Film Review: Laskar Pelangi

I’ve been wanting to watch this film since forever, but unfortunately, our local cinemas decided not to screen it over a longer period of time. So when I was shopping at Geylang (Joo Chiat) two weeks ago, I was quite surprised to see the VCD at Muzika Records! I grabbed one copy, took out a 10 dollar note and immediately paid without any second thoughts.

poster-laskar-pelangi

Synopsis:

A small school in the countryside is on the verge of being shut down when enrollment falls due to the emergence of a rival school in the area. Without a complete class of ten students, the school would have to face its fate. Fortunately, the last student arrives at the eleventh hour, hence allowing the school to continue operations.

Nevertheless, the school faces all sorts of problems as time goes on. The students live in poverty, making use of whatever nature allows them to study. When the school faces a shortage of funds and students insist on participating in the local carnival, the class puts up a  performance in a way arts critics would applaud.

What I like about Laskar Pelangi is the subtlties and impactful dialogues that will forever be etched in your mind. When asked why she does not want to accept a marriage proposal from a rich businessman, Ibu Muslimah simply said, “Mimpiku bukan untuk menjadi isteri saudagar, mimpiku ialah untuk menjadi guru!” The English translation would simply mean “My dream is not to be a businessman’s wife, my dream is to be an educator!”

Apart from that, the class has a plethora of characters just like any class would have. I couldn’t quite catch the character’s names though. One boy has a superb ability of mental calculations and knows a lot about world events because he saves his daily pocket money to purchase newspapers to read. Another goes around the neighbourhood with a broken down radio that needs to be shaken up before used. He loves singing and dancing and anything related to the arts. And of course, there’s the misfit – a boy who’s stuck in the middle and just goes with the flow of his peers.

This is a truly inspiring film – because it has made think about my current status of being a substitute teacher. Perhaps, when I’ve gotten bored of filmmaking in the future, I’d probably come back to teaching. As for now, I’m happy where I am.

SMFS: Interview with SIFF Short Film Finalist – Hafidz Senor

Last Sunday, I managed to catch the re-run of the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF)  Short Film Finalists at the Substation. Remember when I said I’d catch a few films from April’s SIFF? They ran out of tickets. So I was fortunate to be informed by BK from the Substation about the re-run!

I caught up with one of the finalists, Hafidz Senor, 23 years old, the director of SHINGAPORU MONOGATARI. He enjoys water sports, hanging out with family and friends, as well as going to rock concerts.

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1. When your film was screened, there was an eerie air of silence. Why did you decide on a silent film?

When I was editing my film I felt that it would be better for my film to be silent. If I added my grandfather’s voice and ambient sounds I felt it would be too overbearing for the audience. As the black and white images are already strong itself, I guess the less-is-more approach would be better. When the film is silent, I believe people will be more focused reading the subtitles.

Yeah you’re right about this eerie air of silence. It’s kinda strange too for me watching it. War means terror and suffering, to think about past wars I guess its eerie and sad.

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2. The visuals you portrayed are a stark contrast to the story. From I can see, it was done in a way such that the modernity of Singapore contradicts the narrative of the story. Why?

The film was for a school assignment. I only had to three weeks to finish it. And I did not have access to archive war footage of Singapore during the war. So I planned the visuals in a way that it would parallel what my grandfather mentioned. Some of the images are the exact locations of where this events happened. Places like City Hall, Fort Siloso, Changi Beach and YMCA.

Its a different effect when you juxtapose an old narrative to images of present day Singapore. You feel the transformation, the nostalgia of how fast things change, things improve. I would say that my film falls under the genre of documentary/film essay technique. In the similar vein like Werner Herzog’s documentaries or Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi.

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3. Did you face any difficulty while making the montage of visuals?

Not really. I had planned the visuals/locations before I went out shooting. I guess the difficulty comes when I walked around City Hall.
And climbing Fort Siloso in Sentosa. I’m very happy with the film I made. Being selected for the Singapore International Film Festival itself is an honour and a beautiful surprise.

4. I understand the subject of SHINGAPORU MONOGATARI was your grandfather. How was it for him, recalling stories of the war?

