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.