Highlighting local heroes

Highlighting local heroes

Hisyam Salleh and Rahmah Ghazali are only too happy to talk about their heart-warming short documentary.

Little did reporters Hisyam Salleh and Rahmah Ghazali know that when they decided to film the short documentary on local heroes Pak Mie and his wife, who rescue stray animals, they would be catapulted into stardom. Their eight-minute documentary, "A Stray Hero", has been shortlisted for screening by organisers of the Cluj Shorts International Film Festival, making Malaysia the only representative from the ASEAN region.

"A Stray Hero" tells the story of former contractor Pak Mie or Muhd Azmi Ismail and his wife, who dedicated their lives to rescuing stray dogs and cats in Alor Setar, Kedah despite being Muslims. Warmed by their film, we shot them an email to quiz them about the in-and-outs of their film and the future of their careers.

What prompted you guys to choose Pak Mie as the topic of your short documentary?
Hisyam: Because he is a Muslim and we think that he had the ability to change the perception of the Malay-Muslim mentality towards animals, especially dogs.

Rahmah: There has always been a misconception about dogs in Islam, especially in Malaysian context. Dogs are always perceived as haram, but in Islam actually it isn't. It's just how Malay Muslims are brought up, without them having to look deeper the reason behind it. When we found out about Pak Mie, we didn't think twice, we packed our bags and headed to Alor Star because we thought he would be a damn good subject for our short film.

Why shoot a documentary? Why not shoot a short fiction film?
Hisyam: It is not really my beat to shoot a short fiction film, but who knows in the future, I might venture into something like that.

Rahmah: I prefer documentary because I think people can relate more to something real, and also to make them realise that there are extraordinary people out there.

What was the process like, working together? Who did what, and of course, who gets to make the big decisions?
Hisyam: Most of the time my producer, who is also my wife, Rahmah made the big decisions, particularly on our daily run-down.

Rahmah: Haha, actually no one was dominant in the filming process. We shared our ideas together, what to shoot, what sort of questions to ask and all that stuff. As a journalist, I had to use my journalistic skills in making contacts and setting up interviews with the subjects involved.

The title card of Hisyam and Rahmah's short documentary about local hero Pak Mie.

What are your upcoming plans as filmmakers? Have you decided on your next documentary subject or do you plan to try out other genres?
Hisyam: We will shoot more documentaries based on the local community in Malaysia. But I don't rule out the possibility to be involved in making commercial videos since we need more budgets for shooting documentaries. So shooting commercials will help me get more resources.

Rahmah: As for me, I haven't really thought of trying out other genres, but now we are focusing on filming on any amazing person, be it a public figure or an ordinary citizen. Our only constraint now is budget, since both of us are full time journalists, our salary is just enough to support our family.

Will you both consider going full-time as filmmakers?
Hisyam: Yeah, why not since I am already making a living using my camera.

Rahmah: Yes, definitely. If given the chance, I wouldn't think twice about it.

Do you have a favourite director? If so, who?
Hisyam: Documentary film maker Michael Moore and Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Each of them has their own specialty in telling a story.

Rahmah: I love the British filmmaker Guy Ritchie. I love his cinematography; his films are beautifully shot, his characters are well-crafted and the dialogue is smart and fast-paced.

Do you have a favourite film?
Hisyam: A lot, but I love comic-based films from Marvel and DC Comics.

Rahmah: Most of my favourite ones are Guy Ritchie's. They include "Snatch", " Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", and the latest one would be "Sherlock Holmes".

What do you think of Malaysia's film industry?
Hisyam: I think it is getting better after I saw a trailer of a movie titled "KIL" two years ago and I am happy to say that it is finally making a debut at the cinema at the end of this month. I think the movie will stand out from the rest of the films out there judging from the storyline and the cinematography. I'm also a fan of "Bunohan" because I think it is not your typical movie.

Rahmah: I am not an expert in judging the Malaysia's film industry but we certainly feel that it can be improved. Maybe we should break away from the ghost stories and start making more refreshing films, such as "Bunohan". That was remarkable and outstanding.

Considering your success, what advice can you give to people who are interested in making a short film/documentary?
Hisyam: If you have an idea, just go and shoot your film. Brainstorm with a person you can trust so your idea won't be stolen.

Rahmah: If you have an interesting idea what to film, don't wait. Just do it. If you don't have the budget, it is okay. A short film can be about anything; even about a homeless man because I believe he too has an interesting story to tell. It is how you shape the story that's most important.