Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"A nation is nothing without the stories it tells about itself."

I read this quote on the back of a book once. It was written by a Spanish film commentator whose name eludes me presently.

What she said, however, has stayed with me ever since.

The photograph you see here, on the other hand, was taken by the late Raghubir Singh. He was not a filmmaker of course, but what intrigues me about this photo is the immense story it tells me, about India, the iconic Ambassador car, and even Mr Raghubir Singh himself. Hell, it even gives me some idea of how much the man loved his country.

All that, in a single static image.

Which begs the question: Why can't we Malaysians do it as effectively, with the 2-hour long moving images of our films?

As far as my admittedly not-so-keen observations go, our films are presently being labelled either "mainstream" or "indie". Which befuddles the heck out of me, because ultimately, I'm not entirely sure what either definition means.

And worse, lately the term "indie films" no longer describes a financial or production state of affairs, but a GENRE!

Now. May I suggest we go back to square one? Back to the Spanish quote and the Indian photo?

I would like (and I may be entirely alone in this) for us to make films that tell stories about our lives. Films that have pathos. Stories that make people laugh, cry, get angry, feel happy, feel scared, feel relieved, FEEL ANYTHING.

I don't care about genres, or festivals, or "art" films, or "mass" films. I want our films to be like bread, or rice, or cakes. Everyone can eat them; only different people prefer different types of flavours. Yes, that's right: give me flavours. OUR flavours.

Maybe some foreigners might then sample our films like they sample our "rotis" and various types of "nasi" and decide which ones they prefer. Or perhaps they might marvel at the sumptuous spread of flavours we have here.

After all, when I sample their stuff, their films, I not only enjoy the deep, universal human emotions that stir my heart, but I also savour the flavours of their country, their language, the quirks, and the colours.

I would like for us to return the favour.

For all the joy and feeling that I have experienced by watching the works of Satyajit Ray and Billy Wilder and Ken Loach and Yasujiro Ozu and Shohei Imamura and Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin and Ermanno Olmi, I would like to treat the Indians, Americans, Europeans and Japanese people with something or some flavour about us too.

Why, it would be almost impolite not to!

And so if you are a closet writer or filmmaker or just plain lover of film who, having read my ravings and rantings here, find my thoughts on the matter surprisingly close to your own, please suggest some ways in which we might at least step in the right direction from now on.

And then perhaps we can finally begin to make movies. OUR movies.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

You're looking at the two reasons why I make films.

mak & abah.JPG
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
They're called "Mak" and "Abah".

Abah's 73, Mak's 72. They've been married 48 years. They still shower together. They sleep holding hands. They still have sex. Abah cannot sleep properly unless he's touching a piece of Mak -- hand, leg, face, hair, the edge of her pyjamas -- anything.

Three years ago, I got a phone call from Mak at dawn. "We're about to lose Abah," she said, in between convulsive sobbings. Abah was catatonic. He had collapsed from some severe diabetic complication.

He survived, alhamdulillah.

But that's when I decided... I wanted to make a film that mirrored their love. I wanted to amuse them with it; make it known to them that I loved them, in spite of, and maybe even because of, their bohemian ways.

I wanted the world to see what was possible. And so I made "Rabun" -- my love poem to my crazy parents.

I mean, look at them in the photo above. Just look at them. As soon as Abah knew I was pointing a camera at them (I had made the mistake of asking for a sweet, old couple pose), he made monkey faces at me, while Mak laughed her head off.

Now I 'm planning to make my third film "Gubra". You can be sure there'll be a "Mak Inom" and a "Pak Atan" in it somewhere, inshaallah. Why, the film I see in my head practically opens with that phone call I got from Mak at dawn, three years ago.

I hope "Gubra" will speak to your heart, something about the only thing that interests me, both in life, and in film.