A Date with Ezzam and Ghazi

When I first met Ezzam and Ghazi at The Substation for First Take: March, I knew they spelled trouble. Trouble in a sense that the ‘date’ we would have will turn out kecoh (rowdy) but fun. Meet Ezzam Rahman and Ghazi Al-Qudcy, possibly Singapore’s most provocative filmmakers.

Ezzam Rahman (left) and Ghazi Al-Qudcy (right)

Ezzam Rahman (left) and Ghazi Al-Qudcy (right)

Before meeting them, I thought they’re names sounded familiar. At the back of my head, I knew I’ve watched one of their films, but I just didn’t know the title. Then I was a given a DVD with their works – lo and behold – Ghazi was the director for Hidden Treasures! The film was one of the judges’ favourite in the 8 Minutes Muslim Youth Filmmaking Competition, but sadly was not chosen for the finals. It was a little bit awkward for me to interview another fellow competitor, but as Ghazi would say, “In this industry, you learn from each other. No one’s your competition. We’re all working for the same goal.”

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Ezzam Rahman (above), 28 years old, does not have any formal training on filmmaking. Instead, he holds a Diploma in Fine Arts from LaSelle College of the Arts. Trained as a scupltor, he tends to make films that questions the audience, “I don’t like messages being sent across so directly. I like a little bit of roundabouts before my audience gets what I want to say.”

Ghazi Al-Qudcy, on the other, took a longer education path to get to where he is now. Currently, the 25-year-old is an undergraduate at NTU’s Arts and Media Design Faculty. A former student at Republic Polytechnic, Ghazi began his filmmaking journey there while going through his three-year diploma course in New Media. “When you’re in a school like RP, you should make use of their facilities and equipments to make your films. You can’t say you’ve got no money cause you have the logistics,” this is one tip I will use for life. Somehow when Ghazi said that, I regret not joining Film Society back in MJC. Imagine the equipments I can exploit… (evil laughter).

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Anyways, some of their works include Demam Jantan (part of the All for a Guy series), Hidden Treasures, Blk 46, just to name a few. The duo has been hailed by local filmmakers like Tan Pin Pin and Royston Tan as The Next Big Thing in the local film industry because of their numerous works in various film festivals here. Amongst the film festivals that Ezzam and Ghazi have participated in are Fly by Night and the Panasonic Digital Film Fiesta. “We joined these competitions just because we needed money, seriously. We were lusting after the cash prize just so we can pay off our phone bills and go karaoke,” said Ghazi lightheartedly.

Nevertheless, the mini film competitions they participated in were the ones that shot them to fame. Their first short film, Demam Jantan, was the judges’ favourite in the first Fly by Night despite not winning any awards. The short was chosen to represent Singapore at various international film festivals like Thailand’s 3rd First Frame Festival and Indonesia’s 4th Q! Film Festival. Although both are accidental filmmakers, the duo has made over 25 short films in five years. Now we’re all asking them, how about a feature film?!

Ezzam said, “Short films are like sketches for your actual painting. So just wait for us, ya?”

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First Take: March Edition

1932

Synopsis:

A forgotten station: a social condition. Once grand, the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station now fades away in the eyes of Singaporean society. But it remains significant to a ‘community’ of diverse individuals, linked by a common fact that their life stories would each be incomplete without the existence of the Station, and also by their shared desire to preserve their own ways of life in this shared space between Singapore and Malaysia. Platform 1932 is a visual journey that unravels the issues of time and progression, pride and acceptance, modernization and legacy through the medley of individual stories. These interwoven memories tell how the station has managed to survive modernization, and more critically, continue to play an understated role in the relationship between two countries.

The SMFS team of journalists managed to attend our monthly dose of local films earlier in March, with First Takes at The Substation. Last month, we had the honour of having two short films directed by our fellow Malay filmmakers screened – Uncleboy by Jannah Monjiat and Platform 1932 by Nawwar Syahirah.

Elrica Tanu (left) and Nawwar Syahirah (right), the scriptwriter and the director respectively.

Elrica Tanu (left) and Nawwar Syahirah (right), the scriptwriter and the director respectively.

Watching Platform 1932, one can definitely say it brings back memories, be it good or bad ones. The nostalgic feel to the 24-minute documentary is one of the factors that makes it a must-watch for all. “Nostalgia was one of elements I wanted to include in Platform 1932 because I use to take the train from the Tanjong Pagar station to balik kampung (go back to the village).” As an audience, I could definitely sense the love Nawwar had for this station.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

Being one of the many Singaporeans who are ignorant of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, I was intrigued by the many sights and sounds of the old dame that were captured by the documentary. The only part of the train station that I used to frequent with my dad was the food stalls. Considering that the food at the old dame is one of the reasons patrons frequent the railway station, a few of the audience at The Substation asked Nawwar why the hawker stalls are not the main focus of her documenary. “I wanted to shift the focus of the station. The food there is already popular, why focus on the food when the essence of the station is its people and the train itself?”

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Another reason Platform 1932 stands out from other documentaries is the portrayal of the people who make the station come alive as well as the extensive research done. Among my favourite interviewees are the KTM Fan Club boys, Haziq and Saiful. These young men find it interesting to explore the tracks and the railway as the antique technology gives them a breath of fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Seriously though, I never knew the existence of the KTM Fan Club in Singapore! I thought it was merely a Facebook group that wants to relive nostalgia, but they truly have their own website.

KTM Fans: Haziq and Saiful

KTM Fans: Haziq and Saiful

Hearing stories from the railway operators opened my eyes further. The ‘old-schoolness’ of the way things are operated changed my perspective on the evolution of technology. While Singaporeans are unhappy with the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and its lack of space, others are pretty much with the KTM train. Sure, the MRT is fast and practical for a small country like Singapore, but we need to understand why bigger countries like our neighbour uses the train. It may be slow, but the comfort is far from the packed bullet train where even seats are limited.

After watching Platform 1932, I question my ability to make documentaries. It may look easy, but the road gets tough along the way. When asked what was the hardest part of producing Platform 1932, Nawwar said, “Extensive research takes a good amount of time and the audio-visual script will always change along the way.” Looks like I have a long way to go, eh?

Catch the next First Take: April Edition here.

Platform 1932 was Nawwar’s final-year project for NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication.

Photos credit to Nawwar Syahirah.