It was exciting hearing his stories. he remembers so much. Maybe everything he experienced. He was 14 when the occupation began – I think its an important age in any human being’s life. He had big dreams of being an ustaz (religious teacher) as a student at Madrasah Al-Arabiah.

He said it was somewhere near the present day Masjid Haji Yusoff at Kovan. There was nothing he could do. So he worked for the Japanese doing labour work and cleaning machinery. If he went against the Japanese, he wouldn’t be here today.

The film is for me to remember my grandfather. And to remember our Singaporean ancestors who fought and build our country to what it is today. When I see the changes to Singapore’s natural and urban landscapes, I begin to realize that suffering brings out the best in us. Out of darkness and despair, comes new hopes and new dreams. The film fills a hole in my heart. Partially answers the questions I sometimes ask myself about our heritage and history. If you look at Singapore’s history or the history we study at school.

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It starts with Stamford Raffles in 1819. It is based alot on the colonial or the authorities’ point of view. What happened before 1819, history about Malay civilisation has been conveniently left out. The film is very much a personal narrative, from the viewpoint of a survivor. Its important for us to document war survivors, people who went through it all. I don’t know, I guess the film is part of my life journey, my life’s questions. It’s hard to explain why I like art or why I create art but I hope this quote helps.

There’s a lot of searching in life. Just as John Berger says, “Art is the provocation for talking about enigma and the search for sense in human life.”

5. Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Hmm. I don’t make a lot of films either. My advice would be to make a film that you feel strongly about. For me, I want the audience to remember my film. So its important I make a good one. Take your time to write a script. Watch a lot of films of different genres. Everyone is inspired by different things so we got to go out and enjoy. Experience different forms of art like theatre, painting or music, it helps. I like the collaborative aspect of filmmaking. I hope to make more films in the future with Singapore filmmakers.

SMFS: 48 Hour Film Project

Over the May Day weekend two weeks ago, the Singapore Malay Film Society (SMFS) took part in the second 48 Hour Film Project held in our sunny island Singapore. We sent in two teams, Al-Bajet led by Suffian and MatD led by Isnor. Prior to the competition, we had a hard time splitting the already scarce manpower into two teams, but we had to. So here I am, blogging to you about my experience being part of Al-Bajet.

DAY 1

1900 hours

Tisch Asia School of the Arts – Kick Off Event

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Shahril was kind enough to drive Suffian, Linda and myself to Tisch, which to my surprise, located at some isolated part of Singapore. Looking back, Tisch is far more inaccessible than NTU. I wonder why the organisers decided to make Tisch their headquarters. So upon reaching Tisch, we registered, paid the registration fee and waited anxiously for the organisers to release the competition details. Each team was required to draw the genre for their short film, and all teams are to use the given character, prop and line of dialogue in the most creative manner possible.

The team insisted I picked the genre though Linda is the one with the magic fingers. I picked a piece of paper from Mike’s (the organiser) cap and read the genre written. You can imagine how surprised I was when it read ‘Detective/Cop’. I was expecting a simpler genre like drama or comedy.

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So basically, we were given the following details to craft our short film:

Genre: Detective/Cop

Prop: Scissors

Character: Amy/Andy Yeo, Journalist

Line of Dialogue: Is it supposed to look like that?

Then came the journey to look for an inspiration…

3180_1075594326362_1121315568_30206494_903482_nThese, my friends, are the faces of thinkers like Leonardo Da Vinci.

2100 hours

Golden Landmark Hotel and Shopping Centre, ModKebaya

We proceeded to Rezza’s dad’s office to discuss our film at Golden Landmark Hotel. It was getting late and we were sort of stuck when it came to finding an inspiration. Then out of the blue, Linda said that till today, life’s greatest mystery has yet to be solved…

Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

We are all familiar with this nursery rhyme, especially those who grew up with Barney. And thus, we decided to let our story evolve around cookies. More on that later.

3180_1075594686371_1121315568_30206502_4069321_nDiscussing the plot and story.

DAY 2

0130 hours

The Comfort of My Bedroom

Upon reaching home, I did the script. After a can of Redbull and a cup of Vietnamese coffee, I finished the script at 4.30 am.  I went to bed just when my mum woke up for Subuh. Nice.

