"Penanggal" was a 2013 movie that told the story of Murni (Ummi Nazeera) who is raised by her grandmother, Mak Ajeng (Nomrah Damanhuri). Murni is turned into a 'penanggal' when Mak Ajeng, who practices black magic, passed her dark powers down to her granddaughter before dying. Murni has to go into hiding after turning into a 'penanggal', a mythical creature that appears human but is able to detach its head from the body and fly around with all its insides dangling from the neck down.
The first film from actress-turned-director Ellie Suriaty, the first-time director is thankful that everyone around her has shown her full support from the start, including her husband, producers, cast and crew of the production. She proves herself worthy of the Best Director title, with her film being nominated in 15 categories in this year's Malaysia Film Festival (FFM).
Cinema Online had the chance to talk to Ellie Suriaty recently and the filmmaker talks about her film's true message, her feeling on winning and her gratitude towards the late Sharifah Aini.
This is your first directorial effort but you managed to win Most Promising Director, how do you feel?
Ellie Suriaty: I feel very happy, and glad in a way because my heart was really beating hard while waiting for the winner announcement. The other nominees are all very strong contenders and our film genres really vary from one another. I would like to congratulate my friends who are nominated in the same category, we are all great directors but do allow tonight's win to be my 'rezeki'. I am grateful to my husband for letting me go all out and pour my everything into this movie. Also to my cast and production team, because we had one goal and we succeeded in reaching it.
Do you feel more enthusiastic to do your next film after winning this award?
Most definitely. My only wish is that in the future, it will be easier for me to get the funding for my next film. What is unfortunate about our country's local film industry is that we have many aspiring filmmakers with big ideas, but sadly very little in the wallet. Therefore many great movies cannot be executed perfectly.
Do you feel pressured to do better in your next film as well?
I do not feel pressured. "Penanggal" stands on its own. When you make a film about God, about your passion and faith, whether you wear a headscarf or not, it doesn't matter as it all comes purely from your heart. Hence the reason why this film has a special place in my heart. I can't compare my upcoming films to it. I'm aware that fans will be expecting more, I do not want to disappoint them as well as myself. I will always give my best.
Do you hope for the film to continue its winning streak?
"Penanggal" is nominated in 15 categories, so far we have won two. Of course, I would love it if we manage to win as many as we can.
What strength does "Penanggal" have as a film?
It's content. This is not a ghost film, it is a spiritual film. She did not die, she practiced black magic [therefore not a ghost but a lost soul]. I used the ghost 'penanggal' for commercial reasons. I know there are people who expect for it to be scarier, more horrifying. But it's not a ghost story. I do not want to talk about ghost, I want to talk about God. It is about one's dedication of love to God.
What do you think of this year's Malaysia Film Festival theme, Malaysia's Cinematic Transformation?
When we talk about Malaysia's cinematic transformation, these five films [nominated under Most Promising Director] are definitely the representatives of said transformation. What we wish to transform, to improve, in a film, we must first set a benchmark for it to achieve. This way, whatever films we are to produce in the future, it will be set against that benchmark in order for the new films to come out better or at least on par with the old ones.
What are your plans for your upcoming project?
Please don't get bored if I keep doing ghost films [laughs]. But my upcoming films must have context. I believe in strong subtexts. If not the story will come out empty and flat, there is no impact. I have no qualms making yet another ghost film but I promise it will have a strong content.
How was it like working with the late Sharifah Aini?
I feel very thankful to the late Sharifah Aini for agreeing to work in my film. I feel humbled as I was a first time director asking her to act in my first ever film. We had a heart to heart, I told her I needed her in my film, because of her strong presence. I'm happy that she agreed to work with me.