hamzah and Wan Muhammad Tamlikha: AN AFTERNOON WITH THE HIJJABED (2005/8 mins)

A screenshot of An Afternoon With The Hijjabed by Nadiah Hamzah and Wan Muhammad Tamlikha

A mockumentary revolving around five different Malaysian women who vastly differ in character, but share one common trait, all of them don the 'tudung' Moslem veil. As they sit over tea one fine afternoon, they ponder upon thoughts and consequences of wearing the veil.

Initially classmates for a production class in Multimedia University, Cyberjaya Malaysia, Wan Muhammad Tamlikha and Nadiah Hamzah started collaborating on creative independent projects since 2004. From music videos they slowly progressed into making films. 'An Afternoon with The Hijjabed' is their second combined effort under on.par pictures, their unofficial filmmaking collective.

A major crowd-pleaser that seemed to be quite an Internet hit. Very funny and witty. Five women, each of their personality's exaggerated into manic levels reveal the truth concerning hijjabed Moslem women. Pay attention to badass-looking cigarette-smoking chick, she's Nadiah Hamzah, the co-director. I couldn't stop giggling. Watch it, it will blow your mind.

on.par pictures' An Afternoon With The Hijjabed

9. Rajan Paramesran: RAINY DAYS (2006/14 mins)
Screenshot from Rajan Paramesran's Rainy Days

This story is inspired by an true event. It highlights a labor case in 1973 that on the surface appeared to be a straightforward one. One rubber tapper, who is guaranteed a minimum of 24 days pay by the law, was short changed by 7 days by his employer. He filed an action with labor court and subsequently won. But the management appealed that decision in the High Court in 1974. For some reasons, judgment was not delivered until twenty years later in 1994. In the meantime, the rubber tapper and his lawyer had died and the estate sold. A true demonstration of justice delayed is justice denied. And the sum in contention: RM22.40 (US$6.20)

Rajan Paramesan is currently a business writer and assistant editor for a newspaper as well as a researcher for a business program on television. Rainy Days is his second short film.

I like the ambition of this film a lot. I like it when people attempt to do something historical cos' it's seldom seen. Unfortunately, I was slightly bothered by the dialogue of the film, which was dubbed in postproduction. I'm just pretty anal about things like that, after all, it's the same thing that affected my enjoyment of 'Curse of Golden Flower' last week. The case that inspired this film is pretty infuriating.

10. Umi Salwana Omar: WHERE ART THOU? (2004/1 min)

Screenshot from Umi Salwana Omar's Where Art Thou

Based on a poem by Sufi philosopher, Jalaludin Rumi. The poem been translated into visual art by using metaphorical images.

24 year-old Umi is a final year student of Center for Advanced Design (CENFAD). Graduating in December, she is currently doing her internship at Motion Effects Studio. Her documentary Aunty Wahid won the Best Art Work in CENFAD and shown at Malaysian Documentary and Freedom Film Festival.

Let me quote the director's statement:

What does it mean to be different? Differences have been damned by segregation of race, religion and country. Differences have been divided us all. I think differences should be celebrated. Would it not be a boring world if we are all the same? Differences teach us that although we do things differently, we do it for the same purpose and reason. To celebrate life.

It's deep and life affirming. As for the film itself, ah, well, it went by pretty quickly, so when credits rolled, my reaction was a quick "WTF???". Basically, it's a poem accompanied by metaphorical images. Yeap.

(Image source: Filmmakers Anonymous)

Anyway, if you've watched the video I shot (... at the beginning of this entry), you're probably aware of the fact that the future of Filmmakers Anonymous might remain in question, they are still waiting for enough submissions so that another session can be held.

So, to make it sound simpler...

Enough submissions = My short film, Girl Disconnected, gets shown in the next session.

Not enough submissions = Well... my short film, Girl Disconnected, doesn't get shown. :D

But obviously, this really isn't about me, this is more about helping with the growth of our local filmmaking scene. After all, audiences and filmmakers do have a two-sided relationship, each needing the other to bloom, filmmakers having someone to make their movies for, and the quality of their works, what they can do, lie solely in the hands of the public (provided that they do not live in vacuums, which, of course, is a rarity). Of course, everyone needs an open-mind, it's all a balance, filmmakers crafting a film with audiences in mind isn't exactly a demeaning thing, it's not pandering, or conforming, or kowtowing, it's just sharing. Whilst audiences should be prepared to accept the fact that the local filmmakers will unlikely be aiming to emulate Hollywood or Hong Kong films completely even though these have long immersed themselves into our culture (along with, recently, Korean films) since we have vastly different cultures and backgrounds.

Korean cinema would never had succeeded without the support of its audiences. (of course, there's the massive support from the government too, but that's another story)

So, there you go. I'll end this entry with a quote of mine I used in an 'interview' with Monsterblog.

"I wish for a friendlier country to live in, where people are unafraid to chase their dreams and live lives the way they want to without fearing ridicule.

I also wish for the continual rise of Malaysian literature and films, where more people are unafraid to express their creativity. Yet more audiences who can accept this creativity too."

Happy new year.