Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dani's Malaysian Adventure: Guiza at Johor Darul Takzim


"Not that anyone considered the possibility of him leaving so early, but rumours ran rampant near the end of March that Güiza’s stay in Johor would be cut short. He, along with Del Nero, was suddenly considered too expensive to retain. Del Nero’s impact had been limited; a loss of form not aided by recurring injuries which denied him the opportunity to truly show what he is capable of. But Güiza? Güiza’s was the leader everyone had been following, the man who had sold out stadiums and put Malaysian football back on the back page of Malaysian newspapers. In an era when that has usually been the honour of teams from the English Premier League, that says something."

*An excerpt from an article I wrote that was published by In Bed With Maradona. To read the whole article, click here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Takut 66, Takut 98


Mahasiswa takut pada dosen
Dosen takut pada dekan
Dekan takut pada rektor
Rektor takut pada menteri
Menteri takut pada presiden
Presiden takut pada mahasiswa...

*Written by Taufiq Ismail. Stay strong, Jakarta.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ang Pao Straws


I walked out from the hall, feeling satisfied. It had been a good night, spent with friends and pretty decent food. My friend had gotten married to her fiance, and I was happy that she thought enough of me to invite my wife and I along. It was a lovely evening spent with people, some I’ve not met in over ten years, but I spent a considerable amount having a look-see at the place itself. I have yet to organise the Kuala Lumpur reception of my wedding, and of late, the wheels have started turning in my head, thinking more and more about suitable times and locations.

“How much you do you reckon this place would cost?” I asked Evelyn, my friend’s girlfriend on the way out. She had earlier commented that I seemed to be in very deep thought at some parts during the dinner, and I deflected that with some very bad jokes, and a hint of the truth (that I was observing the people. Which is true. I can't rework the world the arts if I don't have a better understanding of how it works).

“I don’t know,” she started. “You’re going to have to ask Jiun that. But usually the guests themselves would help to cover the cost for the wedding, right?”

She was right, for it was a Chinese wedding dinner. The tradition for such events is for the people attending to be contributing a considerable-enough sum of money. Some would give a bit more, depending on how close they are to the married couple. Others would look at it as a way of paying for the dinner to be had that night, and give a sum somewhat equivalent to that. That was what I did last night.

The sum, though, is an idea that is very important. Your name is written on the envelope, so you wouldn't really have a chance of 'escaping', so to speak. Too low, and the host family may have a different opinion of you. Too high, and...well, the host family may have a different opinion of you. Even my friend contacted me earlier in the day, asking how much I would be paying. 

The main idea, I suppose, is that the money eventually collected would help to at the very least cover for some of the cost of the event. It appears to be the standard for many such receptions to be held at fairly upmarket venues such as Park Royal Hotel. Such places are not necessarily available on the cheap, and as such, any sort of monetary contribution, I suppose, is gratefully accepted by the hosts. It is, on some level, an example of a community, my friend’s community of friends and family, coming together and helping each other out.

Except that, to get back to Evelyn's point, I can’t really count on that kind of help.

Such traditions are traditionally associated with the Chinese community in Malaysia. I am not sure whether it runs through other such communities across the world, but the point I am trying to make here is that I am not. Chinese, that is. I am, by the official definition of the state, as well as the ideological state apparatuses I have been exposed to and conditioned by, a Malay.

Malay traditions are different, at least in this context. In a way, you are very much on your own when it comes to the accumulation of capital for a wedding. The money comes largely from you, and guests attending are not usually expected, at least not traditionally, to impart upon you some of Bank Negara’s finest paper products. The signified of these signifiers would instead be transferred to other things; from my experience, mattress sets are fairly popular. Some of my other friends had complete kitchen and utensil sets. It symbolises, on some level, the building of a new household (and, possibly, in the case of the mattress sets, the comfort to be experienced when the next generation is being made).

However, while money is still something very rare, what you do get is the entire community coming together to support the host family. For my Penang reception, my mother's side of the family all pulled together, from my aunts who helped to cut up the flowers properly, to my cousins who helped to piece together the door gifts accordingly. One of them is Boboi, who was, as it turns out, due to fly out to New Zealand to begin a whole new life out there about a week after my reception. Yet, there he was, beavering away in the days leading up to the gala night itself. He had a legitimate reason for minimising his own involvement in the event, and yet he was there, supporting, pushing, and helping wherever he could help.

