Monday, May 31, 2010

The three rivers

I had just landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok when I received the text message from Sheridan that he had hand-delivered the Freedom Film Festival 2010 entry to the organiser. I didn't know what to feel. There I was in Bangkok with the Red-shirt protesters taking over the heart of the city.

My whirlwind journey covered Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City,  in eight days from May 13, which inevitably included the deadly street protests in Siam Square, the killing fields and S21-prison in Phnom Penh, the Cuchi tunnel and the aftermath of Orange Agent in Saigon. Or I could also say: from modern day anti-government protest, the Khmer Rouge atrocities, and the South Vietnam war. All were devastating.

I left Bangkok with the image of smoke billowing from underneath the Rama VI expressway as I headed for the airport. I left Phnom Penh with the images of the Tuol Sleung prisoners of a forlorn mother cradling a baby, a bright eye toddler and eleven year old comrades trained as spies. I left Ho Chi Minh City with the images of deformed babies preserved in formaldehyde in lab jars. I saw countless wats, pagodas and mosques, crossed three important rivers in these landscapes, Menam Chao Phraya, Mekong River, Saigon River, and saw ruins, heritage and hope.

Hanim, the graphic artist, called me a war tourist with a thirst for the macabre, and somebody suggested the Nazi concentration camps should be on my next travel list. I didn't plan my trip to be as such but the trip was nothing as I had imagined. I felt it was 'planned' for me. It jumped on me like a surprise birthday party when it wasn't even my birthday. It's difficult to understand deaths. It is even more difficult to understand cruelty inflicted by fellow countrymen. What madness.

The trip changed the way I look at people, governance, politics and histories, permanently. The history textbooks told me nothing but selected events without context.

And what of the little temple at Section 19? A speck in the universe as compared to the turmoils in Indochina, regardless, it is still an important story to tell.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Watching Mencari Kartika

After months of working on it, Norhayati Kaprawi had flown to Jakarta for her directorial debut as film-maker on Mencari Kartika and yesterday the 40-minute film premiered in this country to a packed audience at Shah's Village Hotel, Petaling Jaya.

As I congratulated her at the end of the event, I saw the unmistakable glint in her eye, the satisfaction of a story told.

Earlier this year she spoke enthusiastically of turning her visuals on Kartika into a movie. Over cups of coffee, we spoke about forming storylines, journalism and writing for visuals. I shared what little I know, and we joked about making a film together, maybe about Chow Kit Road. Hahaha.

Standing in the hall watching the movie, I was touched. Yati had done it. Against all odds; limited resources, collecting visuals, chasing after the subject from Kuala Lumpur, Cherating to Kota Bharu, I was impressed.

Yati talks to journalists at a private screening of her first film, Mencari Kartika

An engineer by training who turned into an activist, a painter and now a film-maker, feverishly working on her next documentary, Yati said: “The shortcomings are allowed because it's a first film. The audience wouldn't be too forgiving on your next.”

Today afer work, I sat talking to a good friend and colleague Aniza Damis, who was also at Yati's premier last night.

When are you going to do a film? I'd like to see it, she said. Cat got my tongue. I couldn't tell her about the film proposal with Freedom Film Fest.

I shrugged my shoulders hoping that she would let me off, but no, Aniza is a journalist highly skilled at ensnaring the subject with her questions and make them talk on topics they avoided most.

You could get help from Komas. They organise film festivals and support first time film-makers, she added.

I pulled a blank face. I dunno, I said, then conveniently wearing a distinterested and tired expression. Eventually we moved on to another subject. The escape artist, escaped.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Unsticking the sticky notes

We have two more days to complete the entry package to the Freedom Film Fest 2010 competition. The writing has gotten more intense but we are yet to finalise the draft. Sheridan is drafting the summary while I draft the treatment.

From notes to draft, and then the chunks of scenes are written on the sticky notes. One scene, one note. One voice, another note. Specific music cue, a different note. All colour coded.

Next I stuck the notes on the placemats in sequence according to the draft. If the writer works alone, he or she may not have to resort to this tedious task but I think this is one of the best ways to 'see' clearly what we want to achieve. It cuts down misunderstandings greatly.

After much re-arranging, this is how the placemat and the sticky notes look

By the end of the day, we have finalised the scenes and I have to compile these scenes into a treatment.

(I haven't done any preparation on my Indochina trip. Aduhhh.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The first draft

Based on readings and the interviews, we drafted a story. It started with a question: what is the story? The story is about... a temple. First we arranged the events chronologically and marked areas that needed further explanations. Next we decided on how to tell the story. Where to begin and where to end:

Point A ------- moving to ------- Point B.

What events will move the story from point A to point B? The sequence of events have to be logical.

We do not have much to work on but enough to string a story. In some areas, we added possible interviews to add flow to the storyline.

Today, we completed the first draft of the film and gave it a working title: Kuil.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Painting the elephant pink

The interview with Ustaz Azrul, Section 23 surau chairman today, went well. We had a general idea on the residents perceptions about the relocation of Section 19 temple to the area. Azrul also talked about the cow-head protest and the unruly dialogue session at MBSA hall, which he had attended.

(I couldn't get the Section 19 temple association chairman. He is out of the country on a business trip. We have to make do without him for now.)

After the interview, we discussed about what Azrul had said:  “Ini bukan isu agama, bukan isu kaum. Ini isu politik.”

How? Sheridan grinned.

We are not doing a political documentary.

It is like having an elephant in the living room. And we are going to paint the entire room to match the elephant, so that we don't have to see it, he said.

We are writing about the people, I said.

Hahahaha. He laughed. Elephant in the living room. Hahahahaha.

In my mind, I saw a pink elephant lounging in a pink room.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Without walls, use placemats

Time is running short. We are juggling with our day jobs and drafting a proposal for the Freedom Film Fest 2010 competiton. Although the deadline is two weeks away, we have to complete it by May 12 because I will be leaving for Indochina the next day.

We have to complete a PDF form, write a proposal including a brief introduction on the writer/director, a summary of the film, working schedule, and (here's the catch) the treatment.

Treatment? Sheridan asked.

A half-script, like 'how would you like to treat the film?'. Writing a treatment for a documentary is not quite the same like a fiction, I realised. While in fiction you can control the narrative and get the characters to say the exact lines, a documentary treatment is merely an anticipation of what the subjects would say during interviews or the turn of the events much later.

If we ever get to do the film we will have to adjust the treatment accordingly. But for now we have to visualise the film. We should have a wall or at least a whiteboard to help us draft the scenes and storyline, but since we floated from one cafe to another for discussions the only space we have were the dinner tables.

I have to get placemats and colour-coded sticky notes as tools to lay-out the scenes.