Thursday, October 09, 2008

The sudden, unexpected, and unplanned blossoming of one "Forget-Me-Not".


In the autumn of 2006, Sharifah Amani and I were invited to attend a festival called "Paris Cinema". They were screening a retrospective of my films, and therefore offered to sponsor our flight and accommodation so we could attend the Q&A sessions.

While we were there, we met a sweet smiling Japanese gentleman by the name of Kousuke Ono. (Believe it or not, he is the nephew of Yoko Ono, and was about to rush off to have tea with his cousin Sean Lennon when we first met!)

One evening over dinner, Ono-san suggested that he and I should embark upon a Malaysian-Japanese co-production. Now, film producers often say such things to you at film festivals, but nothing usually comes out of it. It is just a form of nicety that filmmakers exchange with each other when they meet in faraway lands.

Producer: "Oh, I loved your films! We should work together someday." Director: "Ah, thank you for attending the screening. Yes, let's keep in touch." Muah, muah!

A few weeks after Paris-Cinema, I was home again, busily preparing for some TV commercial shoot, when I opened my gmail and came across a letter from Ono-san.

"Yasmin-san, I was serious about working together," he said, "let's keep in touch, and oh, please send my regards to Sharifah Amani." "Ah, that would be great!" I replied, and left it at that, thinking he was probably trying to find a way to Amani through me. (You should see how men of ALL nationalities fall at her feet, every time she attends a festival abroad!)

But in the course of the months to come, dear Ono-san had hired a Malay-speaking co-producer, Yusuke, to keep urging me to take on the project. So much so, I eventually yielded and wrote a synopsis called "Wasurenagusa" (the Japanese name for the forget-me-not flowers which you see here.) It was to be the story of Inom, a young Malay girl whose ailing grandmother is Japanese, and how she finds her way to Japan, to learn more about her roots.

In the middle of shooting "Talentime", I received an email from the Pusan International Film Festival. 30 film ideas had been shortlisted from almost 300 submissions to Pusan. Among the shortlist was my "Forget-Me-Not", and the email conveyed the festival's offer to pay for my flight and accommodation to attend the pitch. Out of the 30 shortlisted, only 6 would receive prizes. The 1st prize was called The Pusan Award.

My mind reeled from the thought that someone actually took pains to collate the bits and pieces of ideas that I had for "Wasurenagusa" and submitted it to Asia's biggest film festival!

Next thing I knew, I was sitting at a table in a hall at Paradise Hotel in Pusan. Ono-san and Kiki-san were with me. At the other 29 tables were some highly-respected filmmakers from around Asia and the Middle-East. Even Lee Chang-Dong, the genius who made "The Secret Sunshine", was in competition.

This was how it worked:

Film investors from all over the world would take turns to visit your table, tell you about their organisation, and then they sit back and listen to your story and ideas. That's it.

One day before the announcement of the results, I flew back to KL. This was last Sunday. "No point in staying," I thought, "I have to get back to work tomorrow. And besides, we're NEVER gonna win this."

I was wrong. Alhamdulillah.