Perhaps, then, time and money could not really be equated together as much as many others may like. The time spent doing this would also be something that helps to bond us. It brought me closer to some members of my family, and this is something that was important to me. I still had not spent as much time as I had wanted to with certain members of my extended family, and while I did not fully maximise the opportunity this time around, the very fact that the opportunity itself had arisen was testament to the communal strength in place.

Of course, certain parts of the above rumination was made with a very limited and exclusive example used to illustrate certain things. Perhaps there's a lot more that I had failed to consider, but that's alright, because I did not necessarily wish to offer a conclusive conclusion to this. Rather, instead of looking for a definite ending, perhaps a more subjective consideration of the relationship between time and money could be done.

We say that we spend time, and we spend money. Nevertheless, despite the difference in the actual support being given, such structures of support is indeed in place. Whether through time, and through money (and through other means beyond these two), the objective is the same, whichever sets of families or friends come together. It is to wish the bride and groom a happy beginning to the start of this journey.

H
aving recently been a part of it myself, not just as a guest but also as a groom, I can't even begin to say how much it all really helps.

Thanks, and congrats!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Films for Humanity


Why film?
I wanted to study motion picture at post graduate level because I want to effectively contribute to making good films for the sake of humanity. For this, I will need to understand deeply the art of motion picture productions.

I believe that film is a powerful medium, with the ability to break down certain barriers that exists in people's heads and in their hearts. These barriers are what serves to keep us apart, when we are nothing more than human beings. In my opinion, the first step towards a better world would be make people understand better that which they don't. I believe that films can help to foster that understanding. We may speak different languages, lead different ways of life and have different ways of doing things, but certain things remains true. We feel the same emotions: love, anger, joy and frustration, amongst others. Notions of family, concepts of law, finality of courts, and ideas of religion all exist in our life in one way or another. I want to make movies that, in short, strips away all the fancy bits and shows that at the end of the day, we are not all that different.

Another way to make that happen would be to waken others to the importance of films. With this in mind, I would like to contribute to teaching film studies and production in my country. In encouraging others to appreciate films, I can help them reduce the barriers in their minds and in the minds of others. I firmly believe in the importance of films as a medium to distribute message. It is important that the art of sending this message is learnt well, and I intend to do my bit in the future about this.

Finally, I do not exempt myself from that criticism. I believe that there is much that I still have to learn about others, as well as about myself. I look for challenges, a new environment in which I can flourish both personally and professionally. Being in New York, in America will expose me to different people, different view points, and different ways of life. As an old Malay saying goes, “Jauh berjalan, luas pandangan,” which means that the further one goes, the broader their mind becomes. As such, the challenge of the Masters of Fine Arts in Filmmaking at New York Film Academy will take me far.

My Story
Perhaps my desire to show that people are not all that stems from my own background. Having spent my first ten years in Malaysia, I went to London, England at the age of 10 and lived there for the next five years, subsequently completing my secondary school education (O Levels) there. My passport says that I am Malay and a Malaysian. At times, however, I feel that those statements have been untrue, and my time in London had much to do with that. My eyes were not only opened wider, but placed in a different position completely. For the first time in my life, I became the other, the outsider, the foreigner (and was treated accordingly, by some). After having been a part of the mainstream in Malaysia, this whole other world forced me to look at my own world in a completely different way, and contributed much to my make up as a person. 

Coming back to Malaysia, however, placed me in another, perhaps more interesting position: as a part of the mainstream, but feeling more affinity with 'the other'. I felt different, and to a certain extent, I am different. I speak differently; I do things differently, thought about things differently, even embarked on my education the other way around. Most people pursue their tertiary education abroad; by the age of 16, when the rest of my peers prepare to start the second to last year of their secondary school, I started my pre-university program. Here, I experience another chasm: that of the age, with the rest of my classmates being at least two or three years older than me. Once again, I didn't quite fit in.

This sense of displacement about the self and the identity would remain true throughout my university days. In time, however, I would learn to deal with this, and realise that rather than it being a disadvantage, I can use this as an advantage. “Turn everything negative into a positive,” someone once said. I learned that with films, I can do exactly that. Being in different positions at different points of my life allowed me to view things with a unique perspective: that though difference can be good, at the end of the day, we are all one and the same. For example, Westerners are highly regarded in Malaysia, but from my opinion, there's really nothing special about them. Similarly, Asians are looked upon differently in England, but that difference is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Currently, I am one of five participants selected from across Asia for the 2006 Asian Young Filmmakers Forum in Jeonju City, South Korea. I am halfway through the ten month programme, by the end of which I will have written and directed a short digital film in Korean.   

