Friday, May 19, 2006

Off to shoot "Mukhsin"!

a serious mukhsin
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
Insyaallah, at 10am this coming Monday, May 22nd 2006, a bunch of us will be heading for Kuala Selangor. We plan to take a slow drive there.

Upon arrival, we hope to check into our respective apartments, rest for a while, then after solat maghrib, make our way to the seafood restaurant on the river.

The following day, bright and early, it should be time for our very first on-location rehearsal. (We've been rehearsing our cast for the last two and a half months, here in Kuala Lumpur, in and around the spacious and quirky premises of MHz Films in Kampung Sungai Penchala.)

Principal shooting is scheduled to start on the 27th. If all goes well, by Allah's grace, we should have completed our shoot in slightly under two weeks.

Oh, by the way, the serious looking boy you see in the picture is our main actor who plays "Mukhsin". Do you think he's handsome?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My recent article, uncut version.

Saturday, the 22nd of April 2006 was a sad day for Malaysian arts. 

On the evening of that day, a national television channel ran a forum that, with great aplomb, singled out one filmmaker’s work in what was to be nothing short of a public flogging. The topic chosen was woolly at best, and damning beyond reason. 

“Sepet and Gubra – corruptors of Malay culture.” 

The films were mine, of course, but in truth, the forum actually did my films and me a favour. At a time when audience numbers were beginning to wane, the day after the forum saw the cinema halls packed again. So thank you, sir. Yours is now my favourite television channel of all. (Well, at least for one whole hour.) 

So no, that day wasn’t sad for me, at all. 

What shocked me were the statements that were made by two members of the panel - a journalist, and a film producer who was clearly on his side. 

Film producer: “Malaysia Melayu punya.” (This translates to “This land belongs to the Malays.”) 

Journalist: (translated) “How can a good Muslim girl who prays and reads the Koran fall in love with a Chinese infidel?” 

And what’s worse, neither of these statements received any form of public reprimand from any authority, despite their blatantly incendiary and belligerent nature. 

What signals are we sending out to our youth here, pray tell? That it’s okay to make racial slurs at a public forum? That it’s perfectly cricket to label a member of another race as infidel? (This one’s particularly ironic, given that there are only 18 million Muslims in Malaysia, and up to 40 million in China!)  

It seems some people in this country have scaled new heights of paranoia. So much so that Amir Muhamad’s “Lelaki Komunis Terakhir” has been banned by people who have not even seen the film. The decision was based on hearsay, and in response to an article that was written by, surprise surprise, the same journalist who appeared on the earlier-mentioned forum of bigots. 

Coincidence? You tell me. 

And so the world sits back and observes this embarrassing turn of events. All hopes we ever had of becoming the filmmaking hub of South-East Asia can now be stashed away in the dusty cupboards of Vision 2020. 

“Lelaki Komunis Terakhir”, a milestone film that made no attempt whatsoever to glorify Chin Peng, has delighted the audience at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival, and opened in Singapore two days ago. 

“Rain Dogs”, a film by Ho Yuhang, will open at selected theatres in Tokyo and Singapore.  It will also grace several television channels across the Asian continent. Ho Yuhang himself has expressed doubts that any of his future films will ever be shown here. 

“The Beautiful Washing Machine”, James Lee’s bittersweet contemplation of feminine alienation, won the Best ASEAN Feature award and the FIPRESCI prize at the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival. It hasn’t, in any big way, seen the light of day here. 

“Sepet”, winner of the Best Asian Film award at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, did hit the cinemas here, but has since been deemed a “corruptor of Malay culture”, by a self-proclaimed film expert who is still free to make any racist statement he damn well pleases, in a leading local newspaper, and on national television, no less. 

If I were the head of a foreign film company contemplating making an investment here, I would have to make some observations of the Malaysian cultural climate before committing myself to any contract. And one observation I might make would be that the culture here is a culture of punishment. Make any attempt to do things differently, however mildly, and you will run the risk of having your knuckles rapped publicly, or worse, face outright banning. 

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw 

And for a while, changes were indeed happening. A group of ten to fifteen new film directors made a more or less collective decision to raise the bar a little. Subsequently, films were made, and awards were won. And thankfully, the most influential arts journalists of all major local newspapers were very supportive of the new movement.  

All, that is, but one. 

“One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch,” you might say. Oh, but sadly, it does. And perhaps, in the end, it is the old Malay adage that rings more true than the English one. “Setitik nila boleh merosakkan susu sebelanga.” 

“One drop of indigo is all it takes to spoil an entire urn of milk.”  

In 2005, following an incessant barrage of diatribe from some members of mainstream cinema, their journalist friend, and some film academicians of dubious credibility, I vowed never to submit any of my films to Festival Filem Malaysia, ever again.  

The last I heard, James felt like he had received one beating too many and was close to throwing in the towel. 

Ho Yuhang will candidly tell you that he would gladly follow the tracks of multi-award winning Malaysian-turned-Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Mingliang, but for the fact that he loves this country so much. I can’t help but wonder how much longer he’ll stay, given how little it loves him back. 

As for Amir, I can only pray that his beautifully innovative films can one day be seen, not just by people of foreign shores, but ours as well. 

And let’s just hope that the present McCarthyistic witch-hunt of non-conformist cinema does not lead to a state where “Lelaki Komunis Terakhir” will, in fact, be “Filem MALAYSIA Terakhir”. 

Seorang pencemar budaya dan ibu bapanya.

They can condemn me to hell. It's not for them to decide anyway.

They can call me names. If it's up to me to forgive them, I do, and with a clear conscience.

They will most likely keep calling me names and condemning me. And each time they do it, my heart bleeds a little.

But when my little film won in France, the joy on my parents' faces was like cool balm on my furrowed brow.

As mak smiled broadly on stage, and abah wiped the tears from his face, I could feel God's pleasure envelop my whole being. My pounding heart felt close to bursting.

It's not such a bad thing after all, being labelled a "pencemar budaya".

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mukhsin confesses to his guardian aunt.

mukhsin confesses
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
"Makcik Senah... macam mana seseorang tu tau yang dia dah jatuh cinta...?"

The last three times we rehearsed this scene, the actress Mislina Mustaffa and I shed a tear.

The sheer earnestness with which this question was asked hit us in the gut every time. It brought us to a time when we ourselves believed romantic love was clear and absolute. I guess we cried because we longed for love that was that simple. And something inside us lamented the fact that more often than not, it all goes horribly wrong.

God has blessed us with a young actor with an impeccable sense of timing and tone of voice when delivering his lines.

I guess the fact that he has become quite enamored with Sharifah Arriana (the cute, feisty young actress who plays 10-year old Orked) helps.