0900 hours

My House

The cast and crew dropped by my lovely home for rehearsal as well as to survey the location for filming later at night. We met some new faces; Dayang, Kelly, Ilyas and Jas who made up our cast. Shaffira made a cameo appearance in our film as well.

After a few rehearsals and a brief briefing by our Director, Suffian, we headed to a multi storey carpark to shoot our first scene.

3180_1075595726397_1121315568_30206528_5369756_nRehearsing at my house.

3180_1075612886826_1121315568_30206583_892198_nFeeling-feeling make up artist!

1200 hours

Tampines Street 72 Carpark

So we shot the first scene, and I must say this is the first time I was working with other people for a film. My previous projects have been pretty much individual ones so working with others was quite an experience. Rezza and Suffian may not have the same style as myself, but when we combine ideas, it works perfectly.

3180_1075614166858_1121315568_30206614_7167459_nRezza playing around with the angles that work best.

3180_1075613406839_1121315568_30206596_5558555_nDIY dolly track courtesy of Suffian’s brother in law!

3180_1075631727297_1121315568_30206668_4623945_nDayang’s piercing scream!

3180_1075632327312_1121315568_30206682_826095_nIgnore the minah sitting like an apek, the focus is on the sound man!

3180_1075613566843_1121315568_30206600_3171897_nLinda and I having fun with the dolly track. Heh.

1700 hours

Badoque Restaurant, Simpang Bedok

We spent a tad too much time at the carpark, but we still managed to shoot at the coolest hang out place ever, Badoque! It was not packed and the staff were really helpful and friendly. They made sure we had everything we need so that shooting would on smoothly.

3180_1075644487616_1121315568_30206758_596252_nBird’s eye view of how the place was set up.

3180_1075644527617_1121315568_30206759_1007953_nRezza doing his thing – being the Director of Photography!

3180_1075644607619_1121315568_30206761_5598159_nRehearsing before the first take.

3180_1075644847625_1121315568_30206767_8086768_nSuffian as director!

2130 hours

Back at my place

Finally, we went back to my place, or HQ, for the final scene – probably the scariest and most suspenseful scene ever. We had fun shooting till 3am on Sunday morning, as well as the rain that made my house sound haunted according to Linda. Oh and the dolly track came for a visit as well!

3180_1075653087831_1121315568_30206787_8011002_nThis is what happens when your talents have too much talent and too little sleep – Ponyo Ponyo dance.

3180_1075653127832_1121315568_30206788_4111177_nDOLLY DOLLY DOLLY!!!! I’m in love with that track!

3180_1075653407839_1121315568_30206794_3635492_nFULL FORCE! From left – Me, Keynah, Kelly, Linda, Lina, Shaffira, Rezza, Ilyas, Jas and Suffian!

DAY 3

2033 hours

Tisch Asia School of the Arts

Yups, we submitted the film 3 minutes late. But fret not, there’s always a silver lining somewhere. Hence, I present to you, the trailer of ALIAS | ILYAS.

A Date with A Visual Effects Artist: Effandi Mohamed

When I was asked to interview a visual effects artist, I was more than glad to do it.

When I was asked to interview a visual effects artist who does effects for Hollywood movies, I was thrilled.

But when I was asked to interview a visual effects artist who did effects for The Dark Knight, my hands were shaking in excitement.

Everyone, meet Effandi Mohamed, a visual effects artist at Double Negatives (Dneg for short).

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As I crafted my questions for the interview, my head started to go blank. I certainly could interview an actor, writer, musician, or even a director. Yet, I had no idea what to ask a visual effects artist! This is a sign that Singapore needs more people in the visual effects industry so journalists can interview. Thankfully, Effandi was able to understand that.

Our interview took place at Starbucks Tampines (they had a major makeover and I AM THRILLED!), even though I was reluctant fearing that it was too casual an atmosphere for an interview. Effandi assured me that Starbucks was a good venue, “Chill ahh… We’re in the creative industry! We have to be relaxed and casual!” That being said, I dumped my bag on the sofa and immediately queued for a Caramel Macchiato.

