Saturday, August 07, 2004

The Interview

the interview
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.

Question:  Is Sepet political?

Answer:  I don't know. Is it? I can only tell you my intentions which were true and stated in my writer/director notes. If, by advocating the choosing of love over hate, I happen to touch on some political issues, then there it is. I don't care much for politics, and often have very little opinion about it, but I guess no one can fully escape it.

Q: Your director's note may say it's less about race and more a love story. But the cross-cultural juxtapositions, the tangential issues of ethnic perceptions raised throughout the movie AND the fact that you're trying to show racism is superficial, that the underlying problems are more about basic human weaknesses... isn't that political?

A:  Hullo brudder, you just laid out a long list of HUMAN issues, and then asked me if it's POLITICAL. What gives? But to answer at least part of your question, I had to make it obvious at the beginning that these kids were of different races before I could ignore the fact with any degree of aplomb.

Q:  Cinema, for an outsider, can seem to be a strange endeavour where lots of money (and it is a lot) is poured into a project, usually by people who are not exactly tycoons who could easily risk such sums, which is directed (and spent) by people whose abiding preoccupation is the artistic value of the project, and not whether they could make the money back. At least that's how it sounds like from an indie filmmaker. Why do you make films? Do you make films to make money? Do you make films to impress people? What is the filmmaker's responsibility - if you can call it that? Did you set out to make your films marketable, as one of the objectives, if not THE primary objective? What is the market for Sepet?

A: If you think you can become a millionaire by making films in a little country with a population of only 20 million people, you're either insane or on drugs. I make films because I feel I have some stories worth telling, about things I care about, to people that matter to me. I believe my responsibility is to tell that story as well as I can, creating as much pathos as I am able to. Whether or not a film makes money in this country, I think, is not the responsibility of the writer or director, but the people who put money behind the idea. I just write a story and try to make a film. They'll have to decide for themselves if my ideas are worth their financial backing. I can't decide for them.

Q:  What did you learn from making Rabun that helped you in making Sepet?

A:  I learned that if you rehearse and rehearse first-time actors, after a while they stop acting and start being themselves. That was a lovely discovery.

Q:  How do you think local indie filmmakers can or should develop to the next level?

A:  I urge some of us to start writing scripts and making films about things we know and have had personal experience of. I loved Amir Muhammad's "The Big Durian" because it was a funny and sharply-observed story about us. And Yuhang's "Min" touched me deeply because he portrayed the difficulties we have in communicating with each other sometimes, and he did it through such loving eyes. I know of one or two "indie" filmmakers here who are so enamoured by foreign directors like Tsai Mingliang, Hou Hsiao Hsien and Wong Karwai that all they do is try to duplicate the look these great directors achieve in their films. It all comes out hollow, of course. We may be able to make carbon copies of a "look", but feelings and pathos are a different thing altogether. They have to come from the heart and from our field of experience.

Q:  What next. "Pekak"?

A:  I hope you realise that you are about the 576th person to crack this little joke. Usually it's "Buta" or "Juling" or "Tempang", but yeah, "Pekak" is no less un-original. ;-)  Anyway, next, hopefully, is "Gubra".