Directors Sanif Olek (left) and Royston Tan.
Singapore Film Festival has officially kicked off in Malaysia following the opening ceremony held at GSC Pavilion yesterday.
10 Singapore movies will be screened at selected GSC cinemas until this Sunday, 17 January.
Two of the movies are SG50 anthology "7 Letters" and Singapore's 2014 Oscar entry "Sayang Disayang", whose respective directors Royston Tan and Sanif Olek were in attendance during the festival's opening ceremony.
At the opening ceremony of Singapore Film Festival in Malaysia.
In his speech at the event, Royston revealed that despite each director filming their own segment of the anthology separately, and only seeing the pieced together stories during the preview, there was a uniformity that holds true to their unity as one celebrated nation.
Since the film festival is part of the Titian Budaya programme that is held to commemorate the 50 years of friendship between Malaysia and Singapore, it is only fitting that a movie that celebrates peace and unity is chosen as the opening film.
Prior to the ceremony, Cinema Online took the chance to have a chat with the directors and found out just how close Singapore really is to Malaysia.
"Bunga Sayang" is Royston Tan's story in "7 Letters".
Cinema Online: How does it feel like having your movie chosen to be screened at this film festival?
Sanif Olek: It's certainly an honour to have my movie represent Singapore and be screened in Malaysia. The story that I cover in "Sayang Disayang" is basically a nusantara kind of story. And I think it's something that we have in common.
Royston Tan: I represent "7 Letters". I'm very excited and also nervous because it's the first time for it to be shown in Malaysia. Out of seven stories, three stories were filmed here. After doing the movie, I realised that we're only separated by name but in terms of the spirit, in terms of the bloodstream, we're very much a big family.
Royston Tan represents "7 Letters" at the festival.
What inspired you to make your respective movies?
Sanif: More than ten years ago, I was watching a lot of food films from Europe, from China, from South America. I realised back then there was not one movie about food from the nusantara region. So I decided to do one and chose sambal goreng, which is basically the quintessential nusantara food. I incorporated some musical elements, an inspiration from the Bollywood movies that I grew up with. Also, I pay homage to movies from Jalan Ampas, P. Ramlee movies, as these are also influenced by Bollywood.
I also noticed that in recent times, most of the movies that come from this region are insular. They're basically movies about Singapore, movies about Malaysia, movies about Indonesia. So I thought of making a movie that celebrates nusantara, encapsulates the whole of this region, to just celebrate something that we have in common.
Royston: The main reason why we have this production is because it was a ground initiative by seven directors, who write love letters to a place we call home. People have different attachment to Singapore but the heart of the matter is it's the place we call home, and that's how we came up with this concept. And every director put in very personal aspects of their life to tell stories of Singapore that they're familiar with. There are stories from the '50s to the present time.
A still featuring Datuk Rahim Razali in "Sayang Disayang".
Any interest to work with a Malaysian filmmakers next?
Sanif: Yes, of course. The last few years we've had filmmakers like Liew Seng Tat who represent the new voice of Malaysian filmmakers. In fact, in my movie, the protagonist is Datuk Rahim Razali who he himself is a cinema icon. And to have him, who is based in Malaysia, playing a Singaporean for a nusantara movie, it's just amazing.
Royston: I'm open to any kind of collaboration. I like to shoot in Malaysia because if you want a kampung setting, you have it. In Singapore there's no such setting. There are a lot of locations here in Malaysia. I've done a lot of commercials here, I enjoy the whole process.
So we've heard about some censorship issue at this film festival, did your movies receive any censorship request?
Royston: Apart from the one small issue [in "1975"], there was no other problem.
Sanif: Mine is basically quite good, I found out that mine has got a tapis bersih kind of rating so it's as clean as Dettol [laughs].
What is your opinion on censorship?
Royston: I wish that someday censorship will be replaced with education and discussion. Censorship is faced by everyone around the world but I hope people will be given the chance to decide for themselves what they want to see.
Sanif: As filmmakers, we are artistes and as artistes we need to, once in a while, produce a work that would create conversation. I think without that conversation happening outside of work, it defeats the purpose of doing movies.
Sanif Olek is working on a war movie next.
2016 Oscars is coming, care to share your thoughts on why movies from our region fail to enter the big race despite the entries that we've submitted?
Sanif: If you look at the movies of nusantara, I think it's very rare for movies from here to go into these big awards and festivals. I think part of the reason is because the international audience is not familiar with what the nusantara is all about.
Royston: My stand would be - I would like to use the Miss Universe pageant to justify what I want to say. Just because you didn't get into Top Five, it doesn't mean that you are not beautiful. The pageant has a particular kind of mindset about how a woman should look like, should the women starve themselves to be skinny in order to win the pageant?
Sanif: Just to reiterate what Royston has mentioned, our movies not getting in this award show doesn't mean that we produce bad movies. It's just that, some people like sambal goreng, some don't.
What are you working on next?
Royston: I'm working on a new movie, it's called "1998". I've done one commercial movie already, I think I've paid my dues so now it's time, like what the investors promised me, after I've done so I can do what I really want to do. The movie's going to be shot in Taiwan.
Sanif: I am working on several projects. I'm most excited about one in particular, at the moment I call it "The Regiment". It's not a biopic but a reimagining of what happened to the last Malay regiment when they fought in Singapore Malaya. There's no clear record of what happened on the field back then, so it's interesting to speculate what really happened in those few hours. It's a war movie set in Singapore Malaya, in the forest. To be filmed in Malaysia.
Cinema Online, 15 January 2016