The 29-year-old visual effects artist who enjoys football, traveling and photography is someone whom we can call a role model. Despite having worked on mega Hollywood blockbusters, Effandi stayed calm and humble through out the interview session. I asked Effandi on the prospects of Singapore’s role in the visual effects industry as well as the future of local films incorporating visual effects.

How did you land a job in the visual effects industry?

I was studying at CG Protégé and Dneg staffs dropped by to visit the school and informing us they are recruiting talents from Singapore for their London office. They like what they see from our works and requested us to submit our showreels if we’re keen on working with them. Back in 2004-2006, the 3D industry was slowly picking up its pace in Singapore, considering it is a multi billion dollar industry. It was a very competitive market in Singapore at that time and therefore I decided to try my luck with Dneg.  Few weeks later I was interviewed by Dneg’s HR Manager and 2D VFX Supervisor and I was very nervous during the interview. A week later, I got an email from the HR Manager that I was accepted and they are flying me off to London soon.

Have you always considered a career in the media industry specializing in visual effects? What were some of the difficulty faced?

It has been a dream of mine since I watched Armageddon, Matrix and some other VFX movies and to have my name in the credits of a Hollywood blockbuster. When I graduated from LaSalle in 2001 majoring in multi-media art, there was not much demand for 3D works in Singapore and therefore jobs in the 3D industry were limited to those lucky few. Nevertheless, I still took the risk of studying what I love, not knowing much about where my future was headed, really.

Without hardship, there is no success. It took me ten years to get to where I am now. I had to make do with a job as a videographer and video editor at the Singapore Police Force for five years while I waited patiently for the 3D industry to boom. Perhaps if I didn’t get an F9 for English during my O Levels, I would probably have had a better job upon graduation. I guess everything happens for a reason – I’m happy where I am now.

What do you like most about doing visual effects in Hollywood movies?

A visual effects artist has to be meticulous and really pay attention to detail. Mistakes can be seen obviously and the precise technicalities challenge me to do my best and that’s what I like about doing visual effects. Of course, end of the day our name will be credit and been seen around the globe which I find it really cool.

What were some of the movies you have worked on?

Angels & Demons, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Quantum of Solace, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and The Dark Knight.

How did you feel when you found out you were working on the Dark Knight – the biggest Hollywood blockbuster since Titanic?

Actually, I had no idea it would turn out to be a box office hit. In fact, I belief neither did any of us at Dneg when we’re working on it! We knew we had to be very precise with out work since it’s in IMAX format. It be nice if The Dark Knight could smash Titanic all time record.

So do you think Singapore is ready for post-production work like visual effects?

Seriously speaking, the visual effects industry in Singapore is still an infant industry. Give it a few more years; coupled with government support, trainings in schools and public awareness, the industry will certainly grow. Singapore government needs to give all the support it can give to the industry because a lot of things are involved to create stunning visual effects like special effects, building miniatures sets, props etc.

Comparing Singapore and Hollywood, how different are the two film industries?

Huge differences, man! Hollywood uses loads of big trucks full of actors, camera crew, make up crew artists and whole lots of equipments etc just to shoot one scene! Imagine the scale of production compared to Singapore! Besides, they are able to have bigger budgets and therefore they can use it for visual and special effects. They have proper filming studios when we ourselves do not.

What do you hope to see in the filming industry in Singapore?

We need more filmmakers who are willing to take the risk and integrate visual effects in their films. This is the only way for this industry to succeed in Singapore.

What do you hope to see in Singapore’s visual effects industry?

Strong government backing with financial support – in large amounts, of course! *wink * This financial backing will of coz help to improve in all aspects to build this industry from education, luring companies and creating more jobs for fellow Singaporeans.
Hopefully we’ll see more established CG companies setting up studios here in our little island, and perhaps more Malays will get involved in this industry. We can’t be sitting at our office desks being contented with whatever we have. We need to be chasing our dreams; even if takes us a long time to achieve it.

And yes, we need more ladies in the industry (chuckles).

What is your advice for potential visual artists and wannabes?

Work hard – it’s not just the creativity but also the technical know-hows and artistic value of your work. With both elements, you can be the best visual artist if you really want to.