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.

2 comments:

Ezzah Mahmud said...

Amazing! Inspiring! Thank you sir! I'm moved. I feel the sincerity.

Fikri said...

Thanks for your comment, Ezzah! Hope this can be useful for you.