Formative Creative Experiences
When it comes to thinking of film ideas, I find myself drawing a lot from my own personal experiences. They are not always positive experiences, but for some reason, I find that the negative experiences are the ones that can provide the most creative impetus. Times of isolation and moments of racism make me feel that people do not know enough of the world. I feel that there are stories I can tell, stories which will make others look at things differently.  People are generally afraid of that which they do not know. Though understandable, it is something I want to change.

It is easy to point to other filmmakers, and say, “He's the one who makes me feel like I want to be filmmaker.” I admire the works of Spielberg, marvel at the Ang Lee's ability to transcend cinematic and cultural boundaries, and considered the director's cut of 'Once Upon A Time In America' by Sergio Leone as one of the most incredible works of cinematic art I have ever seen. But the most important lesson I learned came from none of the above. The one thing that influence me the most is the art of filmmaking itself. I realised this when I was making my first short film, 'Goldfish.'

Coming at the end of my university days, the timing wasn't ideal; not being a part of my academic program, I had to balance 'Goldfish' with my schooling and personal life as well. Taken at our own initiative, me and my friends had to decide whether we can do it. My head tells me that it wasn't the right course of action; but my heart said, “Roll with it.” And roll with it we did. With hindsight, I had underestimated the task before me: coordinating that short film production proved to be a monumental task. Writing the script wasn't easy; it went through several major drafts before the final version was completed. Looking for actors wasn't a walk in the park either: unlike us, many chose to follow their head and concentrate fully on their studies. Furthermore, the film was in shot in Mandarin (though my script was written in English. 'Goldfish' was done for a Chinese short film competition). There were plenty of moments when I wondered whether we would finish it on time. But finish it we did, and by the end I had learned far more about filmmaking from it than from reading and analysing movies.

The first screening was held on campus at Monash University Sunway Campus itself. As the lights dimmed, and the screen flickered to life, the movie started. At that exact moment, I felt this huge buzz within me, this incredible sense of satisfaction and pride that I had made a short film which I had cared about and here it is being shown to other people. I realised then that no matter what, this is it. This is what I want to do. The film itself differed in quality from what I had expected, but no matter.

I had found my calling.

Contemporary influences and inspirations
Having said all of that, I can't deny that there are moments of cinema which has left me awestruck. One such moment occurs in Guiseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso. Leading up to the climax, all the elements came together. The acting had been subtle, but strong, while the production value transported me to another time altogether, giving a unique insight into Italy and its culture during that period of time. Also, Ennio Morricone's beautiful music more than played its part, his sweeping orchestration pulling at the strings of my heart. But the moment that made the movie so important to me is the car scene at the end, when the protagonist, Salvatore, asks his love interest, Maria,  the question that we all wanted him to ask: Why she didn't come to him as they had promised earlier in their life? In that moment, when he asked, and she answered, a feeling of such deep satisfaction came over me. From an ideological point of view, the resolution that the film gives me is akin to that I seek in real life. We all would like to know why, what happened and how. Sometimes, things happen that drives us to not think things through properly. When we don't have the closure, it leaves room for there to be something else. Cinema Paradiso closes that room in the movie.

I find that the same is true of his later works, most notably 'The Legend of 1900'. The story centers on a character named 1900, who, after spending all of his life on board of a boat, refuses the chance to get off the boat. Later on, when asked why he did not do so, he answered: "Christ, did you...did you see the streets just the streets there were thousands of them, then how you do it down there, how do you choose just one... one woman, one house, one landscape to look at, one way to die..." Once again, Guiseppe Tornatore struck a chord with me: how do we pick one way, a single thing to do, out of all the other possibilities?

Leading to this point, how do I choose one film school, one film academy, with which to further my journey? I had researched and looked through plenty of information, and my leads kept pointing towards New York Film Academy. The practicality and intensity of the program appeals to my desire to be challenged, and also to my desire of telling stories that could make a difference. To paraphrase the Malay saying from above, I hope that my journey will continue further with you, and my mind (and that of the world) would be broader because of it.

*A personal statement I wrote in 2006, applying for a place in the New York Film Academy graduate programme. I was eventually offered a place, but it was an offer I did not take up.